Born Into Brothels Reviews
Paulo Coelho wrote "I am two women: one wants to have all the joy, passion and adventure that life can give me. The other wants to be a slave to routine, to family life, to the things that can be planned and achieved. I'm a housewife and a prostitute, both of us living in the same body and doing battle with each other" (Eleven Minutes). The prostitute industry is booming as a result of a declining economy. Internationally an increasing number of women have turned to prostitution in order to survive, provide their children with a brighter future, and in some cases to pay tuition fees in a world of commercialized education or even for the sole purpose of enjoyment. In addition, daughters of brothels are expected to follow their paths into prostitution. Some films glorify prostitution turning it into a romantic comedy such as Pretty Woman whereas others such as Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids and Whore shines light upon the harsh realities of life of the prostitutes and their bastards. All three films however delve into sexual politics entailing a misogynistic depiction of women from different points of view; however, Pretty Woman attempts to humanize prostitutes. At the end of the day it is all a matter of perceptions.
The romantic comedy Pretty Woman revolves around your typical Hollywood love story that transcends all differences, but however the woman involved in the narrative is a prostitute. The film deludes the audience by romanticizing prostitution and humanizing prostitutes by convincing the audience that prostitutes are beams of beautiful sunshine and their customers are peripatetic filthy rich businessmen. The film's portrayal of prostitution is entirely fiction. It does not depict the prostitute's life narrative that lead to where she currently is. Many of the prostitutes are victims of sex trafficking, which is the case for instance in Paulo Coelho's Elven Minutes. On the other hand, Ken Russell's Whore depicts a day in the life of a prostitute, and how she was abused and manipulated into where she is today. The prostitute, Liz, breaks the fourth wall throughout the movie by directly addressing the audience. By doing so, she is better able to genuinely articulate her personal narrative and how she got to where she is today. Though fictional, the film provides the audience with a more realistic view towards the ugliness of prostitution through the eye of the prostitute herself. The non-fictional documentary Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids revolves around prostitutes in Sonagachi, the largest Red Light District in Asia and one of many in Kolkata, and the lives and predetermined fate of their bastards. The filmmakers exploited the cinema and film to raise awareness of a grave issue that is often neglected and overlooked. The film is shot through the lens of eight children. By doing so, the audience's gaze is shifted to viewing the documentary through the eyes of the children. The children were treated as slaves in the whorehouses, and their eyes were filled with hopelessness. Hope for a brighter future was regained once the photojournalist, Zana Briski, introduced them to the world of photography, which they eventually excelled at.
The three films presented a similar issue from different perspectives: society, prostitutes, and bastards' view of prostitution. The variety of gazes gave rise to three different perspectives. All three films however touch upon the male gaze, which tends to objectify and sexualize women. Sigmund Freud established the Madonna-Whore dichotomy, which can simply be summarized in "Where such men love they have no desire, and where they desire they cannot love" (Freud, On Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Other Works). To some extent the theory categorizes representations of both men and women alike in society and governs the thought of many. As result, the variations of different sexual representations arise. The three films put together forms a triangle representation and perception. Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids provided a just representation of the architecture of confinement, the whorehouse, that entraps the prostitutes and bastards alike, most of which are hopeless of a brighter future. This is represented throughout the film with the use of cinematic metaphor and symbolism. Multiple times throughout the film the camera shifts focus from the children onto a caged bird, which symbolizes the children trapped in the brothel. The differences in the societal representation of prostitutions could have been a result of the different cultures. For instance, Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids represents the Indian societal gaze, Whore represents a British American societal gaze, and Pretty Woman represents an American societal expectations of Hollywood movies. The films depict sex, class and power. Michel Foucault wrote, "If sex is repressed, that is, condemned to prohibition, nonexistence, and silence, then the mere fact that one is speaking about it has the appearance of a deliberate transgression. A person who holds forth in such language places himself to a certain extent outside the reach of power; he upsets established law; he somehow anticipates the coming freedom" (The History of Sexuality, p9). Power and sex intertwined to a certain extent; it is a form of biopower. Often times men seek prostitutes in order to feel powerful, and in some cases they may turn into sexual predators as seen in both Whore and Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kid. Often times those prostitutes presented to be submissive.
How we perceive and interpret art relies upon the artists' representation and our own life experiences. The three films provide the viewer with an insight into prostitutions; however some are more realistic than others. Due to the patriarchal society that we live that tends to value a man's sexual desire more than a woman's, most films that touch upon prostitution tend to objectify and sexualize women. How often do we see male prostitutes as compared to female prostitutes in the art? When prostitutes do appear in the art how often do artists provide the audience with their personal narratives that lead them to where they are today? Many prostitutes have very complex narratives that involve oppression, violence, sex trafficking, drug addiction, and controlling pimps. Films need to portray the harsh realities of the prostitution industry in order to shine light on the prostitutes' personal narratives such as in Whore rather that glorifying prostitution as seen in Pretty Woman. Cinema should not always provide gratification for the viewers. If that is all what it did, we would have created a mental image of an ideal world that'll keep us longing for it but never being able to attain it.
Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids. By Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. Dir. Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. THINKFilm, 2004.
Coelho, Paulo. Eleven Minutes. Trans. Margaret Jull. Costa. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage, 1988. p9. Éditions Gallimard. Web.
Freud, Sigmund, James Strachey, and Angela Richards. On Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Other Works. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977. Web.
Pretty Woman. Dir. Garry Marshall. Perf. Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, and Ralph Bellamy. Buena Vista Distribution Co., 1990.
Whore. Dir. Ken Russell. Screenplay by Deborah Dalton. Perf. Theresa Russell. Cheap Date, 1991.