If the world is divided into first world, second world and the third world, Indian films too follow the genre of being an A- grade, B-grade or a C-grade film. And quite like the Indian caste structure, they evoke responses from awe to disgust, from admiration to contempt etc. Film maker Ashim Ahluwalia’s film Miss Lovely depicts the highs and lows of Indian cinema’s much hated but sighted C- grade sleaze industry that was part of the public fantasy till the 90s. While the A- grade film heroines epitomised the quintessential coy, demure Indian woman, the C-grade films, according to Ahluwalia, depicted women who were unabashed about their sexuality and exhibited what could be called more progressive thought. Manju Ramanan speaks to the director who dared to make a film on the Mumbai film industry’s dark underbelly, that also included sleazy cinema.
Khooni Chudail, Maut ka Chehra etc..
These are some of the names of the C grade films that were made in the 1980s. Most of these films used the horror genre as a façade to showcase sleaze to the smaller towns of India and some dingy theatre in large towns. They were hugely popular because of the hot clips that were inserted in the middle of the narrative of the film. I used to watch a lot of these films too and my fascination for them grew. Around that time, 1999, I left for the Unites States to complete my graduation in filmmaking from Brad College in New York and then returned to Mumbai to follow my dream. I was so fascinated by the C-grade film culture that I decided to make a documentary on the subject.
Research on Sleaze
I watched a lot of C- grade films for a year and a half. It was the early 2000 and the last bit of the sex-horror genre of films existed feebly. It was end of the celluloid era and the beginning of digital technology that changed everything about that industry. During the course of my research I met several underground filmmakers who shot illegal sex clips and sold them. These were called ‘extra portions’ colloquially and they were inserted into the reels at the theatres, after the film had been okayed by the censors. Often these ‘extra portions’ cost more money than the film itself – because they became the only reason, the audience went to the theatres.
Women and Liberation
I could relate more to their kind of films than B-town’s romantic comedies because they were real. The subject matter had women playing central roles. The films were usually about a woman who is wronged and takes revenge. Male actors or the male protagonist in these films were just there, without any significant role. These actresses were never arm candy or decorative objects in a frame. They were not clouded by crap ideas of how a woman should be. And in real life too, these actresses had the guts to live their lives their way.
C- Grade Cinema making
I used to accompany the cast and crew of several C grade films to Madh Island and was amazed by the way they made a film in four days flat without spending too much money. I was compelled to make the documentary on their lives but the artistes refused to face my camera for the documentary. I was stuck with so many interesting ideas and characters not knowing what to do with them, decided to make Miss Lovely. The film, spanning two decades (1980s – 2000s), encapsulates the rise and fall of the C-grade filmindustry. It centres on a pair of C-grade cinema producers, also brothers, who end up falling for the same woman. By 2000, sex was online. People started to upload porn clips. So C-grade films started to die out
At DIFF and Cannes
Miss Lovely was shown at the Dubai International Film Festival as well as at Cannes last year. Miss Lovely was chosen to compete in the Un Certain Regard section of the Film Festival and it received praise as well as criticism. Some people said the film was strange, slow and art house, while the others thought it’s unlike any Indian film they’d seen. Some even found the sexual content repulsive.
I have added actresses from the C Grade industry tell me that they loved their jobs. One of them told me that why would I want to struggle and be seen in a bit role in a A grade movie when I can be the central lead in a C grade film?
Impressions of Indian films abroad
Bollywood is generally making films for a diaspora NRI audience. I have nothing against that but I can’t be part of it. I do not represent anyone other than myself. This is the kind of cinema I like to make and I am making it. In fact I just consider myself to be a film maker from India – my films hence talk about India but no where do I feel bogged down by a certain responsibility towards representing India in a certain way. My film has received funding from various parts of the world. People are working the system to get things out. Audiences want to see more realistic cinema.
A FILM THAT CHANGED MY LIFE (Suraksha)
I was seven when I saw Suraksha and I loved it. There were elements of Bruce Lee and James Bond in the film and disco dancing that every kid would like. Mithun Chakravorthy as Gunmaster G9 was the high-point of the film. For me, those days Mithun was the real star and not Amitabh Bachchan or Dharmendra.