'Sold': Film Review
Gillian Anderson lends star power to an India-set story of child slavery.
Anyone ignorant of the human-trafficking epidemic afflicting the poorer parts of our world would probably be well-served as a human to see Sold, Jeffrey D. Brown's adaptation of a novel about a Nepali girl forced into prostitution in India. The rest of us will likely fall into one of two camps regarding this well-intentioned film: those who praise it for drawing attention to the suffering of helpless children, and those who find it sufficiently lacking in cinematic value to decide there are better ways of helping those kids than spending 90 minutes watching it. The help of supporting player Gillian Anderson and exec producer Emma Thompson may attract attention, but this feature is unlikely to reach as many Westerners as its doc cousin, 2004's Oscar-winner Born into Brothels.
Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia), a 13-year-old girl, leads a life the film sketches out with merciless efficiency: unemployed dad, a drinker, can't support them; uncomplaining mom serves dad despite his faults; Lakshmi is happy to run and play and dream of better things. Then dad sells her to a woman who claims she'll give the girl honest work with a nice family in the city.
After a two-day journey to Kolkata, India, Lakshmi is plied with sweet cakes and toe rings before being locked in a bare room, then forced to go to bed with a stranger. She resists and is beaten, then drugged into compliance. At one point, crying behind bars at her window, she catches the eye of a Western photographer (Anderson), who urges local activists to raid the brothel. But that takes time, and along the way they make a blunder one suspects is more a plot contrivance than something someone who has ever worked with the enslaved would do.
From its English-language dialogue to its PG-13 take on rape and violence to, especially, the cutesy touches meant to soften the bleakness, this is clearly a work born of do-gooder sentiment where any dramatic values are an afterthought. If it opens some eyes and rouses some Americans to support anti-trafficking measures, fantastic. But its impact would be far greater if it were good.
Distributor: Matson Films
Production company: Jaya International
Cast: Niyar Saikia, Sushmita Mukerjee, Tillotama Shome, Gillian Anderson, David Arquette, Parambrata Chatterjee, Saptarshi Basu Roychowdhury
Director: Jeffrey D. Brown
Screenwriters: Jeffrey D. Brown, Joseph Kwong
Producer: Jane Charles
Executive producers: Sarita Patel, Regina Kulik Scully, Emma Thompson
Directors of photography: Jehangir Choudhary, Seamus Tierney
Production designer-costume designer: Tabasheer Zutshi
Editor: Rick LeCompte
Composer: John McDowell
Casting directors: Dyu D'Cunha, Sig De Miguel, Tess Joseph, Stephen Vincent
Rated PG-13, 94 minutes