‘Love Sonia’ – An Uncomfortable, True Story Of Indian Sex Trafficking

Still from the film
Still from the filmLove Sonia

When it was screened for the first time ever at the Bagri London Indian Film Festival this summer, ‘Love Sonia’ brought its audience to tears and received a standing ovation. The film follows the story of a young Indian girl, Sonia (played by Mrunal Thakur), who goes on a search for her sister who was sold into the sex trafficking industry by their father. On her search, Sonia becomes a victim of trafficking herself, and is trafficked to Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

It’s star-studded ensemble cast, featuring Freida Pinto in a leading role alongside Anupam Kher, Richa Chadha, Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, and Demi Moore - brings to life a difficult and chilling tale of global sex trafficking, which was pieced together from true accounts and survivor stories witnessed by director and anti-trafficking advocate, Tabrez Noorani.

Though “Love Sonia” might be his directorial debut, Tabrez Noorani is no newcomer to Hollywood. The man behind India Take One Productions, Noorani has been working in the film industry for well over a decade. From ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ to ‘Life of Pi’, Noorani has had a hand in producing nearly every major Hollywood film shot in India.

Born and raised in Mumbai, Noorani is the nephew of legendary Indian ad man and documentary filmmaker Zafar Hai, and his love for movies has existed since childhood. “When my mother was pregnant, apparently all she did was watch movies and eat chocolate,” said Noorani about his love for film, in an interview with Man’s World India. His years of working in the film industry enabled him to build up the connections and expertise to work on ‘Love Sonia.’ Both actress Freida Pinto and producer David Womark joined the film after working with Noorani on ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Life of Pi’ respectively.

However, film expertise is not all Noorani brought to the table when writing and directing ‘Love Sonia’. In 2002, Noorani began working with LA-based anti-trafficking NGO, Cast (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking), when he was asked to help with a young Indian woman who had been trafficked to Los Angeles. “She had been trafficked through two countries and ended up in a container in Los Angeles. This opened my eyes and drew me into the world of global sex trafficking,” Noorani told The New Indian Express.

Since then, Noorani has been working with several NGOs in India and Los Angeles to help rescue girls from trafficking, conducting raids and using ‘scouting for filming locations’ as a cover for scouting out potential trafficking spots and brothels. Noorani spent nearly a decade writing and preparing the film, using his work with anti-trafficking NGOs and conversations with sex trafficking survivors for research.

In interviews about the film, Noorani has expressed that one of his goals was for the film to discuss the uncomfortable truth about sex trafficking in places like the USA. Most people’s assumption is that sex trafficking is a problem confined to under-developed and developing countries. “Everyone thinks it’s something that only happens in somebody else’s country, or happens far, far away,” said Noorani, in an interview with The Guardian, “They watch the film and they realise it is down the street where they live.”

An estimated 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States every year, and the global sex trafficking industry is reportedly a 32 billion dollar industry. India is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking for purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation - an estimated 8 million people were living in modern slavery and were victims of human trafficking in 2016. Victims of sex trafficking are subjected to inhumane conditions, sexual exploitation, rape, and abuse. As stated on the film’s website, “out of respect for the 80,000 victims of sexual trafficking every year”, ‘Love Sonia’ does not shy away from showing the grim realities of being trafficked.

Though it was initially denied screening at Cannes and Sundance, the film has so far been very well received for its accurate portrayal of such a widespread phenomenon, and its stellar performances. The film is set to release in India this coming September, and a portion of its proceeds will go to Indian anti-trafficking NGO Aapne Aap.

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