A movie based on a young-adult novel about child sex trafficking? Oh dear. But Sold is… Well, it’s not exactly a newsflash that there are children in the world who are sex slaves, nor that there are men in the world who will pay to rape children. Sold is hardly entertaining in the way that we generally mean when we talk about movies. Perhaps the best word to describe this brutal yet sensitively rendered film is enlightening, for putting a human face, if a fictional one, on an issue that rarely gets one. This tale of 13-year-old Lakshmi (newcomer Niyar Saikia) — trafficked from a remote Nepalese mountain village to a brothel in Calcutta run by the cruel Mumtaz (Sushmita Mukherjee) — is almost Dickens for the 21st century, shining an intimate, personal light on a commonplace yet hidden crime and tragedy, and with the unequivocal intent of getting you angry about it. (Which you will. The film’s official site includes info on how to take action, if it makes you angry enough that you want to do something about it.)
Author Patricia McCormick’s 2006 award-winning book is structured like a diary; this is a more straightforward narrative, almost all from Lakshmi’s perspective, and she is so sheltered and naive that she is astonished by channels changing on a television, a device she has never seen before. She has no idea what her new “job” is going to entail, and though first-time feature director Jeffrey D. Brown does not explicitly depict what she endures, there is no question what she is subjected to, and it is often difficult to sit through. Yet this is not a relentlessly grim film, either: there are brief moments of happiness for Lakshmi among the girls and women in the brothel who become her new friends, and she is a clever girl with an indomitable spirit who does not intend to remain prisoner, as she is, in this place.
The film is in the English language, which is a bit odd at first, because this is not a language that Lakshmi would speak, but Sold is intended for as wide an audience as possible, including teens, and subtitles would add an unnecessary distance between a Western viewer and Lakshmi. That hoped-for wide audience also accounts for the presence of two familiar faces, in brief roles: Gillian Anderson (Robot Overlords, Continuum) as a photographer documenting the sex slaves, and David Arquette (Entourage, Scream 4) as an aid worker trying to rescue them. But they are not clichéd white saviors; they’d like to be, but this isn’t their story. It’s all Lakshmi’s, and you will not soon forget it.
Sold is now playing at City Cinemas East Village in New York City, with Q&As with cast and crew this weekend. See the official site for future dates and cities.