Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 4, No. 4, 2005
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Phil Nixon
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Robert Fisk
Michael Moore
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Mark Kingwell
Arundhati Roy
Naomi Klein
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
David Solway
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein


reviewed by

Ken Eisner reviews films at the Georgia Straight.

* * * * * * * * * *

Oh, great, you figure. With a title like Born Into Brothels, you're really in for a fun ride at the movies. Far from being a grim and gruelling day in the bowels of Documentary Land, however, the breezily paced movie turns out to be a heartening, almost exhilarating journey into worlds unknown and well worth knowing.

The movie immediately zeroes in on eight Calcutta urchins who would likely be no-hopers if photographer Zana Briski hadn't handed them 35mm cameras and then stood back to see what clicks. Suddenly the children of prostitutes and drug addicts get an angle on the world, and their point of view is literally validated by the experience.

Born into BrothelsOne of the film's central strengths is the speed with which it establishes the highly developed personalities of its protagonists, such as shy Kochi, assertive Shanti, and her impish brother Manik, who prefers to fly kites and puts up with his hash-smoking, ne'er-do-well father. "I try to love him a little," he says manfully.

The mothers try to love the kids a little too. They are more or less supportive of Briski's project, but you've never seen tongues like the whips that lash out of these two-rupee hookers. Although the camera is present, they appear quite comfortable unloading epithets on their children and on one another that would make a Russian sailor blush.

The kids take it and move on, but there are snags. Even as the children are empowered as artists, they meet resistance from family members, neighbors, and especially bureaucrats, who seem to throw up a hurdle every time Briski finds an opportunity for her students to travel or attend boarding schools -- -the surest ticket out of the urban armpit called Sonagachi.

In particular, the film's story largely revolves around Avijit, a born artist with a Buddha belly and seen-it-all eyes who first faces family tragedy and then runs into government obstacles (ironically, after his photos are recognized as being a cut above the class's already high standards). His struggle is the stuff of high drama, but Briski and her codirector, Ross Kauffman, don't milk the big moments for unearned sentiment. Calcutta's Homeless

There's plenty of emotion, anyway, in the mixture of fresh faces, desperately poor surroundings, and pulse-racing Indian music (used to most exhilarating effect during the kids' one-off bus trip to the beach). Some critics have faulted the film for not making Calcutta's horrors horrible enough. But we already know about this level of poverty; what we get less of, in everyday life and in visits to the multiplex, is the sense of how much wealth is hidden in the muck, and how much difference one person with open eyes can make.

Born Into Brothels is directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman.

E-Tango: Web Design and lowest rates for web hosting
Care + Net Computer Services
Couleur JAZZ 91.9
Available Ad Space
MCC Marchande d'Art at:
Armand Vaillancourt: sculptor
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis