17 February 2013

Film review: Born into Brothels (2004) by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, ****

"Running" by Gour, 13 years old

The most stigmatized people in Calcutta's red light district are not the prostitutes, but their children. In the face of abject poverty, abuse, and despair, these kids have little possibility of escaping their mother's fate or for creating another type of life. Directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman chronicle the amazing transformation of the children they come to know in the red light district. Briski, a professional photographer, gives them lessons and cameras, igniting latent sparks of artistic genius that reside in these children who live in the most sordid and seemingly hopeless world. The photographs taken by the children are not merely examples of remarkable observation and talent; they reflect something much larger, morally encouraging, and even politically volatile: art as an immensely liberating and empowering force.

The winner of the 77th annual Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Born into Brothels offers a tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art. Devoid of sentimentality, Born into Brothels defies the typical tear-stained tourist snapshot of the global underbelly. Briski spends years with these kids and becomes part of their lives. Their photographs are prisms into their souls, rather than anthropological curiosities or primitive imagery, and a true testimony of the power of the indelible creative spirit.


An interesting documentary on the condition of children in the red district of Calcutta. Briski spent a lot of time there and obviously identifies with her subject, though unfortunately she is not always successful in achieving her aim of giving children of prostitutes a life out of the condition they are born in. Given the overall situation in Calcutta, these children are not at the bottom, and are generally well fed, but lack opportunities for education and personal achievement.

Briski has been accused of exploiting the children as objects in her documentary, but I think this is unfair: there is nothing wrong in filming your work if this raises awareness and helps with fund raising, which this film certainly did.

At the end of the film, one is left with mixed feelings: on the one hand, a few kids make it and through their photos achieve emancipation from the slums. On the other hand, many don't, either because their parents prevent them or because they can't make the fateful decision to leave home.

You can see the trailer of the film here.

Briski has helped st up Kids with Cameras. As a photographer, I was impressed by the quality of some of these pictures! Click on this link to see their photos and support their work.

See more of my reviews of films about India in this blog.

Buy your European DVD here:

In the US buy it here:

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