“I love India. I love the people in India. India does change your life."
The London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) got off to an inspiring start at the Cineworld Haymarket in central London.
With its opening night film of Sold, guests and audiences filled the cinema hall in anticipation of a truly emotional journey on screen.
Sold is an adaptation of Patricia McCormick’s best-selling novel about child trafficking in Nepal and India. It has been directed by Jeffery D. Brown and stars Gillian Anderson, Seema Biswas, David Arquette, Niyar Saikia and Tillotama Shome.
It follows the turmoil of young Laxmi (played by Niyar Saikia) from the Himalayas. Living in abject poverty, an ‘auntie’ offers her work as a domestic servant in Kolkata.
Seeing no other option for their survival, Laxmi’s stepfather agrees and she is taken away for an advance payment.
But rather than arriving at a respected household, she is trafficked into a brothel, and Laxmi finds herself trapped inside a sadistic world of sex, greed and lies and forced to pay off her ‘debt bondage’.
Seeing her suffering, Laxmi is happened upon a concerned photographer from America called Sophia (played by Gillian Anderson), who attempts to use whatever means to rescue her out of her horrific situation.
Following the UK premiere of the film, brand ambassadors of LIFF, Sunny and Shay hosted a Q&A with the director Jeffery Brown, producer Jane Charles, and actress Gillian Anderson.
Gillian spoke about her experiences of working on the film, and dealing with the sensitive topic of child trafficking.
Gillian admits that initially she wasn’t aware of the huge issue that human slavery was across the world and both the book and the screenplay opened her eyes to the suffering of young and vulnerable innocents:
“I didn’t know much about human slavery at all. When I first jumped on board, it was based on a script that was an adaptation of the novel. It was a one-line character at the time.
“But Jeffrey, who I was in discussions on another project with, asked if I would jump on board to lend a voice, were they ever to get it together,” Gillian explains to Sunny and Shay.
Gillian plays a real-life photographer in the film and this led to her role expanding into what we see on screen. Gillian says: “[I was able] to embody a real life humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine who spends a lot of her time bearing witness to human slavery around the world.”
Being from the West, the character of Sophia (based on Lisa) is perhaps the closest that we as an audience can relate to such a tragic tale. Through her photography, Sophia becomes our eyes and takes us into this dark and secret world, allowing us to understand it better. As Gillian says:
“The point is the character symbolising a reaction we should all be having to this current issue, global issue, and that’s what my character does in a sense in the film.”
While the film is based on McCormick’s novel, Jeffrey and Jane spent a lot of time visiting orphanages in India to hear stories from the survivors of sex-trafficking. Jeffrey is not ashamed to admit that shooting in India had a great impact on him and his cast and crew:
“I love India. I love the people in India. India does change your life. I went there first when I was 10. My step-dad is Indian of Bengali descent. I grew up in Uganda, went to India for the first time from Africa at 10 – completely changed my life. And then going back, doing this film, changed my life again,” Jeffrey told the crowd.
While Sold deals with such horrific issues, Jeffrey was keen to offer a full experience of India and the audience can enjoy the games and innocence of the children, adding a necessary lightness to the dark subject matter.
Gillian and the Sold team are adamant that trafficking is not restricted to only India and its surroundings, but it is a global issue that needs to be addressed soon rather than later. As producer, Jane adds:
“This is a $150 billion business per year. When we started this project, it was the third highest grossing illegal crime in the world. It’s now the second highest grossing illegal crime in the world and it’s getting worse with the internet and everything else that’s happening around trafficking. It’s because it is so lucrative that we have nip this issue on so many different levels.”
Jane admits that Sold hones in on one of the regions where trafficking is at its highest, and this why the story has such an impact on the viewer:
“Nepal is in dire straits with trafficking. There are some villages that have the greatest risk, and where there are no girls over the age of 10. So imagine villages with no girls,” Jane says.
Through a collaborative effort with Childreach International, the Sold team have endorsed a campaign, ‘Taught Not Trafficked’, to help victims of trafficking.
Sold is a truly accomplished film, and it certainly has the right impact on those who watch it, which the team hoped for. Following its huge success in front of the LIFF crowd, the Sold team are positive they will go on to achieve what they have set out to do; and stop child-trafficking for good.