"No one wanted to make this film": India's Pinto stars in sex slave's tale

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new film starring “Slumdog Millionaire“‘s Freida Pinto and Demi Moore, about the real-life story of a young Indian girl who gets trapped in the global sex trade, struggled to get funding because it was too controversial.

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The gritty movie “Love Sonia”, which also features award-winning Anupam Kher, will premiere in June as it opens Europe’s largest South Asian cinema gathering, the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival.

“It’s been a long, long journey. A very difficult one because the truth is no one wanted to make this film,” debut director Tabrez Noorani told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“No one wanted to make a film about trafficking in Hindi.”

Noorani, a producer on Academy Award-winning “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Life of Pi” and “Eat, Pray, Love”, said he first encountered sex trafficking victims in Los Angeles in 2003.

After some girls were found in a container shipped from China, he was inspired to work with charities tackling the issue, including participating in several raids on brothels.

“The misconception is that it’s only women and girls. It’s not. It’s young boys, it’s old men, it’s older women ... There’s all types of trafficking. No one is immune to it. Literally, it’s all races, all ages and both genders,” he said.

More than 40 million people globally are trapped in forced labor, forced marriages and sexual exploitation, the United Nations estimates, earning criminal networks illegal profits of $150 billion a year.

At least 18 million slaves are in India - trafficked into brothels, forced to work as manual laborers, or even born into servitude, the Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based rights group, estimated in 2016.

For Mumbai-born actress, Freida Pinto, who has been involved in the film since its inception and is a vocal humanitarian and advocate for women’s empowerment, the issue of women and girls’ trafficking needs collective action.

“Just because this film is in Hindi and it has primarily Indian actors, it’s not a problem that just one country suffers from. It’s really a global problem,” she said.

“If we can find our voices and our level of empathy can be raised for people who don’t look like us and who don’t speak our language, I feel that collective voice is what is ultimately going to result in change.”

Both Pinto and Noorani said the key to tackling the global trafficking crisis was education, from teaching children in villages not to trust strangers, to working with authorities in cities to help identify trafficked people on the streets.