Great Flicks: "Born Into Brothels"

My mother refused to give me the car last week. I was angry. I flipped her the bird and exited the house in a huff. I vaulted upon the streetcar and sulked all the way to Cumberland Cinemas. What a terrible life I have, I remember thinking. To be at the mercy of this merciless beast! A change is in order! And what a terrible life I have!

I purchased a ticket for Zana Briski's Academy Award winning Born Into Brothels; I also purchased a large bag of popcorn, some Twizzlers and a large soda. I entered the theatre. The lights dimmed, the projector rolled...and then I lost my appetite. Born Into Brothels was made in the heart of Calcutta's red light district--a.k.a. hell on earth. If anything has the ability to question your supposed trials and tribulations it's this film.

Briski journeyed to Calcutta in order to photograph the many prostitutes in the red light district. When she arrived, she found a much more important subject: the children inside the brothels--the children who must deal with the ugly side of humanity on a daily basis. None of these children are allowed behind the curtains...but all of them seem familiar with what goes on behind them. The children have all grown up quickly--expressing a maturity rarely seen at such a young age. Briski has managed to capture their beauty and creativity. Briski has managed to capture diamonds in the rough. And she must be applauded.

Born Into Brothels
is a remarkable film--even though the idea implemented is not the most original. The children of the brothels are given cameras and instructed to capture whatever they like. We see them leaning over contact sheets, circling prints with crayons, laughing, and discussing their photographs with pride and imagination. In a sense, we see the children forgetting about their situation in life. We see the children being children. And they are very talented--Avijit expresses such creativity that he is asked to attend an exhibition in Amsterdam.

But what this film really does is underscore some cruel facts of life. Despite their maturity, despite their unremarkable creativity, these children will be forced to "work the line" once they reach puberty. Prostitution is not just an occupation in Calcutta, or a simple choice...it is a way of life...and it is inherited. We encounter a grandmother, mother and daughter who are all engaged in the act of prostitution...and we meet the granddaughter who will no doubt be forced into the profession. This film reminds us that art, no matter how beautiful, can be stifled in favor of obligation. We are forced to wonder about our own creative voice, and the daily trivialities and obligations that silence that voice.

When I was walking out of the theatre, however aimlessly, I overheard a woman saying that the director of the film was bold and selfless in her attempt to save the kids from their cruel world. But is it truly selfless, people? I think that the ultimate selfless acts go unrecognized. Zana Briski won an award for Born Into Brothels, and will no doubt seek a heavy advance for her next project. Was her portrayal of these children selfless?

Leave me your comments.

Cumberland Cinemas
159 Cumberland Street
Toronto, ON M5R 1A2
(416) 444-FILM 034

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