SOLD. 2016. Director: Jeffrey Brown. Players: Niyar Saikia, Sushmita Mukherjee, Tillotama Shome, Seema Biswas, Gillian Anderson, David Arquette, Parambrata Chatterjee, Priyanka Bose, Ankur Vikal, Neerja Naik. Adapted from book by Patricia McCormick. English. PG-13. 97 minutes.
Niyar Saikia as 12-year old Lakshmi is heart-breakingly young and innocent, and the depiction of her sexual enslavement is visceral and utterly tragic. It is almost unbearable to watch the montage of predators who violate her, and a viewer might find the camera’s unflinching resolve to not look away punitive. At least in the case of Lakshmi, a village girl from Nepal, we are helpless as she endures rape, beatings, imprisonment and starvation for not cooperating with her captors and their monstrous appetites.
Ready to grab some popcorn and settle into your seat?
Maybe this film is not quite the Saturday afternoon entertainment you had in mind, but think of it as a way to offer a ray of hope for children like Lakshmi. “There is some heaviness to it, but there is also a lot of humor and tenderness that we weave through the film,” Jeffrey Brown, director and co-writer, said to me. “We see this issue as a profound human rights issue,” referring to the 150 million dollar illegal industry of human traficking. Brown was so moved by the book by Patricia McCormick, a “prayer/song/poem” that he “laughed and cried.” “The more people who see the film, the more people will enter the conversation, and the more people will become active.” Proceeds from the film will help several organizations that help rehabilitate trafficked sex workers and their children. “The iRest Institute provides Yoga Nidra healing for trauma,” says Jeffrey, a yoga practitioner. “Due to the stigma of sex work, the families want nothing to do with these women. They literally have no families,“ says Jeffrey. Vocational training and education are big priorities for the organizations. “We hope the film will be a catalyst for girls to be taught, not trafficked. Keep a girl in school until sixteen and her chances of being trafficked drop by 80%.”
Sushmita Mukherjee, who plays the evil madam Mumtaz, spoke to me about the “utter ordinariness” of the lives of the sex workers that NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as Apne Aap (Ourselves) helped her visit in Kolkata. While Bollywood movies portray brothel madams such as Shabana Azmi in Mandi as colorful “paan-chewing” characters, she was unprepared for the quotidian matter-of-factness of the lives of sex-workers. “Much as was depicted in the film, sexual activity occurs above the bed, and underneath the bed, there are kitchen utensils and all the other paraphernalia of their everyday lives. Much as we see in films such as Salaam Bombayand Born into Brothels, sex workers went about their business, “eating cucumbers, and laughing on street corners.” Nothing in Sushmita’s life had prepared her to find her “inner Mumtaz,” a place of darkness without humanity or redemption.
Jeffrey shares a quote from the Dalai Lama: “People are created to be loved and objects are created to be used, and so many problems of the world are because people are being used and objects are being loved.”
Proceeds will help to make grants to the following organizations:
APNE AAP WOMEN WORLDWIDE
SAVE THE CHILDREN
THE ART OF LIVING FOUNDATION
UNITED WAY WORLD WIDE
ECPAT USA and ECPAT INTERNATIONAL
ROTARY INTERNATIONAL Rotarian Action Group Against Child Slavery
BUSINESS ENDING SLAVERY AND TRAFFICKING
Geetika Pathania Jain is a frequent contributor to India Currents. She has been teaching hatha yoga classes at Worlds Yoga Saratoga (www.worldsyoga.com) and recommends yoga for everyone.