Some 5.5 million children worldwide are victims of sex trafficking.
ROCKVILLE, Maryland: – ‘Sold’, a soul-searing film on child trafficking, by Academy award-winning director Jeffrey Brown, won the award for ‘Best Feature Film’ at the fifth edition of the DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) which showcases the finest in independent cinema.
Brown bagged the ‘Achievement Award for Social Awareness on Human Trafficking’, at the festival. Well deserved honors!
‘Sold’ is buttressed by Hollywood heavyweights. It’s executive producer is two-time Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson who performs yoga with survivors of human trafficking. The film is produced by Jane Charles and stars Gillian Anderson and David Arquette in small, but pivotal roles. Among the talented Indian artistes are: international award-winning actress Seema Biswas of ‘Bandit Queen’ fame; actress Sushmita Mukerjee (‘Dostana’, ‘Golmaal’, ‘King Uncle’); and Niyar Saikia of Assam who is riveting, unforgettable in her role as the child protagonist, Lakshmi.
“Our film is on a mission to end child trafficking”, vows Brown who won an Oscar for his short film, ‘Molly’s Pilgrim’, in 1986. “We want ‘Sold’ to connect Hollywood and Bollywood, Silicon Valley and Bangalore, using screening events to raise funds for our many NGO (non-governmental organization) partners to support them in their critical work helping vulnerable children”, he says.
The film was part of the impressive roster at the Washington area’s only festival for South Asian indie films, a three-day event organized annually by Manoj and Geeta Singh of Ceasar Productions which draws a discerning audience that appreciates meaningful movies. Now in it’s fifth year, the festival was held at Montgomery College in Rockville, with some films shown at the popular AMC Loews Rio Cinemas in Gaithersburg.
‘Sold’, screened at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center of Montgomery College on Saturday, is based on a best selling novel of the same name by Patricia McCormick. It disturbs the viewer, even as it motivates.
The film is about Lakshmi, a 13-year-old carefree and happy girl growing up amidst the pristine beauty of rural Nepal. A heavy monsoon destroys the family’s crop and her stepfather sells her to Bimla (Tillotama Shome) who entices her with a job in India. Lakshmi relents in the hope that she can earn enough for a new tin roof to replace the leaky one on her home. The crafty woman takes her to ‘Happiness House’, a brothel in the squalor of Kolkata where she is abused and exploited beyond belief. The film now explores her struggle to escape. And she does.
In reality, other children are not so fortunate. Brown informed us that while figures vary, it is widely believed that only 10 to 30 percent of trafficking victims manage to escape, usually with the help of an insider or a sympathetic customer.
In a post screening panel discussion, he revealed some startling facts. While the film was being made, it’s crew visited NGOs in Nepal which are helping some 2,000 kids who have been trafficked — “Children who are 14, 15, 16, having 10 to 20 customers a night, seven days a week for years, sometimes”, Brown told the audience. “Some of these children had children, some of them had HIV-AIDS. The NGOs were rescuing them and doing what they could to give them an education and rudimentary vocational training. These kids won’t be free until they get some healing and vocational training which we are working on to bring to them”, he said.
Monika Samtani, reporter for CBS station WUSA9, moderated the panel discussion and noted at the outset that “trafficking is a global human rights issue affecting 5.5 million children each year. It is modern slavery. What is the film doing to make a change”, she queried.
Brown replied, “the best way to prevent trafficking is education. If a girl is educated until 18, her chances of getting trafficked drop 80 percent”.
He revealed that ‘Sold’ is raising money to rebuild schools in the most trafficked areas of Nepal. “We have built 90 classrooms so far; we will be building another 200 in the Spring”, he said. “Hope House is a real place. It is still being constructed”.
Brown mentioned that the Art of Living Foundation, founded by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, has a care for children initiative called Project Udaan. “We are partnering with that community to raise funds to build ten more of these facilities”, he disclosed. “They are centers where children of sex workers can get out of the red light district so they don’t follow their mother’s footsteps. They can get a real education and this community will see them all the way through college. We are also bringing healing through iRest Yoga Nidra, as well as vocational training to the survivors. So, it is a multi-pronged approach”, he said.
When ‘Sold’ was screened in 2014, Childreach International, a global children’s charity, reported that 12,000 to 15,000 children are trafficked annually from Nepal, and an estimated 200,000 girls and women are working in Indian brothels. At the time, a TaughtNotTraffickedFund was set up with the film to rebuild the lives of trafficked children in India, Nepal and the US.
At the panel discussion, Brown emphasized, “the film is being used to help trafficked victims in India, Nepal and the US, more so in India and Nepal. My heart is more in India because the problem is bigger there”, he said.
The director urged viewers to visit the website at www.soldthemovie.comand join the campaign to end child trafficking. “We are also selling products, beautiful clothing and jewelry, which have been made by the survivors of sex trafficking that gives them an income”, and also channels 15 percent towards the campaign, he said.
“This is not just a movie, it is a movement”, Samtani averred. “You have completely dedicated your life” to ending child trafficking”, she told Brown.
Among the other panelists were: Seema Biswas who plays the role of Lakshmi’s mother in ‘Sold’; Loudoun County based Sarva Rajendra of Sahasra Deepika Foundation for Education which has been operating in Bangalore for 18 years; and Sheela Murthy, lawyer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, founder and president of Maryland based Murthy Law Firm which specializes in immigration matters.
Biswas plays a small role in ‘Sold’ which she accepted because she wanted to contribute towards the movement to end child trafficking. She believed it was important to focus on how to stop it in the first place, prevent a child from being trafficked.
The gifted actress recalled the furore that was created upon the release of her film, ‘Bandit Queen’, in which the central character, a woman, refuses to be a victim and confronts her abusers head-on. It took a national award to quiet the dissent. “The film was ahead of its time”, said Biswas.
When Samtani pointed out that “human trafficking is now a 160 billion dollar business”, Murthy lamented, “There is something wrong with society, with each and every one of us, because we have allowed this to continue by turning the other eye or not doing enough”. She was appalled that it is happening in America where laws are so rigorously enforced.
Rajendra told the audience, “A lot of the girls that we work with in our residential facility have single mothers who can’t watch over them. We provide a setting where those children are cared for, are educated”. The center houses 70 girls from destitute families.
Brown spoke glowingly of his meeting with Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has rescued 85,000 children from labor slavery in India. “Meeting him was like meeting Gandhi”, he gushed, recalling the Nobel laureate words: ‘All of these children are our children’.
Brown told the audience, “If you met these kids, you would be doing what I am doing. They are your kids too, and I would love you to meet them. They are like your daughter. These kids need communities, they need support, they need connection. I think all of the terrible things that happen in this world are because of a breach of connection. We are all inter-connected, and we have to care for each other. That’s what happened to me while making this film. I met all these kids, so I just have to do something”, he said.
‘Sold’, is a must watch film which raises a clarion call for action. If it saves girls from being sold into sexual slavery, it will go down in the annals of cinematic history as a film which made a mighty difference. Watch it if only to reaffirm that we all have a conscience!