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A Tough But Worthy Watch, ‘Love Sonia’ Gives The Movies A Star With Mrunal Thakur

  • IWB Post
  •  September 14, 2018

Love Sonia is not an easy film to watch. Anything that deals with the horrors and trauma of sex trafficking shouldn’t be easy to watch, but director Tabrez Noorani makes sure that for most of the film, you don’t find even one moment where you can cling to hope. Because even before she realises it, you know that Sonia is in danger.

Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) and Preeti (Riya Sisodiya) are sisters who find solace in each other amidst an abusive household. Their father (Adil Hussain) is a farmer who is desperate for money, and ends up selling Preeti to the local landlord (Anupam Kher). He tries to convince himself that she will find work in Mumbai, but everyone knows what will happen to her. Everyone except Sonia, since she goes to the landlord and begs to be sent wherever Preeti is. Once she reaches Mumbai, she ends up in the dirtiest, smelliest brothel, one that will give you claustrophobia in your nightmares.

There, she is presented to the pimp Faisal (Manoj Bajpayee), who talks to her in this calming yet menacing voice that will send chills down your spine. Richa Chadha plays Madhuri, who essentially runs the brothel for Faisal and is deeply affected by Stockholm Syndrome. The kind of atrocities that she and Rashmi (Freida Pinto) inflict on Sonia is an indication of how circumstances and survival instinct can make even the oppressed the oppressor. Sonia is brutalised repeatedly, from Mumbai to Hong Kong and then LA, but through all this, she steadfastly keeps looking for her sister, which is probably what keeps her from succumbing to her trauma.

The film is said to be inspired by real events, as Noorani spent over a decade developing this project and working with NGOs that rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking. His familiarity with the subject shows in scenes where there are multiple atrocities being committed in one single frame. Everyone is dealing with their demons, from the poor father to other victims who are doing their best to survive in the brothel, which sometimes requires them to throw each other under the bus. Whatever little hope emerges for Sonia – in the form of a kind hotel manager or an undercover NGO worker – is quickly extinguished, because she is so traumatised that she is unable to trust anyone.

So many bad things happen so quickly and successively that at one point it looks exploitative, but as you’re feeling that the scene shifts to Hong Kong for a horrifying sequence that shows how international trafficking rings transfer “pure, virgin” girls for white men across borders. By this point, you don’t even want Sonia to find her sister, you just want her to make it out safe and alive.

Some of the names associated with the film are so reliable that you know their performance will be flawless even before you watch it. That includes everyone from Adil and Manoj to Richa and Rajkummar Rao. But Richa, who plays the victim and the offender alternatively, really outdoes herself here. You can feel so many emotions simmering just below the surface when she brings Sonia to Faisal and knows what will happen to the girl. Freida, who plays the jealous self-proclaimed star of the brothel, is also quite spectacular. There’s also Demi Moore and Mark Duplass in the film, and without spoiling much, it’s definitely odd that whatever little saving is done in the film is done by white people.

But, of course, it is Mrunal who steals the show. She used to play Bulbul in Ekta Kapoor’s daily soap Kumkum Bhagya, a show that is still running after a leap. Tellywood heroines are not exactly exempt from suffering but Love Sonia throws her in shark waters and she swims like a champ. You want to take her out of the screen and hug her, her performance is that evocative.

As I said in the beginning, this is not an easy film to watch, but it’s perhaps a necessary watch.

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