Dir.: Tabriz Noorani; Cast: Mrunal Thakur, Riya Sisodiya, Adil Hussain, Mano Bajpayee, Richa Chadha, Freida Pinto, Sai Tamhankar, Raj Kummar Rao, Demi Moore; India 2018, 120 min.
Tabrez Noorani was the line producer of Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi. His debut is slick but over reliant on titillation to raise awareness of the sad plight of sex-trafficking victims in India.
Each year over 100 000 girls and women are sold or abducted in the Indian sub continent, many of them held in captivity under terrible conditions. Scripted by Ted Caplan and based on a true story by Noorani, Love Sonia is certainly is full of passion, but the aesthetics are based on his former work, and his upfront hyper-realistic approach often collides with his message.
Sisters Sonia (brilliant debutant Thakur) and Preeti (Sisodiya) live with their hardworking parents 1400 miles north of Mumbai. Their father (Hussain) is always in debt, blaming his lack of sons for his misfortune. When he finally snaps, Preeti is sold to his main debtor Anjali (Tamhankar) who works on commission for the pimp Faisal (Bajpayee) and promises to find the girl a maid position in Mumbai. Sonia is traumatised by the loss of her sister, and begs Anjali to be allowed to join her. Anjali takes the naïve Sonia by her word, but when she arrives in Mumbai, Faisal immediately sees a profit in re-selling the virgin Sonia, ordering her to perform ‘only’ fellatio, and later agrees for her to be anally raped. Faisal is supported by Madhuri (Chadha), whom he treats with contempt: she is his toy, aware that he can send her back to please the customers. Meanwhile, Rashmi (Pinto) is raped by her husband, so that he can marry her and sell her on to Faisal. Sonia is finally sold to a bidder in Hong Kong, and shipped to LA, where her story continues.
After a poetic opening, Noorani forces the tempo, and while cruel details do have a place, he sometimes oversteps his mark. Overall, his voyeurism contradicts his message. This is very much Slumdog, with another script. Apart from Faisal, none of the protagonists are really fleshed out. Polish DoP Lucas Bielan (A Grain of Truth), supports Noorani’s approach with a Bollywood bling approach, and although the cast tries their best to get the message over, the film’s racy, overblown credentials are self-defeating. AS
ON RELEASE FROM 29 JANUARY 2019