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Lights, camera, activism!
There is no dearth of drama in Sunitha Krishnan's life or line of work. A victim of sexual abuse herself, she and her NGO, Prajwala, have rescued thousands of victims of sex trafficking - 7895, to be precise, she tells you. Just last Wednesday she was part of a raid on a GB Road brothel in Delhi. A couple of years ago she managed to escape an acid attack. These are not stories for the faint-hearted and they certainly do not make for a family film.
But Krishnan has decided to turn one of the many horrific stories she hears and experiences on a daily basis into what she defines as "family thriller". This Christmas week, Ente, co-produced by her and directed by her filmmaker husband, Rajesh Touchriver, is set to release across Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. It will compete in 30 theatres with regular masala blockbusters from Mohanlal and Mammotty.
"My life itself is a thriller, with the endless adrenaline the business of rescue work brings - detecting, manipulating, strategising, acting. But it is so easy for most of us to stay detached from the horrors of the lives of these women and young girls. They come from poor homes, have dramatically tragic childhoods so we can never personalise their story because they are not like us. But Ente is about an incident that could have happened to any of us. This film will force viewers to not just watch a plot but also see themselves in it, " she says.
One of the most trenchant voices in the field of rescue and rehab work for sex workers - a word she hates because it she believes it dignifies exploitation - Krishnan is tight-lipped about the plot of the film. It is film about a normal middle-class family caught in an abnormal situation is all she is willing to divulge.
The film starring Siddique and Anjali Patil is not art house in its approach - there are four situational songs (music is scored by Shantanu Moitra and Sharath) and there is action too. But the violence, Krishnan maintains, is not revolting on screen "but people will come away revolted anyway". The last thing she wanted was to turn real life into pulp fiction, she says.
Predictably, it was not an easy venture. Mainstream producers shrank from touching it because they thought it belonged to the alternate league. "It was certainly a difficult film with a lot of grey areas. There was rape and torture but it couldn't be explicitly shown. We didn't want to keep young audiences away from this story, " says Touchriver.
The lead actor Anjali Patil is a product of the National School of Drama who was noticed for her performance in Prakash Jha's recent film Chakravyuha. "She fits the girl next door image beautifully, " says the director.
Krishnan is in Dehi for yet another battle. She is appearing at the Supreme Court for an ongoing case. She is challenging the apex court on the use of the term commercial sex worker to define women in the business of selling their bodies. Her point is: if trafficked women are not victims but members of a profession, then why talk of the rescue or rehabilitation, and if they are victims of exploitation, why dignify their tragedy with a term like CSW. "Why not VOCSE - victims of commercial sexual exploitation?" she asks.
Krishnan's point of view is part of an increasingly diminishing kind of social activism. Most NGOs and AIDS lobbies are now keen to give prostitution some semblance of dignity so that at least their health issues are out in the open, discussed and dealt with. "This whole political correctness I don't agree with. Around 45 per cent of these women are inducted as sex workers as children, where is the question of choice? And how many of us will cheerfully send our daughters into prostitution as a career ? We are ending up normalising an abnormal situation. In fact my film will break a lot of these fashionable arguments for dignifying prostitution, " she says.
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