Of the lakhs who are pushed into flesh trade in India every year, less than 1 per cent manage to find their way out. Love Sonia is the story of one such girl, played by Mrunal Thakur with heart-breaking vulnerability. Trafficked from a poverty-ridden village in India to Mumbai’s red-light district, Hong Kong and Los Angeles, there are no surprises in her story. You have read these headlines in newspapers, watched these stories on screen. Just like those newspaper articles, director Tabrez Noorani is sincere in his intentions and unsubtle in his style.
Sonia’s sister Preeti (Riya Sisodia) is sold off to a local moneylender Dada Thakur (Anupam Kher) by her impoverished father (Adil Hussain) on the promise that he will find a job for her in Mumbai. Desperate to find her sister, Sonia offers herself to the moneylender and soon finds herself in a brothel run by Babu (Manoj Bajpayee) in the city’s red-light district, Grant Road. The horrors are unrelenting as Bajpayee breaks her down; the film challenging you to look away all the while.
Sonia’s descent into narak, as she and other characters often call the sex trade, is so brutal and horrific that people were glued to their seats, pin-drop silence in the theatre during interval. Love Sonia’s first half is indeed not for the squeamish.
It is a pity then that the filmmaker felt compelled to give it an almost a fairy-tale ending. Post-interval, Sonia’s journey to Los Angeles feels nothing more than a device to introduce cameos by Hollywood actors (Demi Moore and Mark Duplass). At times, it feels like a different movie, full of light and hope, a world away from the bleak Mumbai brothel. The unconvincing twist is perhaps the biggest disservice to the film.
Other than the Hollywood veterans, Love Sonia has cameos by several actors who have earned their cred on the indie scene. Freida Pinto’s older prostitute who wants to bring Sonia down a notch, Rajkummar Rao’s compassionate social worker, Richa Chaddha’s sex worker with a heart of gold and Bajpayee’s menacing pimp are all inspired turns but cannot take the focus away from film’s lack of plot points and erratic narrative.
The story of Love Sonia is familiar but that doesn’t make it any less unbearable, especially when it comes to under-age girls being forced into sex slavery. The dehumanization that follows and sickening violence is made more chilling by the intent to treat is just another “business”. As Bajpayee’s character keeps on emphasizing in the film, his business is being affected every time a girl goes missing. The callousness with which he offers Sonia to a client for the price of a cigarette underlines the same point – she is no more than merchandise to him, she could have been an animal for all he cares.
Love Sonia is well-meaning enough to impress that point on you, only if it had the pause and depth that made you take the thought home.