A light bulb with moths fluttering around it… The source of light is also the source of death… The shot changes and a little girl’s face lights up the screen. My eyes are affixed on her eyes… Because they are eyes that know Eyes that have seen more than they should have Eyes that feel And eyes that speak… And the music? The music can’t be described. Because explanation is not experience. The sounds of the flute and the rhythm of the beats suddenly shift, getting louder every second, furiously keeping pace with the camera as it takes us through the dark and narrow streets of Calcutta. Through the red light district of Calcutta. I can tell that it is from the perspective of a child even before I hear these very words in the film. Because all the angles of the streets and the torsos of the people could have only been captured by a child-sized person. Everything is perfect so far and every sense of mine is engaged in soaking up the medley of sounds and colours and impressions but… But for this little voice that whispers in my head- Another ‘white’ perspective to an Indian issue. Another foreign portrayal of the miseries borne by a marginalised group of people in a developing country. Somehow the streets of Calcutta’s red light district have come alive before my eyes in a way which I could never have experienced had I walked those very streets. They have been transformed into labyrinths of beauty. The bare-bodied woman who is probably going about her ‘business’ looks ethereal, her dewy skin luminescent in the incandescent light. The voice in my head continues- These are the streets of suffering and hopelessness. Of degradation of human dignity. Of exploitation and denial of basic human rights to women. Drowning the despair in the children’s eyes in the resonating sounds of some percussion instrument, feels cacophonic. Watching the filthy streets light up under the orange filter used to edit shots makes me want to close my eyes. Suffering is not beautiful. It has to be portrayed as it is. And not titillated to suit an audience’s tastes. I shut off the voice in my head and try focusing on the content. Maybe ‘Born into Brothels’ has a story. Turns out that it does. It’s a story I already know, as do most Indians. But it’s told with great ingenuity. A group of children from brothels are given cameras and trained in how to use them. Their individual stories make up most of the documentary. Now there’s a story within a story. The children’s pictures are stunning. As Avijit (one of the children in the story) says- The pictures are beautiful because they speak the truth. The truth is ugly and the pictures force the viewer to see things as they are. Well said, Avijit. Let us be clear about one thing. This documentary is not about a white woman’s struggle to help children from brothels. It is about a white woman wanting to make a film on children from brothels and whatever happens during the process of filming is included in the documentary. All the unscripted parts too. And this includes her efforts to help the children get into school, help Avijit with his passport, arrange for the children’s pictures to be auctioned and use the proceeds to help them ease back into society. Perhaps when the filming ceased, her efforts ceased too. And that (no, the voice in my head refuses to be quietened) according to me, would be the worst kind of exploitation. Some kind of voyeurism, social voyeurism that thrives on others’ misery and suffering. Only in this case the ‘people’ are little innocent children. I can’t help feeling some stirrings of anger at the thought of someone intruding into the lives of these children, handing them cameras, telling the story through their eyes, in fact, exposing them to the world and exposing the world to them and then leaving them to work out their own lives. A documentary on children would undoubtedly have a huge impact on the children’s lives. If those changes can’t be sustained, why induce them in the first place? Why not see them through? Why not take responsibility for the cascading effect that a documentary would have on the children’s lives? Why enter the private world of children and then abandon them? There really ought to be some legislation in our country to protect our children from such invasions. As far as I am concerned, this documentary is unethical. Those who participated in the documentary were commercial sex workers and their children, and they would not have been aware of the kind of exposure the children would have through this film. Zana was a change agent and she did not stay to complete the entire cycle of events that her film generated. Her efforts towards helping the children may to some extent absolve her from some of the blame, in my mind, but filming children is a very sensitive issue as children are innocent and trusting and their well-being is not to be compromised at any cost. The audience for this film was obviously western and I can only imagine the kind of appreciation this film might have received. At a personal level, I am angry that such a film was allowed in our country, that our children were exposed to the great world out there and made to experience a ‘few moments of fame’ and that they were quietly forgotten after they had served their purpose. A Critical Analysis by Amandeep Taunque, MA, Counselling Psychology, SOHSS
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