Filed Under:

'Miss Lovely' Exposes The Underbelly Of India's Film Industry

Play associated audio

The Indian film industry produces more than the glitz of Bollywood musicals. It has a sordid underbelly, too: the underground world of sex horror films.

Director Ashim Ahluwalia wanted to capture that reality, but had to turn to fiction to do it.

The new film Miss Lovely follows two brothers who produce soft-core porn in the 1980s, shooting in one-hour hotels and racing to keep one step ahead of the cops who would shut them down. Pornography is illegal in India; getting caught means a minimum of three years in jail, with no option of bail.

Initially, Ahluwalia wanted to make a documentary. He spent a year and a half researching and talking with actors and directors. After putting in that time, no one would agree to talk to him on camera.

"Mainstream films barely show a kiss on screen, so the fact that these people were making these pornographic films — nobody felt comfortable to actually appear and tell me the same stories that they were telling me the night before when we were drinking in a bar," he tells NPR's Arun Rath.

Ahluwalia took the research material he'd collected and put it into a semi-fictional form, set in the mid-'80s to protect the identity of the people who'd talk to him.

But he worked to preserve an aged, veritae feel, shooting on expired film stock for a murky look on screen. And, as it turns out, some of the real-life actors and directors who wouldn't be interviewed for a documentary were happy to play extras and other roles in the film. Ahluwalia says that brought "a real authenticity to the project."

Interview Highlights

On the role of pornographic films in India

We brag about making 900 films a year, but what most people don't realize is that about 750 of those films, especially up to the late '90s, were C-grade films — sex horror or bandit films that were essentially sexually explicit. And I was very interested in these lower depths of the industry because it just seemed like no one was talking about this.

On getting C-grade films into Indian cinemas

What they would do is they would make a film, which would be, say, two hours long — it would be a horror film or it would be a bandit film. What most people didn't realize is that when they were shooting the feature, they were also shooting what was called the "bits reels," these pornographic sections. ... They would hold these back, send the film — the rest of the film — to the censors, which would have nothing in it. And then when that stuff came back, these bits reels would be interspersed directly into the film in the projection booth. So it's a very odd way of distributing, but this is how pornographic films have been distributed in India since the '20s.

On getting Miss Lovely approved for release in India

To be honest, I never thought it would release in India. I just thought it's an interesting exercise for me to see what [the censor board would ask] me to cut. The first round they asked me to make 157 cuts. ... I didn't have a release schedule; I just kept going back, and I went back about four or five times over the course of a year. I turned into a sort of very persuasive, almost irritating sort of lawyer figure ...

I think the thing that nailed it was that I said that the film is really very much about the women. The women get out in the end; they don't allow themselves to be dominated by men. You never see that in Hindi cinema, and one of the women on the board said she felt that that was true and that really switched the whole thing in our favor. So, we did get through with very few cuts, some blurs and the film released in 400 cinemas in India, and it was kind of incredible.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


Shante, He Stays: RuPaul Reflects On Decades Of Drag — And 2 Emmy Nominations

RuPaul is the most recognizable drag queen in America. His hit show, RuPaul's Drag Race is up for two Emmy Awards as it begins filming its ninth season. But drag, he says, will never be mainstream.

Food World Rallies For Quake-Hit Amatrice, Home Of Famous Pasta Dish

In Italy and the U.S., restaurants are pledging to use sales of Amatrice's signature dish, spaghetti all' amatriciana, to raise funds for the Italian town devastated by Wednesday's earthquake.
WAMU 88.5

Friday News Roundup - International

Italy searches for survivors after a devastating earthquake. Turkey escalates its role in the fight against ISIS. And Colombia and the FARC rebels sign a peace treaty ending a half-century-long guerrilla war. A panel of journalists joins guest host Derek McGinty for analysis of the week's top international news stories.


WhatsApp Will Start Sharing Data, Including Phone Numbers, With Facebook

It will also test new ways for businesses to communicate with users on the app. The privacy policy changes mark the long-expected move by Facebook to begin making money from the free app.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.