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Of Human Bondage

Saturday, September 15, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Love Sonia
Director:
Tabrez Noorani
Cast: Mrunal Thakur, Richa Chadha, Freida Pinto, Manoj Bajpayee, and others
Rating: * *

When a filmmaker from the West turns his eye on India, he wants to show what his audience wants to see—the ugly India. Which is not to say that there is no ugliness in our country; there is plenty and it seems to sell. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a big example, and Tabrez Noorani, director of ‘Love Sonia’, was a producer on the acclaimed Danny Boyle film.

So here’s Mumbai again, in all its slummy infamy. Human trafficking is not just an Indian phenomenon, and there is nothing new in the story of village girls being sold into prostitution — this film is very similar to Nagesh Kukunoor’s ‘Lakshmi’ (2014); in ‘Love Sonia’ too, an indebted farmer (Adil Hussain) sells older daughter Preeti (Riya Sisodiya) to the landowner (Anupam Kher), who passes her on to a procuress (Sai Tamhankar). The younger girl, Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) follows on her own, to hunt for her sister, and ends up in a squalid brothel, run by Babu (Manoj Bajpayee). Among the other women there are the older, cynical, cruel Madhuri (Richa Chadha) and Rashmi (Freida Pinto). Escape seems almost impossible, since the cops are on the take; And as Rashmi says, ‘where would they go? Their families won’t have them back’.

The film then follows Sonia’s story through her ordeal at the Mumbai brothel and later, when she is sent outside the country in a shipping container. The problem with a film like ‘Love Sonia’ is that it cannot show the real brutality of the flesh trade, so resorts to clichéd scenes and lines, some of them bordering on comically grotesque (like Babu screaming about virgin village girls, or Sonia’s encounter with an American customer).

Rajkummar Rao turns up in a tiny cameo as a social worker who helps rescue and rehabilitate the girls. Demi Moore appears in a scene, as head of the American women’s shelter for victims of violence. Noorani obviously has the resources and clout to get such an ensemble cast of well-known actors. Hardly any films about prostitution — after the titillating scenes of the girls’ trauma are done — seriously take a look at wha happens after they are rescued; do they succeed in getting back into the very society that shuns them. ‘Love Sonia’ stops short of that stage too. The film remains mostly superficial, the intended shocks being mild, and just a few scenes that are genuinely moving.

Mrunal Thakur has talent and the requisite confidence to make a mark in her Hindi debut; Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher, Adil Hussain and Richa Chadha have thankless roles they could have done in their sleep.

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