Born into Brothels
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Born into Brothels

2004, Society  -   38 Comments
Ratings: 7.89/10 from 56 users.

Born into BrothelsBorn Into Brothels is a documentary about the inspiring non-profit foundation Kids With Cameras, which teaches photography skills to children in marginalized communities. In 1998, New York-based photographer Zana Briski started photographing prostitutes in the red-light district of Calcutta. She eventually developed a relationship with their children, who were fascinated by her equipment.

After several years of learning in workshops with Briski, the kids created their own photographs with point-and-shoot 35 mm cameras. Their images capture the intimacy and color of everyday life in the overpopulated sections of Calcutta. Proceeds from the sale of the children's photographs go to fund their future education. Directed by Briski and filmmaker Ross Kauffman, Born Into Brothels was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 as part of the documentary competition.

The photography is splendid, rich in color and subject matter, and the video camera following Briski through the squalid red light district, pausing to hear abusive mothers and drugged fathers deny their children passage into a better life, hearing the wisdom of the elders who desire something more for these children, captures a world few know. Devoted as Briski and Kauffman are to their dream, they remain realistic and document an element of life in a third world country that is illuminating. This is a touching film without being maudlin, beautiful without ignoring reality. In English and with subtitles for the children's commentary. Highly Recommended.

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38 Comments / User Reviews

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  1. dgkdlg

    There we go again. Typical ignorant & stupid Indians. I am not saying all Indians are like that. But, still a lot of Indians are like that. If somebody had a better option, they, or at least majority of them would not choose this profession. Besides, if it is not forced, what is so wrong about voluntary prostitution ? Nothing at all. Personally, I think it is far better for a woman to be in the sex industry than become an abusive husband's and her in-law's slave. Again, people still don't understand that there are not enough good jobs, especially in a highly populated country like India. Of course, some Indian idiot boys and men would never agree with this. Well, they can go f*ck and kill themselves off.

  2. Michelle Poulin

    Before you begin to tax "religion' as you suggest, I would suggest you have a look at just who backs the many who offer aide, food, medical, shelter etc to those in need (worldwide) and government doesn't mind what faith supports what just as long as they don't have to address the issues and it doesn't cost them or take from 'their' pockets. The problem lies in the hierarchal/patriarchal system by which we are affected and still live by, not people of faith who for decades been and are trying to relieve some of the the suffering in this world. Sorry, you'll have to find another scapegoat to point your self righteous finger at cuz I'm not buying it !

    1. Lovely Mee

      what are you talking about. you really sound stupid.. which is really sad.. ppl like you make it so hard for ppl that need help... Nothing was said abt the government helping these ppl. Her documentary was about how kids suffer in the poor and how they can't help themself. How she took it opon herself to offer them a way out. You have takin it another direction... Your so clueless. SMMFH!!!

  3. So It Is 4U

    Also true of the Western critics and award shows–the movies about the east and the colored races that are incentivised are always about poverty and very unfortunate events where a westerner/white person comes as a savior or messiah: Slumdog Millionaire, Salaam Bombay!, Waiting for Superman, Kavi... the list is endless... I bet it is easy to look into others for things you'd like to change rather than look within at what must be transformed in you. This applies to me too, so I stop here. But what I put out here is an observation of how the west incentivises this and continues to promote this view of the east and colored races, as a continual reminder thus further setting in consciousness this reality for generation after generation, impairing it further.

  4. So It Is 4U

    poverty porn always excites the west, I guess it allows them to see themselves as fortunate in some way.

    1. Stegokitty

      That's really how you view this film?
      Think about your other jaundiced remarks -- So, this woman chooses to become involved in the lives of people, to whom she owes nothing, and she's to be frowned upon for doing it, because she's white? No one is stopping someone of a darker coloured skin from doing something decent, and of informing the public of it. How else shall people purchase the photos, and thereby increase the possibility that one more little girl can get a real, helpful career, instead of being sexually abused and degraded for the rest of her life? If people don't hear/see the story, identify with the situation, how can they choose whether to help in some way?

