Friday, February 02, 2007


HIGHWAY COURTESANS, originally uploaded by satya cacananda.


The classic Bollywood blockbuster Mughal-E-Azam glorifies the life of a beautiful palace courtesan who falls for the young prince.

In the olden days these palace prostitutes came from the Bachara community in Madhya Pradesh. The eldest daughter (or sometimes the prettiest) was the one who was usually drafted into "the profession." There was not much stigma attached to it; it was honorable.

The Bacharas still draft their daughters into prostitution -- and not just the eldest. Only nowadays instead of nawabs they service the truck drivers who pass by in their brightly-decorated lorries.

You know -- the truckers who are spreading AIDS across India.

First-time filmmaker Mystelle Brabbée spent NINE YEARS shooting a group of these young women. The main character, Guddi Chauhan, was told by her father (whom the local social worker calls "a pimp -- the worst sort") she wouldn't have to go into the business -- and then was tricked into doing it. By her parents.

Later, she tries to get out and is ostracized and beaten by her father and her drunken brothers.

The only local business seems to be prostitution, so the women are the breadwinners.

But they don't have that much power.

In a strange dowry reversal, the brothers must pay a bride-price if they want to marry -- to reimburse the family for the lost revenue.

They can't get jobs, so they rely on their sisters.

The girls are stuck.

They have secret boyfriends who won't marry them.

They can't leave the profession.

So they try to have babies with higher-caste men.

Girl babies = Income.

They also know that education is the only way out. Well, at least Guddi does.

(At one point the pimp-father takes his youngest daughter to a boarding school and then brings her back the next day on some pretext; she never goes back).

I saw the film at Facets; it was riveting. It gives a sense of daily life in that village.

I found it curious though that the director says she has not shown the film to the women.

And there's no link to any related organizations on the film's website.

Maybe the nine-year project completely burnt her out.


Even Al Gore has a website with more resources at the end of his depressing movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment