Director: Tabreez Noorani; Starring: Mrunal Thakur, Riya Sisodia, Adil Hussain, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha, Freida Pinto, Rajkummar Rao
A teenage girl travels from Mumbai to Los Angeles, hidden inside a container ship. But she is not there as per her will, for she is being smuggled by an international nexus of sex traders. The girl’s name is Sonia. She is the daughter of a poverty-stricken farmer who gets plunged into the dark world of human trafficking at a young age of 17. Love Sonia is the disturbing story of her endless exploitation, both physical and mental, at the hands of abject greed and wanton lust.
After Sonia is treacherously brought to Mumbai from her village, she comes face to face with Faizal. A pimp who likes to call himself a businessman, Faizal is as bad as they come. It is a rarity to see Manoj Bajpayee in a negative role these days but Faizal has all the right ingredients that a performer like him craves for. There is a scene wherein he tries to console Sonia the very first time she steps into his brothel. He tells her, “You are safe. I am here to protect you”. And the more he consoles her the more obvious it becomes that Sonia is in some serious danger. Even when he smiles we can see the evil that hides behind it. That’s how menacing Bajpayee looks as Faizal.
Love Sonia is relentless in telling a story that makes us uncomfortable for most of its running time. Every time we begin to hope that things can’t any worse for Sonia the film surprises us again; it just keeps getting darker and darker as Sonia gets sucked deeper and deeper into the diabolical world of sex trade. And to think that the film is inspired by a real episode of human trafficking that director Tabrez Noorani encountered in Los Angeles more than a decade back one can’t really help but flinch. Such was the impact of the incident on Noorani that it inspired him to work with non-governmental organizations focused on human trafficking in Los Angeles during which he got to participate in several brothel raids. Of course, we see all that and more in Love Sonia.
However, after a solid start, Love Sonia begins to digress around the half time and the digression goes on for a good half an hour. A story like this one could easily have been told far more economically but often the director is unable to make tough decisions at the editing table as is the case here. The film’s highlight is Mrunal Thakur’s haunting portrayal of Sonia—a perfect embodiment of tenderness and grit. Love Sonia offers a harrowing account of sexual violence committed against women caught in the dark underworld of human trafficking. The film is a great eye-opener but at the same time it is deeply disturbing to watch.