Haunting in its portrayal of the missing girls of India

Review

By Ushnota Paul
  • Published 15.09.18
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The film about human trafficking begins with the image of a butterfly trapped in a glass jar — in a village 1,400km from Mumbai. A young schoolboy tells his fellow classmates — sisters Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) and Preeti (Riya Sisodiya) — “When you feel the fluttering of its wings on your cheek, it feels like a kiss.” A few days later, the butterfly stops fluttering. “Kuch der baad yeh apna hi ghar lagne lagta hai,” the boy observes. It holds true for the inhabitants of the dingy brothels in Mumbai who after a while get accustomed to the new reality.

The sisters’ debt-ridden farmer father (Adil Hussain) in a moment of desperation sells off Preeti with the help of the influential Dada Thakur (Anupam Kher). Sonia decides to go to Mumbai to find Preeti, accompanied by a shady woman (Sai Tamhankar as the fabulous Anjali). There’s no establishing shot of Mumbai as the mayanagri — you get thrown straight into the dark alleys of the brothels.

Freida Pinto as the sassy Rashmi, in her itsy-bitsy saris, is brilliant. She thinks of herself as the queen of the brothel and keeps the pain of losing her son away by dancing to Hindi item numbers in her room.

Manoj Bajpayee, as the pimp Faisal, is deadly. He beats up a man who’s rough with the girls and yet you can’t escape him — he’s their protector and also their abuser. He tries to sell Sonia to the highest international bidder and also calmly pimps a girl off in exchange of a cigarette.

Rajkummar Rao is largely wasted, but even in the few scenes as Manish, an NGO worker, he shines as always. Richa Chadha as the older prostitute Madhuri is fantastic with her body language, her frustration and her dialogue delivery. But the star of the film is debutante Mrunal Thakur as Sonia. It’s her that we root for — from the time she climbs a tree to escape the wrath of her drunken father till the time she tries to escape the international sex traders in Los Angeles.

Demi Moore and Mark Duplass make bit appearances — as an activist and a client, respectively —  but the attention remains fixed on Sonia and her struggle, as she travels from the Mumbai brothels to Hong Kong and Los Angeles, prized for her “virgin village girl” status and all the while looking for her missing sister.

Director Tabrez Noorani doesn’t wince while plunging deep into the brutal reality of the Mumbai underbelly, forcing you to keep your eyes open. His biggest achievement is making a star-studded ensemble film work and upholding the story as the real star.

Lucas Bielan’s cinematography beautifully captures Sonia’s ups and downs — sunlight plays with her face in moments of hope and eludes her during darkness.

The title of the film is like a red herring — the only reference to it being an email that Sonia writes to Preeti, at the end of the film, signing it off as ‘Love, Sonia’.

Love Sonia ends with a chilling card —“270 women and girls go missing in India every day”.