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Born into brothels

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Born into Brothels Essay Sample

In this comparative essay I will be comparing the lives of the children in the film, Born into Brothels, to the lives of the children who are born in Ingersoll, Ontario.

Throughout this essay I will talk about the children who grew up in Calcutta, India and relate them to my life growing up in Ingersoll.
Born Into Brothels is an “eye-opening” film in many ways. We are invited into a part of the world that is sadly our own, but one in which we know very little about. Through the passion and work of a photojournalist from New York, we see the lives of a group of children who are born, growing up in and intimately connected (in good and bad ways) to the seediness of brothel-life in India.

The three main things I will be looking at and comparing in this essay will be, the importance of money, free will, and how they appreciate the little things in life. The importance of money in India is seen as a huge part that is a part of their everyday life.
Born into Brothels is an powerful movie that documents life at the extremes. Henslin (2010) defines social stratificiation as the division of large numbers of people into layers according to their relative property, power, prestige; applies to both nations and to people within a nation, society or other group. With this story, Born into Brothels dares our insight of human resilience, while focusing on the lowest social class system, which is based primarily on possession of money or material possessions (Henslin, 2010) in social stratification. This documentary’s back drop is Caluctta, India, which is home to one of the oldest populations and religious doctrines in the world.

Tapasi states in the film that “..nobody here understands anything but money.” (57:28). This statement is also the same here in Canada or any other country. No matter where you go, money seems more important to man than anything.
Suchitra is the oldest of the group. Gour is fearful that she will be sent to work the line. Suchitra’s mom died and her aunt wants to send her to Bombay to become a prostitute. Suchitra does not see a solution and is fearful to leave her home for this reason. Lastly, there is Tapasi. This little girl has resigned herself to the ideology, beliefs about the way things ought to be that justify social arrangements (Henslin, 2010) that the red light district has engrained into its residents. Tapasi says “ one has to accept that life is full of sadness and pain” (Briski, 2004) her hopelessness as a matter of fact attitude is astounding.

Everyone is so greedy, and only cares about what the easiest way to get money is. This importance of money is also causing corporations and people to have no morals because they are only focusing on what is the most efficient way to get money, no matter how illegal or wrong it may be.

In my life money is very important, my parents work 6 days a week, 8 hours a day so we get to have the luxuries and get to participate in certain special activities.

Working that often can harm the family a little bit because you don’t see them as often.
In watching the documentary, we learn much about ourselves by watching the life and stories of others. After two minutes, I complain about waiting in my grocery store check out line, while in India people wait 8 hours to get a passport. I complain because I haven’t seen the latest blockbuster movie yet (because I’m too busy!), while these children play contently and with full joy at a beach. I complain how I’m “not loved enough” by others, while a child-knowing his father is a drug addict-still tries to love him a little. This isn’t new. When we who live in the west and live in more ‘developed’ countries see and learn about the poor conditions of life in other countries…we count out blessings. But this movie-and the message in it, I think-intends more than just making us more thankful for what we have. It demands something from us. A reflection. And a response.

In some people’s eyes they wouldn’t care so much because it’s earning money but family is more important than riches. Throughout Born Into Brothels the children are not given a lot of freewill, their parents decide everything for them even though they do not have the kids best interest in mind.
This documentary is very fast paced showing scenes of the children crying and getting beaten up by their parents at one instance and the same children running around the beach and having the time of their life at the next. Through these striking, contrary scenes, Zana and Ross portray that these children have great potential not only in their photography skills but also in their true lives as they can develop to be something bigger than what anybody could have ever imagined!

This concept occurs a lot today in society, parents want what’s best for their kids but sometimes what the parents decide are not what the kids want to pursue. This can be shown through the decisions of schooling, and what occupations the kids have their minds set on becoming.
Videos in which the children talk about their problems, their aspirations and how they feel about their family are shown which help the audience analyse and understand the situation of these children. Footages of the family of the children sharing their views and listing their constraints about Zana’s plan for the children are also displayed. These help the viewer discern the general mind set of the residents of this red light area.

This is shown in my life by my decisions for university. I have my mind set on a program at Ryerson University that I could really benefit from before I am going to medical school. It is a preparation course, that is an over view of medical physics where I have a guaranteed opportunity where throughout my schooling I will be working alongside an actual radiologist.
To be sure, we shutter at the idea of children living in brothels-with mothers working at home while children fly kites on rooftops. But among the differences we see between us and them, there are similarities that connect us to these children, deeply. Play, laughter, tears and sorrow…these are the things we all enjoy and endure, regardless of how wealthy we are, or where we live. Yearning for love, hope for a better future…these are things we realize are universal to all humans. These children live hard lives, and perhaps it is their naivte-or the wonder of their innocence-but they exude a sure hope for something better. This isn’t a teenager in North America with dreams of getting into the most prestigious college or university. This is a child born into a brothel, living in a brothel who knows nothing else but life in a brothel…who can see the promises of life outside the brothel. That’s all. And we pull for them, we quietly cheer them on, as we watch them apply, interview and visit a foreign-run school that gives them such a promise.

My mother on the other hand has her heart set on me attending Wilfred Laurier University, meanwhile it is a business school, and does not have any of the programs that I will benefit from. In Born Into Brothels, you can see that even though the children have grown up with nothing they still appreciate the small things that they are given in life.

Born into Brothels opened the windows of 8 children’s lives and their families for a short time. Their photography was and still is being sold to help pay for boarding school for the children born into the red light district. The 8 children featured were afforded opportunities that they would never have otherwise been given. We don’t need to travel to Calcutta, India to put ourselves into other people’s ‘shoes’, we can be aware of what is happening around us right here in our own city. Somewhere out there, there is a stranger, an animal, or even a friend or family member that may need your compassion and understanding. Stretch out your hand; don’t be afraid to open yourself up to the opportunity of putting a smile on someone else’s face and making a difference in the life of another.

Tapasi, who is a young girl, said that she would still be happy even if she was poor. In the film, you can see that even though the people of India do not have many things they are still generally happy and they aren’t as miserable as you think they would be. When you think about happiness, you generally think about having riches and a lot of things.
The highlight of this film is that much of Kids' records are used in it. And thanks for children's innocence, happiness and leisure in face of difficulty release the hard scenes of the film, bring us some both charming and meaningful pictures and expose the unknown life of red light strict. Through the eyes of these kids, we observe their world. I can not forget kids' worry, curiosity, surprising or longing when they are first in touch with cameras: Kochi is a sensitive girl, and she feels shy taking picture in public, because people tease them and say mean things like "Look at them taking photographs, who knows where they could have bought those cameras from!" Puja is a lively girl, she says: "one day I opened the camera and the whole roll got burnt." So, she does not open it anymore; Manik cannot wait anymore to take sea photos for he is curious about what it is like the sea; his sister Shanti speaks out the children's heart voice: " we like doing photography so much that we forget to do our work." Tapasi feels fabulously when she holds the camera and she says: "Zana Auntie teaches us so well that everything goes into our brain." For in the past, there is no possibility for these kids to hold a camera and they only see other people taking photos. So, how amazing the camera meant to them. For by camera, they see the world through a square box; by camera, they can take photos of dead and missing people; by camera, they world become more hopeful.

This film really shows how to appreciate the little things in life and that happiness is not all about what materialistic things you possess. It is about how you look at the things in your life and how you appreciate what you have.
With such heart touching content, it was no surprise that this documentary was discussed about all around the globe. On a personal note, I would like to say that this documentary did manage to melt my heart. The extensive use of pathos made almost everyone who watched this documentary shed a tear. This documentary spread far and wide like a forest fire, all across India and created mass awareness by reaching millions of responsible citizens leading to introduction of various reforms for child life betterment. The credibility used by Zana and Ross appealed to most of the public as the circumstantial situations depicted in the documentary were something that everybody could relate to.

I am really grateful for all of the things I have in my life, from the house I live in to the people I share it with. I am even appreciative for the smallest things that life has given me, such as the food I am given to eat every day and the water that I can easily access at the twist of the tap.

Another theme interwoven into the story and equally compelling was the relationship between the people and the environment of Calcutta. Stretched to the limit is a considerable understatement for many residents in India, especially the habitants of the red light districts. The movie begins by showing the conditions of the brothels; living quarters are as small as an average American bedroom, and are usually occupied by as many as of seven individuals. There is no privacy, little room for personal belongings, and half eaten plates of food are stacked on the floor next to the unwashed cooking pots. Outside, an opening scene shows alleys teaming with rats and starving animals. The lacking traffic system in the central metropolitan areas of Calcutta is exemplify by a six hour bus trip for the children to travel thirty miles. The movie clearly shows a direct correlation between environment and psychological development. Very few people develop beyond the adolescence stage of Erikson's psychosocial stages, largely in part because their environment is so harsh and people are force to remain in constant survival mode.

