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X-Files agent prises dark Calcutta chapter

- Shot in city, Sold sees Gillian play child-trafficking buster
Gillian Anderson as special agent Dana Scully in the X-Files

London, July 7: Gillian Anderson, famous the world over for playing the cool, icy, beautiful but unattainable special agent Dana Scully in The X-Files, stars in a new Hollywood movie called Sold, which will open the London Indian Film Festival on Thursday.

This time she plays Sophie, an American photographer investigating child trafficking in Calcutta, where the film has mostly been shot on location.

But there is no comparison with delicious Dana. In one scene, she impersonates a nun in a blue bordered sari of the kind made instantly recognisable by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.

While handing out leaflets offering free health checks to poor people in the lanes of Calcutta, she secretly keeps clicking away with her digital camera. She spots a face at a window and takes pictures of little Lakshmi (played with much conviction by Niyar Saikia), who has been trafficked from Nepal to a brothel in Calcutta. Unfortunately, Sophie is outed by a thug who pushes her away and stamps on her camera.

But Sophie manages to retrieve the images and show them off on her iPad to workers at a rescue centre.

Ahead of Sold’s premiere on Thursday, members of the Indian Journalists’ Association were shown the film at the screening room of the May Fair Hotel. The subject of the film is grim but the story is not without hope — Lakshmi is rescued and has every chance of leading a normal life in the future.

Anderson is expected in London for the premiere and has agreed to do a Q&A for the audience but has kept her “one to one” interviews with journalists to a minimum.

She issued a statement supporting the film, which is adapted from the book on trafficking by Patricia McCormick.

Anderson dressed as a Calcutta nun in Sold

“Working on this sensitively told film and with young women, who have themselves experienced the unbelievable trauma of abduction and trafficking, has opened my eyes to the horrors these young people face on a daily basis, as well as the often life-threatening danger those working at the charities put themselves in to free these innocent victims from modern-day slavery,” said Anderson.

The 45-year-old actress has taken up a number of social causes. For example, Anderson was one of the artist signatories of Amnesty International’s letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron campaigning for women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Sold’s executive producer is the British double Oscar winner Emma Thompson, who praised the film’s “marvellous script and courageous and brilliant cast.... We felt able to act without feeling the kind of rage and hopelessness that gets in the way of doing anything”.

She added: “It is wonderful to have our film premiered at London Indian Film Festival, to raise awareness of child trafficking, which is an issue close to my heart and is shockingly on the increase worldwide. We hope that this film will make people think and highlight the support for key charities such as the Helen Bamber Foundation and others working in this difficult area in India, Nepal and elsewhere.”

The film has provided plenty of work for the cast, the majority of whom are Bengalis.

Mumtaz, the madam who runs the brothel where Lakshmi is brutalised as taja maal (virginal girl), is portrayed convincingly by Sushmita Mukerjee.

When the police raid the property, Mumtaz is both angry and puzzled. Since the cops are in receipt of regular bribes, she demands to know why her premises have attracted such interest. When the girls are hidden by ushering them through a hole in the wall, the police fail to find them. They do better on a second raid. The viewer must wonder why the brothel was allowed to hold so many vulnerable girls for so long with total impunity.

There are many other Bengalis in the cast — Vikram (Parambrata Chatterjee) plays the good guy in the rescue centre. But when Sophie urges him immediately to rescue the girl she has seen at the window, he appeals for more time because there is apparently a protocol to follow. On the first raid, despite his assurances, no one is netted.

Mumtaz’s girls include Shahanna (Aratrika Roy), Monica (Priyanka Bose) and Pushpa (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee). The cute boy in the brothel is Harish (Saptarshi Basu Roychowdhury). Seema Biswas is Lakshmi’s mother in Nepal.

The film has been directed by Jeffrey D. Brown, an Academy and Emmy award winner, who has taken seven years to make the movie as his “passion project”.

Calcutta has to be grateful for small mercies. At least Sold does not have local MPs threatening to use rape as a political tool, otherwise the film would have been condemned as totally unrealistic.

“When I read Sold by Patricia McCormick, I knew I had found the story that I had been looking for, and I optioned the novel the next day,” Brown said. “I knew that this first-person account of a courageous young girl named Lakshmi, who is trafficked from rural Nepal to a brothel in bustling Calcutta, was a story that could make a powerful film which would shed light on a dire issue and could drive a campaign to raise funds for children who had been through this terrible ordeal.”

“We hope Sold will focus world attention on the plight of sexually exploited children in the way a film like An Inconvenient Truth galvanised awareness for global warming,” he said.