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A hard-hitting film on sex slavery

Sold, a feature film on sex slavery will premiere at the 37th Asian American International Film Festival in New York on July 24. With a 13-year-old Indian girl as the lead, the guide speaks to Mumbai-based casting director Tess Joseph to understand how the young acting talent was discovered

Child trafficking drama, Sold, is Academy-Award winning Jeffrey Brown’s take on the issue in South Asia as he adapted Patricia McCormick’s novel this year. The film is being shown to festival audiences currently, and has already won the top prize — Pure Heaven Audience award at the London Indian Film Festival and the third runner-up position at the Albuquerque Film and Media project. The film is about a young Nepali girl who is sold into sex slavery and ends up in Kolkata.

Casting director, Tess Joseph
Casting director, Tess Joseph

The film, apart from its hard-hitting revelation of the child prostitution nexus, has several heavyweights to chisel the narrative in the best manner possible. For starters, Emma Thompson is the executive producer while Gillian Anderson, David Arquette, Seema Biswas and Tillotama Shome face the camera. The latest entry in this talent pool of actors is Niyar Saikia who is considered a discovery by the film’s casting director, Tess Joseph.

Niyar Saikia plays the protago-nist in the film
Niyar Saikia plays the protago-nist in the film

Having casted for films like The Namesake, one would assume finding the protagonist, Lakshmi, wouldn’t have been a difficult task. “My colleague Dyu D’Cunha and I reached out formally to schools across Nepal, Darjeeling and the North East. We took trips to Nepal, Darjeeling, Assam and Shillong. We met and work-shopped over 1,000 students from standards 6, 7 and 8 on the issue.” But Lakshmi was amiss from these six months until, “We had done two trips to Nepal and had already finished Darjeeling; this was our last leg: in Guwahati, Assam. We met Niyar at the evening workshop with many mosquitoes and dying light, but when Niyar stood crying by the grill window of the room, I knew this was it as we were taping her,” shares Joseph.

Poster of the film
Poster of the film

Joseph feels that it is uncanny that 13, the age of Saikia is also the global average of trafficked girls. Throughout the audition process, she ensured that the children are sensitised about the issue and to her surprise, children in Nepal were more mature and hands-on about the topic. Thus, Joseph feels that, “The film can be accessed by NGOs and schools to create awareness.

Childreach International has launched the Taught Not Trafficked campaign.” Having a teenager on set, nudity was out of the question for the director, Joseph asserts. Calling Saikia extremely mature, she says that at all times she was first trained and made to understand any kind of disturbing scene while maintaining utmost safety and a professional framework on the sets.

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