The Telegraph
Tuesday , November 20 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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All eyes on Miss Lovely

A t2 chat with Team Miss Lovely — actors Anil George and Zeena Bhatia who play second lead, and producer Pinaki Chatterjee — in town last week for the second screening of the yet-to-release film directed by Ashim Ahluwalia, at the 18th Calcutta Film Festival.

What is it about the film that you think hooked the international audience?

Pinaki Chatterjee: When we decided to make this film, we were not pretending to make another film about Indian reality. It talks about a reality that exists. Something we call Bollywood underground. It came about at a time before the coinage of the term Bollywood. In a way, it’s a very anthropological film about Bombay. In a way it was about documenting the changing face of the city as well as paying a tribute to the B-cinema of India that is unknown. It was a genre that did exist on the fringes. At festivals, people were like, we didn’t know India had something called Grindhouse cinema. A lot of international film critics compared it to Boogie Nights because that was the easiest reference they could find, although we don’t agree. We are here with the characters, in that space, constantly shifting form. It’s not just a film about the people but the place and the timeline. But overall they had never seen Indian cinema in this light, and that was a revelation.

What kind of research was involved?

Pinaki: This kind of filmmaking still exists but in different forms. Initially Ashim had planned to do it like a documentary, the way it used to be, because he was very fascinated by these filmmakers shooting in suburban Bombay in old studios which are now defunct. Ashim spent three years of his life trying to talk to these guys. He started filming them and decided to call it Maut Ka Chehra because it was about these people who were here now and gone next month. Either they had been killed or they were absconding or behind bars. A lot of them refused to talk on camera so when I came on board, Ashim had already put it in a very structured script, although the treatment was elliptical when it was being made.

Anil and Zeena, how did you go about playing C-grade movie artistes?

Zeena: It was a challenging role. Not a regular character in Bollywood films. So, I had to work a lot. I got a lot of help and guidance from our director who gave us multiple references to make it easy. I had to watch old DVDs to understand their gestures and the kind of body language they used while seducing men. So, it was an out- of-the-world experience.

Anil: I am basically a theatre actor. I’ve been acting on stage for the last 20 years and when I received the script, initially I was like, ‘Yeh kya script mere haath lag gayi.’ I did find it a bit vulgar. I was conscious and uncomfortable. But then I read it again and again and I realised ‘Kya kamaal ki script hai’. Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and I had been doing theatre together for many years and Ashim being the perfectionist he was, I am glad that I did the film. When we went to France, the common question on everybody’s lips was that ‘We know Bollywood films to be about song and dance, how did you break away from that and make a film so interesting?’ I think that was the answer to our efforts and beliefs.

How tough was it from a production point of view to recreate the underbelly of the Bombay film industry in the 1980s?

Pinaki: Ashim and I both had a sense of the city, like one does in maybe colonial Calcutta. One feels that in south Bombay. Ashim is a Colaba boy and very connected to that place and the filmi world. The space is as important as the characters. When we created the sets, a lot of it were locations we found. Everything, including the architecture of the city, had changed but we were particular about depicting the times and the fastidious director he is, we had to go through the process. From collecting old advertisements to film footage licensed from real films. For the cinematography, we shot with obscure 60mm cameras. We wanted to highlight the transition from celluloid to digital cinema. A lot of ‘one-hour-love hotels’ still exist although most have been transformed into something else. We went and tried to convince the guys to let us shoot there. In a way we went about doing production jugaad. We did the entire post-production in Berlin. The film was shot by K.U. Mohanan, who has also shot Talaash. We didn’t want to compromise at any level and the budget was almost Rs 7 crore, which doesn’t make it a small-budget film either. Every detail was crafted in a way that it really depicts the time it’s talking about.

What prompted you to produce a film that ran the risk of finding a limited audience?

Pinaki: It’s true in the case of our country but we were not doing this film as another Bollywood release. For us it was a crazy project and the idea was to challenge the existing high and low arcs. We didn’t want another festival film either because that was a boring thing to do. We live in post-modern times, people’s mindsets are changing and it’s time for a second wave of cinema beyond what is still being called new wave.

When are you aiming for an India release?

Pinaki: We are working on that. When we shot the film we never thought we’d find a commercial release because when Ashim did John & Jane, we tried very hard to distribute the film. We sold it around the world. But PVR was the only hall that released it in Bombay and it didn’t do very well. But now hopefully things will change.... We have Nawaz, who was cast when he was a struggling actor doing small roles but he has come to the forefront after his recent performances (Kahaani and Gangs of Wasseypur). Also because of Cannes and Toronto there is a fraction of interest about this film. So fingers crossed, let’s see who picks it up but I don’t think it will happen before next March.

What was the feedback from the Calcutta Film Festival?

Pinaki: I was expecting more repulsive comments actually… like ‘What is this?’, ‘Where did this come from?’. This is not a story that easily sees you through. It has parts you have to figure out. But it rattles my intelligence to see the interest people have taken in this film and the strong, commendable reactions thereafter.

Mohua Das

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