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Film    Born Into Brothels    World Music at Global Rhythm - The Destination for World Music
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Film

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Born Into Brothels
By Iris Brooks

Published May 4, 2006

Who would have thought that a film about children of prostitutes in India could be riveting? Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids is a rare film filled with passion and compassion. It is an emotional roller coaster of hope and hopelessness, beauty and despair, dark and light. An unexpected sense of imagination drives this heartfelt film, which captured the 2004 Sundance Documentary Audience Award and continues to create a buzz on the festival circuit.

The 85-minute documentary is by London-born, New York-based photojournalist Zana Briski, who travels to India, buys 20 point-and-shoot cameras and teaches the basics of photography to the children in the red light district. What ensues is about more than picture-taking, as the kids transform and express themselves through this empowering art form.

Their process of taking pictures begins with street scenes within the confines of their neighborhood, but their world broadens as they discover the beach, the zoo and, eventually, an art gallery. Interestingly, it is not only the kids who are discovering something new. The viewers of this film are seeing the squalid underworld of Calcutta from a close-up, intimate perspective.

First-time filmmakers Zana Briski (who has previously photographed female infanticide, child marriage, dowry deaths and widowhood) and her co-director/ cinematographer Ross Kauffman (a documentary film editor who has worked for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel) are not shooting a documentary from a neutral point of view. They become increasingly involved with the children who are stigmatized from birth and face a bleak future. Briski tries to make long-lasting changes for them, interceding in the generational process of like mother, like daughter, “onto the line.”

Navigating a frustrating Indian bureaucracy, Briski obtains birth certificates and other forms of identification to enroll the kids in school. You can see not only the evolution of the kids, but of the director as she becomes more and more personally involved in her new world while trying to remove the children from their unhealthy environment.

The film, made in a very organic way, is not what originally drew Briski to India.  “I went to Calcutta for a photography opening,” she explains. “I had no intention of photographing prostitutes until a friend took me to the red light district. From the moment I stepped inside that maze of alleyways, I knew that this was the reason I had come to India. It was a fascinating place and I wanted to know what was going on there behind all those doors. I sat for hours on end, joking, playing, experiencing the tediousness and the volatile emotions that erupt where women find themselves trapped in an inescapable world, forced to sell affection in order to live and care for their children. The kids were spontaneous and alive; they were very open.”



Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated
In English
(Some parts are in Bengali with English subtitles

 

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