If you're expecting glamorous dancers and catchy music from an Indian movie, then Miss Lovely, the opening film at New York's South Asian International Film Festival, delivers a shock.
Actually, there is a segment of glitter, music and a beautiful actress leading a dance line. But that's in the last seconds, following more than 100 minutes of crawling around in the violent, illegal belly of the Bollywood film industry.
Miss Lovely, which has not been given a commercial release in India, is nevertheless all about Indian cinema, only seen from the viewpoint of the grifters, pornographers and schlock purveyors who deliver sex-horror movies to a huge underground audience.
By the time that closing dance routine arrives -- the first of the movie -- it comes steeped in irony and tragedy.
"A lot of A grade blockbuster cinema is often what people say is what people are watching," he said, but "most of what people are watching is this stuff: bandit films, horror..., sleazy wrestling films."
The movie borrows from the documentary style, mixing in the behind-the-scenes look at the porn industry of Boogie Nights with the flavor of gritty mafia movies like Goodfellas" -- all with a strong infusion of life on the margins in 1980s Mumbai.
Ahluwalia chose non-actors for supporting and minor roles and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the main role as the younger of a pair of brothers trying, and failing, to make something of themselves as filmmakers. A skillful but relatively unknown actor before, Siddiqui was catapulted by Miss Lovely into becoming a star, Ahluwalia said.
Jenny He, programming director for the SAIFF, which runs through October 30, said Miss Lovely" was chosen as the opener because "it's a demonstration of new Indian cinema."
"It's indicative of what's coming out of South Asian cinema that might not get a platform," she said.
The SAIFF line-up includes two other films noirs, Akam and Pune-52, a detective thriller that references Raymond Chandler and which, like "Miss Lovely," looks at the frustrations of a small player in an overwhelming world.
Akam, adapted from Malayattoor Ramakrishnan's horror novel Yakshi, also shows a man breaking down, this time an architect who's been in a car accident and left by his wife.
In the documentaries category, Blood Relative throws in its own handful of grit with a look at Thalassemia, an inherited disease prevalent in India and at an activist fighting to save the lives of two children.
This was the ninth year for the SAIFF, which was partnered by US cable TV giant HBO, and it showcases not only filmmakers from Asia, but from the immigrant communities in North America and Europe.