By Troy Ribeiro
Film: "Love Sonia"; Director: Tabreez Noorani; Cast: Mrunal Thakur, Riya Sisodia, Adil Hussain, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha, Freida Pinto, Rajkummar Rao; Rating: ***
With some shocking moments based on true incidents, "Love Sonia" is a slick and dramatic, fictionalised film about human (especially women) trafficking in India.
For a tale about women being exploited for sex, what makes "Love Sonia" stands out is that it treats its women as relatively unimportant. The narrative takes off in a place 1,400 km north of Mumbai, where Shiva (Adil Hussain), a farmer of a barren land is forced to sell one of his two daughters to "Dada Thakur" (Anupam Kher), a zamindar.
Seventeen year old Sonia (Mrunal Thakur), the daughter who witnessed the sale of her older sister Preeti (Riya Sisodia), is distraught. She learns that her sister is taken to Mumbai. So, with the hope of reuniting with her sister, Sonia runs away from home. And soon, she lands in a brothel in Mumbai, and from thence her ordeal begins. The film is her journey.
Mrunal Thakur is a brilliant actress and as Sonia, she slips into her character with natural ease. With naivety written large on her visage and innocence in her demeanour, you empathise with her and feel her pain. She is aptly supported by a retinue of power-packed actors.
Manoj Bajpayee in an extremely new avatar shines as the brothel owner Faisal. You watch him with awe as he manipulates from being a soft-spoken concerned person to a ruthless man who conducts his operations as a "business".
Adil Hussain as the desperately helpless farmer who drinks in frustration and Anupam Kher as the detestable landlord, are equally convincing.
Richa Chadha and Freida Pinto as prostitutes -- Madhuri and Rashmi -- are stereotyped, but they do add some fine nuances to their character which makes them memorable.
Rajkummar Rao as the social worker Manish who tries to rescue underage girls, is wasted in a significant but miniscule role. Similarly, Demi Moore is lost in a cameo role as the social worker Selma.
There are moments in the film that seem forced and amateurish, and the overall structure of the story is fairly predictable. What the film does have, though, is the feeling of real life being observed accurately.
The film is astutely mounted with ace technical expertise. Lukasz Bielan's cinematography, Resul Pookuty's sound design and A.R. Rahman's background score are brilliantly meshed together by Martin Singer's fine edit.
One is moved, more by the film's conscious attempts at artistry than by its unadorned honesty.
The highlight of the film is the sound design and editing. There are moments, especially in the brothel, where the sound completely takes over the narrative to create a heightened subjectivity. Certain cuts and sound moments are created as a foreshadowing device, traditionally accomplished with dialogues.
The only thing that holds the film back is its basic story, though brazenly told and impeccably presented, the tale is quite familiar. Also, the mixed style in the tone of the narrative makes the film lose its sheen, especially during the second half, where the film drags and you feel the plot is over dramatised just for effects.
(Troy Ribeiro can be reached at email@example.com)