Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids

First time filmmakers and Academy Award winners Zana Briski and Ross Kaufman have given audiences a sensitive and realistic view of what life looks like a cramped, dirty, chaotic world – that of prostitutes and their children of Calcutta’s red light district.

 

Zana Briski first went to Calcutta to photograph the life of the women of the district but ended up doing two things. She taught eight children how to take photographs and at the same time learned from eight children about hope.

 

Born into Brothels is a very simple film. Zana introduces the children and we see their lives, families and the amazing photographs they take of their world. Zana decides to help the children have a chance at a better life. She sells the photographs to make enough money to send the children to boarding school. She struggles to find schools who will take the children of prostitutes, because most will not; she struggles with an impossibly out-dated bureaucracy to get their papers together to meet the schools’ criteria for acceptance; then she struggles with the children’s’ deterministic attitudes and those of their families.

 

There are parts of the film that are shocking because the reality is too harsh to imagine. Yet, I came to a greater understanding of the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and why she cared for the poorest of the poor without the hope of changing social structures from the top down. Like Mother Teresa, the filmmakers, through art, tried to make a difference in the lives of eight children, one child at a time. They did what they could. They did not want to make a film just to pay the bills; the film is a result of their realization of the fine balance between art and social responsibility – about caring. We will never know if the filmmakers have succeeded in the long run; but we are encouraged by their example to put love into action and try, even for the sake of one child, to make a difference.

 

Congratulations to the Academy for recognizing this film.

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