Kolkata-based activist and film-maker Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti’s Understanding Trafficking (2009), an 87-minute documentary on women and child trafficking, won the Humanitarian Award at the Tiburon International Film Festival 2011 in California, US, in April.
Chakraborti has made a number of hard-hitting documentary films, including Half Way Home (1995) and The School that Karmi Soren Built (1996), which enabled the school in Jhargram, West Bengal, to get government recognition after a 27-year struggle. Her attempt to prevent a kidnapping at a Metro station in 1992 inspired a novel and the award-winning film Dahan (1998), directed by Rituparno Ghosh. Since then she has played an active role in the women’s empowerment movement and has been writing articles and columns regularly, while making documentaries and feature films. Currently she is heading the journalism and mass communications department at St Xavier’s College, Kolkata.
Understanding Trafficking, in Bengali, Hindi and English (with English subtitles), stresses the difference between women who migrate and join the sex trade and women who are forced into the trade.
The camera is placed at the vital crossroads of the human trafficking trade, that intersection which young girls, forced by circumstances, reach from their malnourished villages in Nepal, Bangladesh or heartland India, only to be led to brothels in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, or exploitative bonded labour camps in West Asia. Sometimes the camera goes back to the heart of the impoverished terrain, where mothers sell their daughters for little; on one occasion, we are led into the raunchy interiors of dance bars in Kathmandu’s Thamel, where the girls lose everything for a fee. When the camera takes the road to the red light quarters of Kolkata, we learn of the knotty dynamics that keeps the sex trade bustling, even through the strange sociocultural bondage that ties the “agrawallis” (as a wealthier lot of sex workers are referred to) to the profession, or the devotion that some sex workers reserve for their babus. And when viewers are taken on the road to redemption through civil society and administrative action, we face a dead end of loopholed legalese and archaic laws, which often drive rescued girls back to the streets, and touts to the business.
The most poignant moment is when the camera follows a police jeep full of rescued girls back to their native Bangladesh, where papers are stamped, identities revealed and sermons issued before the border gates are opened.
Chakraborti’s film eschews flash but is beautifully rendered through sensitive treatment, camerawork and music. If reportage is one of documentary film-making’s original tenets, UnderstandingTrafficking serves the cause well.
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