An award-winning film spotlighting the problem of child trafficking in India opened in cinemas on Friday based on the true story of a girl sold into the sex trade who fought to see her kidnappers convicted.
Called “stomach-churning” by one commentator, Hindi-language Lakshmi was directed by Nagesh Kukunoor, who also stars in it as a ruthless pimp.
He said he was inspired to make the film after meeting a girl, whose real name is not revealed, on a visit to a rescue center on India’s southeastern coast.
“A 14-year-old forced into prostitution who, when she got away, had the courage to take her traffickers to court and set a precedent was a compelling story,” Kukunoor said. “When I met her she was 17 and living and working in the rescue center.”
The director said the verdict in the girl’s case was the first of its kind in his home state, Andhra Pradesh, and there have since been more than 100 successful cases of girls bringing their abductors to court in the state.
Tens of thousands of children are trafficked within South Asia every year and India has become a hub in the trade of girls for prostitution.
Kukunoor said he heard “story after story of inhuman behavior” from women at the rescue center.
“In spite of the abuse they had endured, these women were having a normal conversation with me, which was a testimony to their resilience,” the director said.
Lakshmi, an independent film that won an audience award at the Palm Springs Film Festival in the US this year, had been certified for adults only when it opened across India on Friday.
“There is no way to sugarcoat child trafficking and yet I do not show any sexual activity — it is implied,” Kukunoor said.
“However, I have made it uncomfortable and disturbing in parts, because we are numb to statistics, and until I met these women I was also desensitized. I needed to serve the story and not sensationalize it,” he said.
Social commentator Shobhaa De wrote in a recent column in the Mumbai Mirror that the film was “a savage story, savagely told.”
“I could watch just 70 percent of what was being projected in the darkened theater, without throwing up or rushing out of the screening, unable to take any more of the relentless, stomach-churning and exceedingly graphic brutality on screen,” she wrote.