New Emissary

BAS! Beyond the Red Light

A new documentary about young girls in Mumbai’s red light district is worth seeing.

Reminiscent of the wonderful 2004 film Born into Brothels—which I’ve mentioned beforeBAS! Beyond the Red Light, is a new documentary from India starting to make the rounds at international film festivals. The movie revolves around 13 young girls who’ve been sold into Mumbai’s brothel business.

I asked Danielle Tate-Stratton, magazine editor (and world cinema enthusiast), for her take on the film—which she caught last week as part of the 2010 Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver. The event, which ended its ten-day run on Sunday, actually ran a special second screening of BAS! Beyond the Red Light, after it was discovered to be a festival favourite.

The official site for BAS! Beyond the Red Light describes it as revealing ‘the very human story inside the big business of child trafficking.’ Is it really able to effectively do this? Focus on the human story behind the business?

Danielle: Yes, I think it did. The things the girls had to say were quite interesting, especially one of them who shared her challenges in hiding her HIV positive status from the group house and her family and how concerned she was that if anyone in her family found out she had been trafficked it would cause them to get kicked out of their small Nepalese village.

For example, I think you could also see how little confidence the girls had by the time they got there, and how they gained more as they danced, and how loudly and forcefully they were willing to yell ‘Bas!’ (stop), which is where the film’s title comes from.

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Was there anything particularly ‘preachy’ or that would warrant controversy, in your opinion, about the movie?

I don’t think it was preachy particularly, but a controversial thing that occurs—which came up in the Q & A after the film—is that when they turn 18, the girls are basically married off (they don’t seem to have too much choice about it, although many 15 to16-year-olds didn’t like the idea). The school there doesn’t have the money to support them and so the mother/director woman goes out to find families willing to marry one of the girls. They get a small dowry, that is somehow donated, I believe. It wasn’t fully explored in the documentary (the film maker basically said it would be a whole movie unto itself if she’d really gotten into it), but it felt (probably to everyone) a bit like taking them from one kind of forced sexuality or sale and throwing them straight back into another.

Would you recommend it?

I would recommend it. It was quite well-shot and produced and I think there was a good balance between the dance and the back story. The filmmaker allowed the stories to be the most important aspect of the movie and didn’t do too much to lay her own biases over top (I felt), so that was good.

She included interviews from a trafficker as well, which was interesting, if not horrifying. He blamed the girls on the spread of HIV in the red light districts and basically said ‘the clients come and go, it’s not their fault.’