Two documentary filmmakers chronicle their time in Sonagchi, Calcutta and the relationships they developed with children of prostitutes who work the city's notorious red light district.
Documentary photographer Zana Briski journeyed into Calcutta's underworld to photograph the city's prostitutes. In return, she offered to teach the prostitutes' children the basics of photography so that the kids could document their own lives on the streets of one of the world's poorest cities. The resulting photographs, often astonishing, were exhibited around the world; many of them are seen in this film, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2005.
Amidst the apparent growing prosperity of India, there is a dark underbelly of poverty of another side of the nation that is little known. This film is a chronicle of filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's efforts to show that world of Calcutta's red light district. To do that, they inspired a special group of children of the prostitutes of the area to photograph the most reluctant subjects of it. As the kids excel in their new found art, the filmmakers struggle to help them have a chance for a better life away from the miserable poverty that threatens to crush their dreams.
- Filmed within the Red Light District of Calcutta, India, this documentary uses photography and film to explore the lives of several sons and daughters of prostitutes in the City's brothels. The director (Zana Briski) started the project hoping to photograph the life of India's sex workers, but found it difficult to obtain permission to photograph them. She took up residence in the Red Light District to become a part of their world, and in doing so became very involved with the prostitutes' children. "Zana Auntie," as the children call her, is determined to use photography to provide the children with an opportunity for higher education, hope and a better life. She gives each child a camera and teaches them the basics of photography. The children, literally born into the brothels, are able to capture elements of life in the Red Light District that outsiders cannot.
As their photography progresses, Zana seeks to use the children's photographs to help secure them education at boarding schools. She organizes an exhibition of their work in NYC, which the children giddily watch via video. She organizes a second exhibition at a bookstore in Calcutta to show the children the effect their work has on others. As the children receive local and worldwide attention, many of them seem to grow more hopeful that they have future prospects outside the brothel. One of the children, Avijit, separates himself from the rest through remarkable talent, and is selected to represent India as a child representative at a worldwide photography convention in Amsterdam.
By the end of the film, Zana has obtained spots for most of the children at boarding schools, hoping to keep them out of the brothels. However, not all children are allowed to leave the brothels by their guardians, and several leave the schools to return to the brothels by the film's end.