Set in and around the dark underworld of global sex trafficking, the directorial debut from Indian director Tabrez Noorani relates the story of 17-year-old Sonia’s gruelling journey through Mumbai’s red light district, following her determined struggle to reunite with her sister, Preethi.
Though dominated by a bullying father (Adil Hussain), the bond between the siblings is very close. During the deal in which Preethi (Riya Sisodiya) is sold to landlord Dada Thakur (an atypical role from Bollywood icon Anupam Kher), Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) overhears the sale and begs to be sent alongside her sister, unaware of the horrifying world she is about to enter.
Brought to Mumbai by female pimp Anjali (Sai Tamhankar), distressing scenes follow, in which Sonia comes face to face with the brothel’s clientele. While being chained to the bed, she meets the feisty Rashmi (Freida Pinto), who has her own tragic tale – Noorani using her character to provide a voice to these otherwise nameless individuals in society. Thakur portrays the protagonist with vulnerability and an unshakeable strength that leaves you in tears and clenched fists, longing for her to be saved. Not much salvation exists in the film, but the little that does comes from non-profit organisation worker Manish (Rajkummar Rao) and brothel worker Madhuri (Richa Chadha), who Sonia befriends.
Kept as a prized possession, Sonia’s virginity is sold to the highest bidder through pimp Faizal, who unbelievably states, “These girls are like my daughters” – the role played with menacing exactitude by Manoj Bajpayee. Shocking statements like this represent deals that occur in the real-life sex trade, many of which are non-consensual.
Noorani accurately captures the seedy side of Mumbai, where girls as young as 8 are lured into brothels, or sold by their families. Love Sonia is not an easy viewing by any means, but a necessary one that creates discussions around important topics such as gender rights and human trafficking, showing the illegal occurrences taking place daily in cities like Hong Kong and Los Angeles. The story is not completely original, but the director’s experiences working with non-profit organisation CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking) to rescue girls presents the film in an authentic way.
270 young girls and women go missing in India every day – less than one per cent of whom are saved – and it is shocking statistics like these that make you want to create change in the world.
Love Sonia is released in select cinemas on 25th January 2019.
Watch the trailer for Love Sonia here: