Love Sonia

 

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The story of a victim of the sex trade in India told as a warning to others.

 
Love Sonia

  

Set mainly in Mumbai, this subtitled feature marks the debut as a cinema director of Tabrez Noorani whose previous work in the medium has been on the production side. It is a heartfelt piece which avoids any sense of being exploitative in its exposé of sex trafficking and at its close statistics are quoted to confirm just how rife this trade has become. But, if the subject is drawn from harsh reality, this film nevertheless chooses to approach it using a tone that is closer to melodrama than to gritty drama. That is evidenced in the writing that in its overt attempts to appeal to a wide audience indulges in touches of simplicity and romanticism and even in time allows more than a touch of sentimentality to surface. Actually much of this could be predicted from the title: Love Sonia is not the kind of title you would choose for a film that dealt in grim realities uncompromisingly.

 

Those happy with the film's chosen style will find much to admire here. Love Sonia tells the story of a village girl - the Sonia of the title, a 17-year-old very well played by newcomer Mrunal Thakur. She is close to her sister Preeti (Riya Sisodiya) who is sold off by their father to meet a debt. Sonia reacts by seeking Preeti in Mumbai knowing that she is working there but totally unaware of the nature of that work. On being taken to the city, she discovers to her dismay that, far from being helped to find the missing girl, she is literally following in her sister's footsteps. On arrival, she at once finds herself in a brothel controlled by a pimp (Manoj Bajpayee) whose friendly attitude is all on the surface. In reality, he is a ruthless and threatening figure planning to send Sonia to Hong Kong for a client who wants a virgin. Other prostitutes (Richa Chadha and Freida Pinto play two of them) appear more genuinely helpful, but even here appearances are not always to be trusted.

 

For two thirds of its length, the film flows well and the actors are all persuasive. Thus far those who are ready to accept the chosen tone as reflected also in the music score will applaud Love Sonia which certainly conveys an appropriate warning message in the light of which the censor's 18 certificate could be considered unduly harsh. However, partly because it moves so well earlier, Love Sonia does come to seem overlong in its two hours running time - this is also on account of the fact that, rather than being well shaped, the story unexpectedly extends to scenes not only in Hong Kong but also in Los Angeles (it is one of those films which persists in continuing regardless of scenes which suggest imminent closure). Although we are told that many victims of sex trafficking are then rejected by their families, Sonia's story is one that ends in a rosy upbeat fashion. Her sister's fate is more open to doubt (her role is not one written with the skill needed to make her various changes in behaviour convincing) but Sonia herself emerges looking unscathed and with a boyfriend ready to embrace her as befits those romanticised flashbacks involving him inserted earlier as romanticised memories. Yet if the manner of Love Sonia is not really to my taste, its sincerity is never in doubt and Noorani's debut as a feature director is assured and backed up by good photography by Lucas Bielan. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Mrunal Thakur, Freida Pinto, Richa Chadha, Manoj Bajpayee, Adil Hussain, Anupam Kher, Rajkummar Rao, Mark Duplass, Riya Sisodiya, Demi Moore, Abhichek Bharate, Sai Tamhankar.

 

Dir Tabrez Noorani, Pro Tabrez Noorani and David Womark, Screenplay Ted Caplan, Ritash Shah and Alkesh Vaja, from a story by Tabrez Noorani, Ph Lukas Bielan, Pro Des Scott Enge and Ravi Srivastava, Ed Martin Singer, Music Niels Bye Nielsen, Costumes Shahid Amir.

 

Love Sonia Films/India Take One Productions/Tamasha Talkies/Womark-Noorani Productions-Modern Films.
122 mins. USA/India. 2018. Rel: 25 January 2019. Cert. 18.