Tabrez Noorani's movie Love Sonia is about sex trafficking industry
Tabrez Noorani's debut directorial Love Sonia is an unflinching tale of the sex trafficking industry
It took Los Angeles-based filmmaker Tabrez Noorani 14 years to translate the idea of Love Sonia, from his head to paper and finally, on reel. After all, it's not easy to find funding for a Hindi film on sex trafficking that was going to be an unflinching narrative, with two leads, largely unknown.
In 2007, when Noorani along with writers Alkesh Vaja and Ted Caplan were done with the script, they did not dream of getting the cast and backing that the project eventually received. After years of getting shut down by producers across the globe, Noorani's debut film is now being produced by David Womark of Life of Pi fame, and will see stalwarts from both Hollywood and Bollywood. Besides the lead actors Mrunal Thakur and Riya Sisodiya, the film also stars Demi Moore, Freida Pinto, Mark Duplass, Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao and Richa Chaddha. Come August 10, Love Sonia will open the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.
Noorani has had first-hand experience of rescuing trafficked girls. While it all started as research, before he knew it, he was sucked right into the murky labyrinth. He tells us an anecdote of his first visit to what's called a "trafficking brothel". These brothels, Noorani says, host girls briefly, to break them down mentally, and then ship out. "This is where I met Faizal, played by Manoj [Bajpayee] in the film. I saw him reprimanding a customer for having been too rough with one of the girls. He said, 'what man beats a woman?'. A few weeks later, I learnt that the same man had caught a girl who had run away, beheaded her and paraded it for all to see in the brothel. This will sound like a film scene, but unfortunately, it's not. This is the type of people you find in this world. It's the most profitable black market business in the world that generates illegal profits amounting to $150 billion."
At that point, however, Noorani was so new to this world, that he did not fully gauge the magnitude of what he was learning. "If I did, I'd have been extremely scared." There were a couple of close calls too. In the span of 14 years, Noorani has worked with several NGOs around the world. "The two that I work with the most are CAST (Coalition To Abolish Slavery and Trafficking), in Los Angeles, and Apne Aap Women Worldwide, that has centres all over India." He has worked extensively in Mumbai too. "Mumbai is no stranger to trafficking. Everyone always assumes it is only women, but there are boys and men too," he adds.
Moore who has worked in CAST was happy to come on board, says Noorani. "She works with NGO Thorn that protects children from sexual abuse via technology. Mark too responded positively to the script. And the Indian actors are of course all stellar ones." It took over 2,500 auditions of girls to find the two sisters. "Both Mrunal and Riya were quite a find. I had to ensure they spent enough time with sex workers and trafficked girls to get the pulse of their characters."
Noorani hopes that Love Sonia will prod the audience to question the deplorable conditions that exist in the world, and "walk out a little bit wiser". "David and I have been careful to not cross that line — you can't exploit the exploited and have gratuitous scenes. At the same time, we wanted to create a realistic portrayal of global human trafficking," he says.
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