Love Sonia

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Love Sonia
dir Tabrez Noorani
scr Ted Caplan, Alkesh Vaja
prd Tabrez Noorani, David Womark
with Mrunal Thakur, Richa Chadha, Rajkummar Rao, Manoj Bajpayee, Freida Pinto, Mark Duplass, Demi Moore, Sai Tamhankar, Riya Sisodiya, Abhishek Bharate, Adil Hussain, Anupam Kher
release Ind 24.Sep.18, UK 25.Jan.19
18/India 2h00

pinto duplass moore

Skilfully written and directed, this Indian drama tackles a global issue with honesty and emotion. It's a powerfully involving story, based on real events, following a young woman on a harrowing odyssey as she is trafficked halfway around the world. It's a gripping depiction of the nightmarish truth that, right now, there are more slaves than at any time in human history.
In dusty rural India, 17-year-old Sonia (Thakur) works the family farm with her father (Hussain), while her sister Preeti (Sisodiya) avoids hard labour. Desperately broke, their father offers Preeti to a landowner (Kher), who sends her to Mumbai to work. Missing her, Sonia also volunteers, then finds herself in a seedy brothel where her virginity makes her a valuable commodity to the local pimp (Bajpayee). Mentored by experienced prostitute Madhuri (Chadha), Sonia meets an undercover activist (Rao) who wants to help. But she and Madhuri are quickly shipped to Hong Kong and then Los Angeles.
The nature of the global operation is deeply disturbing, especially when seen through Sonia's confused eyes as she is repackaged, drugged and presented to a series of clients who are provocatively played with sympathy. The true villains here are the unseen masterminds who created this global supply-and-demand network, shipping girls around as if they were dolls. The chilling fact is that there are more than half a million women being abused in this system, and less than 1 percent escape.

Newcomer Thakur is excellent in a tough role, taking Sonia from an innocent schoolgirl with a crush on a classmate (Bharate) into the depths of terror. She has terrific chemistry with each costar, the friendly and not-so-friendly ones. Pinto is another trafficked woman, mercurial and fragile. Chadha is excellent as a confident woman who forgets how vulnerable she is. And while it's fairly easy to see which men are good and bad, actors Rao, Bajpayee and Duplass (as an LA client) offer a range of unexpected textures.

Director Noorani has a difficult job here, re-enacting an intensely bleak situation without causing too much distress for the audience. There's never any question about what is going on, but it's never too graphic, carefully walking a line between cold, hard realism and seeing things from Sonia's perspective. This means that some of the things she endures feel much more horrifying than others, which forces the audience to think about easy judgements and preconceptions. And since it feels so real, it's impossible to ignore.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 10.Jan.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall