It seems almost impossible to create such a documentary without getting personally invested into the lives of those situated in the locale of Born Into Brothels. The denizens in the Calcutta red-light district exist in a sort of socioeconomic limbo. Cast aside from the rustic charms of the Indian countryside where some live in enviable harmony with nature and others who are cloaked in the indifference of a prospering economy, the child prostitutes in Zana Briski and Ross Kauffmans Oscar winning documentary manage to subsist right in the middle of these painfully close ways of life. They are in bondage to the legacy left to them by their elders and are seemingly destined to carry forward the fatalism of their heinous occupation to their own progenies. In this respect, the gift that these particular filmmakers offer their subjects is not just the promise of exposure to their unseen plight but a very real chance to escape the cycle.
By the films end, we realise that its strongest suit is possibly its weakest as well. The duos close proximity and attachment to each child opens up a rewardingly trenchant perspective that we wouldnt have been able to get otherwise. But then again, it is this narrow and obscured view that hinders a complete spectrum of this vile practice in the countrys provinces. It is indeed as much about the filmmakers as it is about its subject and Briskis struggles with the bureaucracy and the insidious caste system that threatens to exclude her efforts to help the pubescent group of boys and girls to whom we are introduced. These children are shown to be intelligent and through interviews, we discern their underlying sense of wisdom about the world around them and the fascination with Briskis interaction is a welcome retreat from the sadness that permeates their livelihoods.
A criticism can be levelled at its crew in this case when the complexities of grassroots efforts in the country remain ignored in lieu of Briskis borderline indulgent commentary about her personal sacrifices and devotion to her blossoming protgs. The situation that Briski and Kauffman find themselves in can be easily misconstrued as a self-congratulatory pat on the back for white charity that redefined the meaning of prostitution that can be understandable from a prima facie outlook. And in all honesty, the cynical thought did cross my mind as I recall its Academy Award win. But then again, given that its alternative is letting the atrocities go unwitnessed, that momentary betrayal to the spirit of the documentary is swiftly driven out.
The potential for change in the lives of the featured few is highlighted in a big way. I will not pretend to understand or chastise those who have refused the opportunity presented to them because of the unsettlingly unexplainable reason that I am here and they are there. But its effects still continue to be felt in the few children (and more crucially, the parents) who chose to accept the changes to their ingrained, hardened way of life by allowing the chains to be finally broken.