I had heard about this Oscar winning documentary and for some inexplicable reason had not watched this movie in the past 3 years or so after its release.
I developed an emotional attachment to this movie. The movie is made by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, two photographers from New York City where I live. The story is based on Calcutta where I have lived during different stages of my childhood. I like both these cities. I enjoyed the food, inexpensive and simple lifestyle and the general pulse of people in Calcutta. New York City I like for the vibrancy, Central Park and its being the melting pot capital of America, nay the world.
So with these ties to both the cities, I watched the movie with interest. Zana Briski is a brave woman to venture and live in ‘Sona Gachi’ the red light area of Calcutta. She stays there for the entire duration of filming her movie. I know where the area is and honestly I have lived within walking distance to it but have never set foot there having been put off by the filthy surrounding and its ill reputation. So her act is truly admirable!
Her efforts to teach photography to the children of the brothels is wonderful. She succeeds in exhibiting their works in Sothebys in NY and Oxford bookstore in Calcutta. One of the kid, ‘Avijit’ has a natural talent for photography and is invited to the World Press Photo meet in Amsterdam. That however turns out to be the easy part. She literally has to run from pillar to post to manage to get a ‘ration card’ and then his passport in the short few days before Avijit’s flight to Amsterdam. Indians like me who had to get our passports in 80s and 90s in the pre-computerized era of passport offices, can very well understand the supreme effort it takes.
I was surprised to see some of the children even had fathers and grandfathers living with them while their mothers plied their trade in one portion of their dwelling with a curtain separating them. Undoubtedly these husbands and fathers are freeloaders or part-time pimps. One of them is a ‘hashish’ addict who depends on his wife to fund his habit.
Zana Briski manages to secure boarding schools for some of these children and helps them get away from a future of gloom in the brothel. Avijit is now studying in NYU in New York City!
The movie is worth the Oscar it won and deserves all the acclaim that followed. If you haven’t see the movie, rent it soon and watch it.