Born into Brothels (2004)
If there is one thing India is notorious for, it’s the score of backdoor neighborhoods and the underground lifestyle of those socially suppressed. India’s slums harbor a host of underground activities that comprise generations of outcast individuals who have been sidelined either because of their unfortunate birth into poverty or an oppressed cast. Born into Brothels is a documentary about this very underlying system and the life it leads amidst India’s growing economic prosperity, uncovering little known details about the selfless lives the prostitutes from India’s red light area lead and the surroundings their children are brought up within.
To uproot this air of despair within the Indian red light district, Zamia Brisk and Ross Kauffman made their way through a community of prostitutes living in Sonagachi, Kolkata trying to unearth their way of life through the eyes of their introvert children. As Brisk interacts with the children she is increasingly taken by their fascination with her camera which she uses to capture their story. It prompts her to harvest this fascination and start giving photography lessons which quickly turns into a fad that the children adopt. In the process the children were given cameras which they used to capture the world as they saw them. Much of the documentary comprised the pictures they took providing a unique insight on their day to day lives. The pictures were then taken from the camera and put up for sale to raise funds for the poor localities from which they were derived so that the young children of the prostitutes may not have to follow the same undignified line of work that their parents have fallen victim to.
By putting herself in the midst of the children in focus of this documentary, Brisk raised more than just an eyebrow towards the deteriorating circumstances that bring about prostitution, especially for those that are born into the very neighborhoods. The directors go one step further, by devising a way to raise money for the children, with whom they interacted, putting their photographs up for sale and making efforts to provide them different lives via enrollment in boarding schools. Of particular interest was one child Avijit, whose photos displayed such momentous talent that he ended up winning a ticket to Amsterdam. Briski’s approach towards the Indian bureaucrats for Avijit’s passport was another plight where the nature of his unfortunate beginnings rendered him ineligible of paperwork. Such relentless efforts at the hands of Brisk and Kauffman did see success, although to a limited degree. While some children remained at their boarding schools, others either dropped out or were taken out by their parents and brought back to the same neighborhoods. Moreover, the rest of the neighborhood continues the same way unaffected. However, the message was clearly delivered and received. The undergrowth does not die out itself but has to be pruned with intervention for “without help, these children are doomed” (Briski and Kauffman).
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