Love Sonia (Indian Film Festival of Melbourne)
Freida Pinto, Richa Chadha, Mrunal Thakur, Manoj Bajpayee, Sunny Pawar
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…a hellish journey into the world of sex-trafficking.
In 2002, a young Indian woman was found in a shipping container on Long Island along with four others who hadn’t survived the voyage from Hong Kong. The imagined backstory of this tragically displaced woman is the substance of Tabrez Noorani’s Love Sonia – a hellish journey into the world of sex-trafficking.
Shot predominantly in India, using Hindi as its language, Love Sonia is based on Noorani’s work with NGOs and interviews with victims. Seventeen-year-old Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) follows her sister to Mumbai not realising that the latter has been sold to a brothel to pay off their father’s debt. There, Sonia is ensnared in a web of perversion, exploitation and drugs that has a global reach.
The film’s authenticity has won the approval of India’s Censor Board which normally insists that explicit language and sex scenes are cut.
Despite a worthy message and truly gripping scenes in the Indian portions of the film, Love Sonia falters towards the end. Scenes shot in Hong Kong and the US (featuring Demi Moore and Mark Duplass) lack the vigor of the earlier Indian portions of the narrative. Tonal shifts are necessitated by Sonia’s changing circumstances, but the problem lies in amping up the global perspective which has the effect of distancing the viewer from Sonia.
We see the world through her eyes, so the loss is keenly felt. She is the film’s pulse; to break away is to lose a certain intimacy.
Noorani, who worked as a line producer on Slumdog Millionaire, imbues Love Sonia with familiar themes – the separation of siblings by the forces of poverty and corruption, the loss of innocence, and finally, heroism from unexpected quarters. This is not to say that the film is cliched. There is too much attention to detail for that to be the case. Fine characterisation and performances from the Indian cast make the brothel scenes, in particular, stand out; starting with Sonia’s descent into a rabbit warren of tiny cubicles and corridors – each revealing horrors of increasing intensity. This is uncomfortable viewing because her innocent belief in the normality of life is being assaulted, and through her eyes this translates into alarm and disorientation.
The power play in the brothel is built around the character of the pimp – Faizal played with disturbing menace by Manoj Bajpayee. The strategies he uses to break in the new girl are chilling. The intimacy is often hard to take. There is almost too much information, making the viewer a reluctant voyeur to the spectacle of human degradation. In fairness to Noorani, he has decided to play it real – to do justice to the stories narrated by the women interviewed. It is a difficult balance to strike and for large part of Love Sonia, Noorani has managed to pull it off.