Miss Lovely is undoubtedly stylish, but to what end? An emphasis on visual aesthetics at the expense of story leaves the viewer adrift in this drama set in the Indian porn industry in the 1980s.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui — who gives another fantastic performance in Miss Lovely — narrates the film. He plays Sonu, the younger of a pair of brothers specializing in C-grade horror-porn. His elder brother, Vicky (Anil George), runs their operation, treating Sonu like a glorified gopher.
Director Ashim Ahluwalia doesn’t explain the structural organization of the illegal porn industry and how the characters fit into it. Vicky and Sonu “make” the movies, though they don’t direct them themselves. They peddle their films through a distributor named Heera (Manoj Bakshi), though they also deal with a bigwig named PK (Ragesh Asthana) who represents some foreign investors. There’s also a little person named Tiku (Zaheer Khan), who is some sort of casting agent.
Things go south when Vicky tries to cut Heera out of the business and distribute their films to theaters directly. Sonu — who’s sick of being bossed around by Vicky — falls in love with a woman he sees on a train, Pinky (Niharika Singh), vowing to make his own movie and turn her into a star. To do so, he steals from his brother.
It’s unclear how Vicky and Sonu actually plan to achieve their ambitions, just that they shouldn’t have them. Fate and everyone else in the industry make the brothers pay for aspiring above their station.
There are a lot of great-looking scenes and shots in Miss Lovely. Wide shots of the brothers’ movie sets are charmingly lowbrow. Party scenes are tacky and vibrant. A shot of Sonu holding a pair of drinks while standing in the middle of a smoky dance floor is beautifully composed.
However, the surfeit of establishing shots just seem like showing off. A dingy exterior shot of factory lasts for ten seconds, only to cut to another dingy shot of the same factory from a different angle. There’s a lot of visual setup with no payoff.
Characters aren’t developed enough to seem like more than representations of character types. Pinky is a woman with a mysterious past, but the revelation of her true nature is glossed over. Even Sonu is so lightly drawn that it’s hard to invest in his success or failure.
The most fleshed out of the characters is sleazy wannabe Vicky. His motivations are obvious, especially in his clumsy attempts to become a power player. He exerts his sexual dominance over women because they’re even less powerful than he is. George is perfectly scummy in the role.
Miss Lovely is a fine showcase of Ahluwalia’s potential, and it’s worth watching to see a director whose career is on the way up. However, as a self-contained story, Miss Lovely is only a partial success.
Ek Villain‘s impressive opening weekend performance in the U.S. and Canada shouldn’t come as a shock. High profile adult thrillers are rare commodities for Bollywood fans in North America, and fans tend to reward them by showing up at the theater.
According to Box Office Mojo, Ek Villain earned $414,116 from 104 theaters in its opening weekend in North America. Its per-screen average of $3,982 ranks sixth among opening weekend averages this year, just above star Sidharth Malhotra’s other 2014 release, Hasee Toh Phasee.
High profile Bollywood thrillers don’t come along often. (I’m not counting racier fare like my beloved Jism 2 and Murder 3, which opened in 19 and 12 theaters in North America, respectively.) The last was arguably Talaash in late 2012, which debuted on 172 screens and went on to earn $2,871,956. Earlier that year, Kahaanipremiered on 45 screens but earned enough money to add theaters in its second weekend. It went on to gross $1,017,960.
Both of those movies featured established stars, but there seems to be a consensus that Malhotra is a star of the future. That’s evident in the number of theaters carrying his films. Distributor Reliance Big Pictures opened the romantic comedy Hasee Toh Phaseeon 88 screens, and Eros International released Ek Villain in 104 theaters
Compare that theater count to Eros’ other North American theatrical releases this year. It’s obviously lower than the number of theaters allotted to Salman Khan’s Jai Ho (195) and Rajnikanth’s Kochadaiiyaan (161), but it’s only four fewer than Farhan Akhtar’s and Vidya Balan’s Shaadi Ke Side Effects (108). Most notably, Malhotra’s theater count for Ek Villain is significantly higher than the count fellow emerging star Varun Dhawan got for the comedy Main Tera Hero (77) and nearly ten times that of Harman Bhaweja’s Dishkiyaoon (11).
As for other Hindi movies showing in North America June 27-29, Bollywood Hungama reports a steep decline in receipts for Humshakals in its second weekend. Business fell by almost 90% as the comedy earned $33,398 from 73 theaters ($458 average). Its total stands at $393,557.
Other Hindi movies still in theaters:
Holiday: Week 4; $12,245 from 12 theaters; $1,020 average; $839,183 total
The Lunchbox: Week 17; $10,980 from 12 theaters; $915 average; $3,989,032 total
Miss Lovely: Week 2; $143 from one theater; $1,100 total
Two Hindi films are releasing in Chicago on June 27, 2014. One is an older festival favorite, while another makes its worldwide debut. The brand new film is Ek Villain, a thriller starring Riteish Deshmukh, Sidharth Malhotra, and Shraddha Kapoor that’s at least partially inspired by the 2010 Korean film I Saw the Devil. Having recently watched I Saw the Devil — one of the most graphic, brutal, depressing movies you’re likely to find — I have no idea how it could possibly be reworked for a mainstream Hindi-film audience.
Despite being lambasted by critics, Humshakals performed reasonably well in its first weekend in North American theaters. From June 20-22, 2014, Humshakals earned $262,502 from 165 theaters, a per-screen average of $1,591.
That $262,502 gross isn’t exceptional, but it’s in keeping with the total earnings of several Hindi comedies released in 2013 in North America.
Humshakals is likely to stick around for another week, so its total earnings will probably be closer to those of Besharam than Yamla Pagla Deewana 2. In 2013, a film only needed to earn upwards of $230,000 to finish in the top half of highest earning Hindi movies in the U.S. and Canada, so Humshakals is well-positioned to finish in the top half for 2014.
However, Besharam was considered a box office flop relative to expectations, so matching its total is nothing to brag about. In one crucial regard, Humshakals already lags behind. Besharam opened in an overly ambitious 217 theaters in North America, and its first weekend per-screen average was $2,323. Humshakals — whose 165-theater opening was also too ambitious — only averaged $1,591.
That’s a lower opening weekend average than director Sajid Khan’s last critically panned film: 2013’s Himmatwala, which averaged $1,998 on 99 screens in its first weekend before posting a final tally of $270,880.
While Humshakals‘ earnings aren’t horrible, they’re not great. Its performance — like the performance of Besharam — highlights the importance of correctly judging demand for your product and booking the right number of theaters accordingly.
One other Hindi movie opened in limited release in the U.S. on June 20, and its numbers are so bad that I can hardly believe they’re correct. Miss Lovely opened in three U.S. theaters, from which it earned just $558. Total. Despite a strong festival pedigree, its release wasn’t promoted in any meaningful way (unlike The Lunchbox), so potential moviegoers may not have known about it. Maybe Miss Lovely will have more success when it opens in Chicago and Austin this Friday.
Other Hindi movies showing in the U.S. and Canada from June 20-22 included:
Holiday: Week 3; $48,468 from 34 theaters; $1,426 average; $806,123 total
The Lunchbox: Week 17; $20,354 from 22 theaters; $925 average; $3,963,922 total
Filmistaan: Week 3; $90 from one theater; $45,013 total
Heropanti: Week 5; $82 from one theater; $63,172 total