Mrunal Thakur, Adil Hussain, Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha, Freida Pinto
It is not easy to see this ode to sisterhood. It is dark, it is sad and it is too real to be ignored. Yes, the lands in the villages are running dry, people are getting frustrated and desperate, pushed to a corner with nowhere to go. It is also true that women are being sold by one man to another, from one place to another…. It is all ugly, and worse, it is happening around you. Suddenly the popcorn in your hand doesn’t matter, you cannot silently sip on that coke while you watch Sonia, desperately looking for her sister.
Sonia (Mrunal Thakur)’s dad loves his fields, he (Adil Hussain) has worked on it for years but now all he calls it are some foul words. His beloved land has been cursed, and been barren for too long. He needs the money. Not all farmers seek to commit suicide, he in fact decides to sell one of his two daughters. While Sonia stays back home, the weaker sister Preeti is pushed into flesh trade. Dada Thakur (Anupam Kher) who appears all pristine and pious makes the deal and Preeti is sold off in lanes of Mumbai.
The only way to bring her elder sister home, is to approach Dada Thakur. He willingly sends Sonia off to Mumbai too. Away from the village, Sonia is sent to Anjali (Sai Tamhankar) who casually nudges her to the gruesome ways of the brothel. In quick successions we see what life is like for the unsuspecting village belles who are ruthlessly juxtaposed from the harmless fields into the concrete jungles. The sounds, the smells and the air of the brothel comes right into your seats with this film.
Everything in the film speaks to the viewer, the scars on the back of the prostitute, to girl eating rubbish out of a trash can. The visuals are not blurred but enhanced by the narrative. The lyrical way in which the story flows across the screen is lovely and poignant. There is nothing at all that you can hide from.
The film completely belongs to Mrunal Thakur. Her transformation from a school girl in a village to a commercial sex worker in Hongkong is staggeringly real. While the chapters keep moving, you find her changing but nothing is sudden, nothing jarring. Just matter of fact.
Mrunal and director Tabrez have tremendous support in the support cast. There is Manoj Bajpayee who plays Faisal -the owner of the brothel who leaves a lasting impression. But so do Frieda Pinto, Rajkummar Rao, Richa Chaddha and so on…. Fleetingly these characters come and go and yet when you walk out of the theatre, each of their stories remain with you. It is not easy to shake this film out of your system.
You might not want to see it again but once is enough, in fact, once is necessary. Full marks to Tabrez Noorani for the impactful film which refuses to titillate, sensationalise or even preach. It does nothing but get under your skin and call out to your conscience. As Frieda Pinto stated, this is the film that needed to be made. As you walk out of the theatre, you might heave a little, sigh a little but you will respect what you just experienced.