Born into Brothels

Filed under: a group of folks,movies,thoughts @ 13:29

Holly and I went to see Born into Brothels on Wednesday. The documentary follows a photographer, Zana Briski, who originally went to Calcutta’s red light district to shoot the lives of the prostitutes but eventually became attached to the women’s children. She began giving them photography lessons. As Holly notes, the kids become really empowered by their new means of creation and communication. And some of their pictures are really freakin’ good. One of the kids, Avijit, was invited to Amsterdam with eight other children from around the world to exhibit their works internationally.

It’s really an amazing story. Here are these kids that live in a brothel; about twenty people all living in one apartment, each family with its own little room. When their mothers work, they pull a curtain across the bed, so the children don’t see anything that goes on. The sounds, I imagine, are harder to filter out. To escape, the kids go play on the roof or in the streets, but they themselves work most of the day too: washing dishes, going to the market, cooking. These kids are like ten years old and they work long days, see there mothers abused, beaten or burned to death, (more or less) go to school, and still manage to have fun. They play games, fly kites, laugh with each other. That’s what amazed me most watching the movie; there were times these kids were genuinely happy. I probably would have withered away a long time ago if I’d grown up in similar circumstances. Maybe the ones like me already have, and we’re only left with the strongest. It really shows how resilient little kids can be in terrible conditions, but makes you wonder just how psychologically damaged they’ll end up.

Photography, for some of these kids, is their way out of their abusive, drug riddled environment – a way out of prostitution. Through photography and the monumental efforts of their teacher, many of them were able to attend boarding schools (that is, were able to leave the red light district) and pursue a real education in a healthy environment. What’s sad is that this woman spent years of her life with about eight kids (at least that’s the story of the documentary). Eight. There really needs to be massive organizational change in order to help more than handfuls of children at a time.

Holly speaks more on these issues. I’d suggest going to her site for discussion.


    Holly 04.08.2005 @ 14:01

    I really like your comments about the movie. But, I’m a bit partial, since I went to see it with you. =) I definitely agree with your comment, “I probably would have withered away a long time ago if I’d grown up in similar circumstances.” It’s really humbling, because I complain so much stupid crap. Their fun is both embarassing and inspiring. It messes with my sense of entitlement and comfort. Yikes.

    I don’t intend to communicate a romanticization of their poverty. I am trying to understand why this movie still haunts me.

    MDA 04.08.2005 @ 14:21

    It really struck me how grown up those kids were, especially when they were talking about their photography. They knew as much about how their world really works as any adult. They knew just which of their friends were definitely going to end up as a prostitute and which ones might have a chance otherwise. They knew how bad they had it, and they wanted to document their surroundings for others to see. At the same time, they were amicably making fun of one another and playing games on the roof. Playing in the ocean. That juxtaposition is part of the haunting for me.

    Paul.za 04.08.2005 @ 19:50

    It’s one of the greatest contradictions in the human soul, methinks, that we can be both so resilient, and so fragile. These kids are unbelievably resilient, but as you say will be scarred as well. And far, far less terribly conditions leave scars for a lifetime too. All quite amazing.

    Holly 04.08.2005 @ 21:20

    I want to see it again. It is beautiful.

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