In conclusion, I may live on the opposite side of the world from India, and may live a completely different life but we do have many similarities in the lessons we learn. Those lessons being, from the smallest of things such as appreciating everything life has given you to respecting your elders.
Obtained as the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the film Born into Brothels has another name that is Calcutta's Red Light Kids. Obviously, the focus of this film is on kids rather on brothels. Actually, in 1998, American director and documentary photographer Zana Briski and Kauffmen meant to go to Calcutta to photograph prostitutes. While there, she found seven children to teach them how to use cameras to reciprocate being allowed to photograph their mothers. These small and précised machine light up the artistic talent of these kids. For them, learning photography may be just a game, however, in the movie, this kind of learning stands for a possibility of changing their fates. But these kids have a special identity-they are prostitutes' children which pains their destiny darker color. It is fatalistic that experiencing ups and downs is not the sorrow of life, the most tragic things is to find that the destiny has already doomed after a hard struggle. In Sonagachi, Calcutta's red light district, poverty and disease spread here and people live a life without hope. While, the most intolerable fact is that the children of those prostitutes not only have to endure other's discrimination but to face their dark fate which has been doomed in their early age. Fortunately, at the end of the film, we know that though not all children can get rid of the hard living condition, some of them may live a different life.

We have the same evil characteristics in our societies, such as the greed for money and the selfishness people possess to receive what they want.

Born Into Brothels Notes
Setting & Surroundings
- Dark
- Dirty
- Crowded
- Loud
- Poverty
- Lots of children
- Rodents
- a lot of traffic (everyone’s moving)
- Prostitution
- Many illegal activities constantly occuring
- Chaotic
- Filthy
- Explicit language around the young children

Avijit(11)
- Gets upset when he is called fat
- He likes to draw pictures to express what he is feeling inside.


- He puts his thoughts into the colours on his paintings and drawings.

With this he can better show his emotions with the use of colours throughout the picture.


- He has won many awards for his paintings and drawings.
- He is a very talented young artist
- His parents sell liquor in their home illegally. This attracts the drunks of the town.
Moreover, the special film perspective successes in expressing the children's life and strengthening the influence of this movie. Through implicit shooting angel, such as by child's own monologue to constitute this film is a striking and brief way to express these children's lives. For instance, Kochi says: 'I keeping thinking if I could go some place else and get education, I wonder what I could become.' From her words, we could see that this girl yearns for a better life and she knows the power of education but she is lack of opportunity. And it is sorrowful to realize that so many kids in the red light street have to face such a cold reality. Another scene is in an old and tattered zoo where the children are photographing the dying animals. Isn't it a symbolic picture? In some degree, those dying animals are similar to the kids themselves. Both are struggling to live and forgotten by people, even by their parents. That's what I am thinking the most tragic thing fro them.

The men will go there to drink and then go find the prostitutes to spend time with. - Sometimes some men drink and don’t end up paying. When this occurs Avijit has to go after them and be mean to get their money.
Sometimes, she forced the children into doing something against their will as was in the case of Avijit, as she knew that going abroad for a photography exhibition would only do his situation a world of good. Such virtuous and charitable acts could only lead audience into believing that Zana was doing this out of a good heart, with no aim of profit or fame.

- His father is almost 40, and he married Avijit’s mother when he was 2.
- A man got his father addicted to smoking hash after he married Avijit’s mother. Apparently his father used to be a very good dad,overweight , very strong, well known, but now his father just smokes all day because the mother has left them.
Being a documentary based on children, the author has appealed to the greatest amount of emotion possible. Zana shows footages of how the children have been tormented by their prostitute mothers and step fathers. They are not only forced to do all the labour work at this young age but even their fate of being part of “the line” has also been written by their predecessors. Zana “Auntie” then shows videos of how these bright ‘red’ students enjoy themselves while using the camera and during the excursions they are taken to. Such contrasting footages arouse feelings of sadness and remorse in the audience which quickly transit into feelings of joy and hope. The music too, complements the visuals, and helps set the tone and context of the plot just like a good desert complements a heavy main course.

- Even though Avijit’s mother is gone and his father is now a terrible person, Avijit says “ I try to love him a little” 35:47 - He used to want to be a doctor, then he wanted to become an artist. - “There is nothing called ‘hope’ in my future” 1:02:51 - He wants to be good but he has no guidance in his life. Auntie is very worries that he will grow up into a bad person, which will be very unfortunate because he is a very talented little artist.
HIV/AIDS, murder and crime are prevalent and living conditions are deplorable. In the red light district, which is it’s own city inside of a city; not only do the residents suffer in this harsh reality, every aspect of existnce is contaminated by its grave condition. In essence it is their own form of slavery, form of social stratification in which some people own other people (Henslin, 2010). The main characters are Gour, who is best friends with Puja. Gour worries that Puja will follow in the footsteps of her family. Puja’s family history is from a line of prostitution.

- Avijit went to Amsterdam to represent the photography program and his class. - In the end of the film he returned to Calcutta and chose to enter the Future Hope school. Gour(13)

- He doesn’t like it when his name is mispronounced, and people end up saying “garu” or “cow” - He is thin and tall.
- When they go to the zoo, you can see that he likes the animals, and he does not like when they are mistreated. (eg. when people feed the elephants plastic bags) - In the film he went out at night to take pictures but forgot to put the flash on, so they all came out blank. He claimed that he forgot his camera doesn’t have flash.

Winning the Academy Award for that year was a forgone conclusion, even though there was no acting in any part of the time movie! Only and only real time footages were shown. And hence, I will abide by what I said before that this documentary appeals to the general public through the crafted and genius use of rhetorical devices like pathos, ethos and logos. The aftermath of this movie in India showed that the human race is progressing towards restoring humanity within themselves after all.

This shows that the little boy is silly, and forgetful. - He is also very sympathetic and really cares about his peers. “I wish I could take Puja away from here” 26:40 - In the end of the film he still lives at home but he has the hopes to go to university. Puja(11)

- She is a small girl
- She claims in the introduction that she is 10.
- She really likes taking pictures, but doesn’t care for the editing of the pictures. - When she takes pictures in public she feels shy.
- Puja lives with her grandma because mother cannot take care of her.
- Her father tried to sell her, and sister saved her from being sold.
- When talking about her family she states “I worry that I might become like them.” 17:09
- The women in her family come from a line of prostitution and unfortunately she is heading in the same direction.
- She is a very sharing little girl.
- Father beats mother, for not giving him money for his drinking
- In the end of the film, her mother withdrew her from the Sabera school. Suchitra (14)
- The introduction says that whatever she gets she quietly takes it. - She doesn’t fight with anyone.
- She does not mind being bad mouthed; she knows it will happen when you are learning how to do something well.
- Her mother is dead, so her aunt takes care of her.
- Her aunt wants to send her to Bombay to work in the line, so she can make money off of her.
- In the end of the film her Aunt didn’t let her leave the brothel. Tapasi (11)
- “I never really think about being rich” 9:02
- She thinks that she could be happy even if she was poor.

How hard do you think it is for kids born in red light areas to earn themselves a green card- a decent, respectable living in this harsh world? This is exactly what Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman show the world in their Oscar winning documentary Born into Brothels (2004). Zana journeys to Calcutta to learn about the life of prostitutes and the inhumane living conditions in Sonagachi, Asia’s largest red light area which houses around eleven thousand sex workers. But because of her love for kids, she ends up teaching the children born in these areas how to photograph and work towards the betterment of their life by helping them getting into boarding schools as nobody else cared about their future. This would help them escape the horrid “line” and start a new life, away from the brothel.


- She says “One has to accept life as being sad and painful… that’s all” 9:20
- People yell at her and call her cruel names.
- She wannts to do something with sewing and photography when she becomes older.
- Her goal is to make a living so she can take care of her sisters and herself when her mother isn’t able to take care of them anymore.
- She says a very true statement which is “Nobody here understands anything but money.” 57:28
- In the end of the film she ran away from home and went to the Sanlaap school for girls. Manik (10)
- He gets mad when he gets beat by his father and peers.
They are regal in the district, as they eat well and dress well. Puja always shares what she has. Manik and Shanti are brother and sister and both eager to learn. Avijit, probably one of the most talented with his photography also loves to express himself in his drawings and paintings. Kochi, is a very strong little girl that suffers a lot of emotional and verbal abuse. She works doing chores from 4 a.m. to about 11 p.m. trying to make money for her family and takes her life for what it is.

- He never bothers anyone.
- He is the brother of Shanti.
- The police would take his mother when he was young.
- His father would take him to court to get his mother back
- In the end of the film, his father would not let him go to school Kochi (10)
- She is a small, quiet girl
- She is shy with camera and when she takes the pictures.
- She does dishes, brings tea and does errands for her family. As well as mops twice a day and does the porch too.
- She sometimes does shopping in the evenings, until 11 pm she has to get curry or rice if they want it.
- She wants to receive an education and leave.
- She is very curious of what she could possibly become in the future if she received schooling.
- She has never said “no” in her life, so she will not be able to say no to anyone in future
- She has a very hard life that consists of working from 4 am cleaning houses; she works so hard and has no time to rest.
- She makes her money cleaning.
- Her mother is temperamental, she has lost 6 sons and her husband, and has tried to commit suicide by jumping off the Howrah Bridge.
- Her grandmother is trying to enroll her in school.
- In the end of the film she chose to stay at Sabera and is happy and doing well. Shanti (11)
- She likes to get her way if she doesn’t, she gets mad and runs away.
- She is the sister to Manik.
- Manik beats her up all the time.
- Her mother is very worried about her future.
- Her mom is a prostitute and when she is working the go on the roof and play. - In the end of the film she left the Sabera school on her own accord

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