Film: Love Sonia
Cast: Demi Moore, Mark Duplass, Freida Pinto, Anupam Kher, Mrunal Thakur, Richa Chaddha, Adil Hussain, Sunny Pawar, Riya Sisodiya, Sai Tamhankar, Rakjumar Rao, Manoj Bajpayee, Kiran Khoje
Director: Tabrez Noorani
Rating: * * * ½
A sort of ‘Mandi’ with ‘Salaam Mumbai’ and ‘Slumdog Millionnaire’ thrown-in for good measure, Tabrez Noorani’s directorial venture highlights human-trafficking – which finds its origins in the small impoverished nether regions of India and transports all across the globe via Thailand to the US. There’s nothing new here in terms of a storyline (we’ve seen it all before in several parallel wave films), but the treatment and affect is so strong that you can’t help, but appreciate the beauty of the expertise on show here.
A debt-ridden farmer (Adil Hussain) from a drought prone village, gets desperate enough to sell off his fair skinned, pretty, daughter Preeti (Riya Sisodiya) to the local landlord (Anupam Kher) who in turn sells her off to a brothel agent Anjali (Sai Tamhankar). Preeti’s sturdy, hard-working, darker skinned sister Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) runs away from home in search of the former and falls prey to the big bad wolves in the city of Mumbai. While the trials and tribulations faced by the two sisters are delineated with gravitas it’s the triumph of the human spirit against all adversity that comes through powerfully here. Both sisters are forced into prostitution – while one takes recourse to substance abuse the other, more resilient sister makes survival and escape her calling card.
Writers Tabrez Noorani, Ted Caplan and Alkesh Vaja weave in diverse real-life experiences into this telling while cinematography by Lucas Beilan and editing by Martin Singer add weight to the stringent affect. The characters are written and performed with brutal honesty – even if the plotting seems a tad contrived and conspicuously manipulating towards an inorganically ordained end result. Sonia’s experiences in a Mumbai brothel, her interactions with the brothel agent, compatriots in trade Rashmi (Freida Pinto) and Madhuri (Richa Chaddha), brothel owner (Manoj Bajpayee), undercover NGO worker Manish (Rajkumar Rao), clients and other peripheral players are presented with a brutal, gruesome honesty that is difficult to look away from. The gritty realism on show here is definitely hard to digest. Despite the harshness of the situation, Sonia, never loses hope. Her goal to reunite with her sister – is a strong thread that keeps her spirited and fighting for survival throughout.
While Tabrez Noorani’s helming deserves credit, it’s basically the actors who lift this film to another level altogether. Adil Hussain as the helpless farmer/Father, Kiran Khoje as his mute subjugated wife, Richa Chaddha as the jaded, ailing sex-worker, Freida Pinto as the delusional manipulator, Sai Tamhankar as the brothel agent, Anupam Kher as the wily money lender, Rajkumar Rao as the rescue worker, Manoj Bajpayee as the evil brothel owner, Sunny Pawar as Sonia’s ardent love interest and above all Riya Sisodiya and Mrunal Thakur (using nuanced expressiveness with amazing felicity) – literally live their roles and make this experience a stunningly potent assemblage of performance and craft!