“It’s very rare that a piece of art or storytelling could really help to change things, but Sold is one of those films”, said Executive Producer and twice Academy Award winner Emma Thompson. Based on the novel by Patricia McCormick, Sold is the story of a 12-year-old girl who is a victim of child trafficking in Nepal and is sent to a brothel in Calcutta, India.
Child labour and prostitution is not a new phenomenon in India. The number of the victims is still very rife, despite the social awareness of the issue. According to a survey conducted by Indian Health Organisation, in 1987, 20% of prostitutes are children, and up to 70% of women are eventually forced into prostitution. The number of prostitutes rose by 50% between 1997 and 2004. Of 200 million women suffering from sexually transmitted diseases in the world, 50 million alone are in India.
The main character in Sold, Lakshimi (Niyar Saikia), represents millions and millions of children. She works hard every day helping her mom in the house in rural Nepal. Her father does not have a job and often comes home drunk. He then decides to sell their child to an Indian woman who traffics children from Nepal to its Southern neighbour. In reality, Nepal has a very large female population and the majority of them are illiterate, very religious and succumb to the promises of being taken to temples in India. There is widespread unemployment in Nepal, leaving young girls and their families highly vulnerable to commercial exploitation.
Jeffrey D. Brown explains that the film is very personal to him: “I have a strong connection with India because my step-father was Indian and I traveled there when I was 10”. Despite this, the film is more Hollywood than Bollywood or Indian art house, as the director tones down poverty and violence through his cinematography. The colours of the photography are bright green, red and yellow, somehow disguising the cruel reality. Even the scenes in which Lakshimi is raped are somehow digestible.
Niyar Saikia is an incredible young actress, selected from a pool of more than 1,000 girls. She can act, sing and dance. She gives credibility to the narrative, and blends in well with the rest of inexperienced Indian actors.
Hope is provided by a real organisation called Head First Development, which fights against child abuse in Calcutta. Actress Gillian Anderson (from X-Files) plays a brave photographer called Sophia inspired by Lisa Kristine, who photographed slaves all over the world. She joins the organisation and finds out that bureaucracy is a stepping stone on the way of justice in India, and that the local police gleefully trade their omission for the free use of the girls. But she is determined not to rest until she saves the little girl, in good Hollywood heroic style.
The result is a beautiful and gripping movie about a very urgent and often overlooked topic, if a little romanticised.
Sold is part of a wider effort to raise awareness and funds to address the issue of child trafficking. The film team is involved in a campaign called Taught Not Trafficked, which you can access by clicking here. The film is currently negotiating a distribution deal in the UK, but it still up-for-grabs in other countries – you can find out more here. Right now, it is showing in cinemas across the United States. The film trailer can be viewed below: