“Born into Brothels”

Recently, I came across a documentary film; Born into Brothels. I was so moved by this film that I read a lot on it and finally, I am writing this review.

The film revolves round the life of the children of the sex workers in Asia’s largest red-light area, Sonagachi which is in Kolkata, West Bengal. Zana Briski, a British photojournalist, taught the art of photography to a group of children belonging to the prostitutes of Sonagachi and co-directed the documentary with Ross Kauffman.

The documentary shows how the profession affects the lives of the people, mostly children living there. Some manage to escape and mend their lives, some are stuck due to familial pressure and some chose to follow their mothers’ footsteps. The one room homes and the things piled up in there show their poverty. Some children are aware of their mothers’ profession, some aren’t. Children sit outside the rooms when their mothers are working. Young girls are waiting to join the line. Fear grips their faces when they talk about joining prostitution. Young boys, who are least interested in attending school, might one day end up alcoholic or selling drugs. Their fathers don’t care.

Amidst women in skimpy clothes luring customers, spewing invectives at each other, these children find solace in each others’ friendship. They fly kites, sing Hindi songs, play on roads, and share their grief with each other. Briski, who basically went to photograph the women of Sonagachi, handed each of these children, a camera and let them click pictures depicting their lives. Now, they had something fun to do apart from their daily chores. She organized an exhibition of the photographs clicked by these children where they were the guests of honour.

Briski faced a lot of hardships to enrol these children in boarding schools so they don’t have to return to their fates every day. She managed to convince the parents of a few children, mostly girls, and sent them to schools. Some are still studying, some were pulled out of schools by family, and some, quit themselves. Some got married, some entered prostitution and some were never allowed to go. Amongst them, Avijit Halder, a talented photographer and a bold, egoistic boy, was invited as a child jury at the World Press Photo Foundation in Amsterdam. I am mentioning this guy especially because he fought his way through the shackles of his fate and made it to the top. He is currently studying films at the New York University. Another girl is also studying in the US and doing well.

The documentary won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2005, where Briski let all the children have the honour of receiving the award. A girl, from Briski’s group, whose mother wanted a normal life for her daughter, entered prostitution when she was barely in her teens. She holds on rent one of the most expensive buildings in the area and supports her mother now. She is adamant about staying in the sex-trade and says that this has really paid off for her.

‘Sonagachi’ isn’t just a name or place anymore. It has become a power. Sonagachi governs the lives and decisions of its people and their children, who are waiting for their turn. The power has only gotten bigger with time. I am nobody to judge the profession but a place where smuggling, human trafficking is very common, and lusty eyes staring at you all the time, making a film out of it! Hats off Briski!

2 thoughts on ““Born into Brothels”

  1. A sensitive film looks like on Sonagachi; the plight of children at such places is a sad commentary given their venerability. Your review comments encourages me to see the documentary. It is a a neglected topic that we seldom pause to think about or even come across as a discussion topic. Ignorance is no bliss!


    1. Do watch the documentary and also check out some works of the photographer, Zana Briski. She has portrayed the lives of these sex workers beautifully through her clicks.


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