We are conditioned to look at everything old with a respectful gaze. Anything that's been around for a while and has weathered the changes of time is worthy of our regard except when it comes to the oldest profession in the world; sex work. Women in the industry are most often burdened with shame instead of men and terms like 'slut', 'whore', or 'prostitute' are used pejoratively towards them. These days it can also be translated to 'fatherless behaviour' or 'she looks like she has Only Fans'.
At a time when any form of sex work is used to dehumanize women, a short film on an emotional connection between a sex worker and a truck drivers (both of whom are often unfairly viewed as sexual deviants in India), broke all rules with its humanist approach. Directed by Shubham Singh, Highway Nights is the story of an old lorry driver and a young sex worker, both coping with a crippling need to earn a living in a laborious world, forming an unusual bond as the sun goes down.
The short film is inspired by the Banchhada community in Neemuch, Ratlam and Mandsaur districts of Madhya Pradesh where flesh trade has a social sanction and the people in the community operate family-based sex work for livelihood. Unlike many parts of the country, the birth of a girl child is considered auspicious in these communities as for them it's another breadwinner for the family. Fathers and brothers of the family end up acting as pimps, taking care of all the arrangements, the family house has a dedicated room for this purpose exclusively, and girls are prepared for sex work when they are between 12 and 14 years old. Almost all of them stay in the same village and have 'illegitimate' children who live with them.
These girls work around the highways in bright clothes and loud make-up hoping to get clients. Highway Nights turns one such interaction between a truck driver and a sex worker into a sweet relationship where the driver starts to develop a paternal affection for the girl. Shivani Mehra, the screenwright flips a dark and traumatic tale into a larger-than-life narrative of compassion and connection. The film is also an invitation for us to check our own misogynistic conditioning that shifts our disdain from the ones that demand and create the business of pleasure to the ones that are often forced into it due to poverty or customs.