  5. Blair Lauren

    At first I was skeptical that she was exploiting the kids and their photographs for her film. But as it turns out, she really changed their lives. Very moving to read what happened to them after this film.

  6. minamilli

    /A wonderful beautifull video////and the photographer said she wasnt a social worker,,,doing good is its reward... what i loved most was the love and light in those children...this in itself is the thing we must protect in them and others...and this beauty is what draws some to exploit....that is what perversion means....

  7. vinitha

    Wow that as a great documentary. Happy to see that atleast two kids where brought into light. Thanks

  8. dudley surrao

    Great documentary. Very inspiring. Is there a follow up on the two who made it out of that world? Would like to know.

    1. Mohamed Mansour

      The DVD has a follow-up feature with the kids years later. Avijit went on to study photography at NYU. Kochi went to private school in Utah, Shanti and Manik went to high school at Future Hope, Madan attended film school in Calcutta, and Binod went to a fashion institute in Mumbai. Puja wasn't as lucky. She became a prostitute. Gour stayed in the red light district to stay with his mother.

  9. dudley surrao

    Great documentary, inspiring,

  10. John Marus

    oh ya, and let's start using some of those crafty biblical punishments for these horrible men who cheat and generally treat their women like dirt. Any county with human rights violation against women, especially the sandy countries, should have sanctions implemented by the rest of the world.

    1. ranii02

      your comments are quite double edged. these "sandy" countries are often mistreated from people of the western countries either way. how are the red light districts so popular in all asian countries, especially the ones with little unfortunate children? oh yeah, disgusting men from western countries. i agree theres mistreatment of women, but before the "rest of the world" can implement anything, they should have their hands cleaned before pointing those hands.

  11. Leslie El Salvador

    No matter what their family is in those kids deserve a clean home and education. So sad that there is potential but no resources.

    1. John Marus

      The stem of the problem is over population. And of course, the general lack of respect for women in these cultures. Feeding the world should never be the goal; maintaining a balance between population and resources of the planet is the goal - and in this case, reducing our population. It's only sad because they are kids, what's really sad is the billion people without a full tummy tonight. Let's start with taxing religion and handing out free condoms with every food shipment.

  12. Abhishek Gautam

    Zana, and everybody who believes to change the world and thinking, please keep this faith up , thank you for such beautiful video especially last 3 sections when kids got life and a way to grow up and escape from that hell
    i am glad it was not just documentary of showcasing the life and standard , but its beyond of that, you made the Life of those kids, may God always bless you.
    everybody please accept the truth and help , don't treat them the way NUN/sister at school, teachers and people on streets, Rashion Card office etc
    these areas must be legalized and facilities must be provided they are also part of society though can be a diseases but , if they are disease we need to provide medicine.
    we all remember ..culture, society, status values....but don't forget Humanity!! and rights of living!

    1. John Marus

      PS: believing in fairy tales ain't going to help sister - "he's" shown his ability to help the suffering over and over and over. There can't be what doesn't exist - your god.

  13. Abhishek Gautam

    i am shocked to see the -ve reaction from people.
    the documentary shown one reality of a society which also live in the same nation ,biggest red light area , but because of sick mentality not much effort has been done to improve there health, kids educations and support.
    somebody said, why do these woman come in this field of prostitution, nobody would love to move in such hell, 90% of the woman were forcefully brought to this field, and "sailing of woman", and when some woman has entered in this field , don't have any other place to go.
    some like its shown in video that kids from prostitutes have to become prostitute , who accept them in social life, and where will they go?
    government must take steps to improve there life standard especially kids from them must be given facility for schooling , so that atleast there kids must not have to be prostitute in future because of circumstances
    one must understand this life there is hell, and hate to them is just an act of evil, because its all because of people from so called "social"
    Thankyou for making such video, exposing a hidden life and reality behind the word " prostitute"
    cos , they also have life, kids, and so called family, but just one more untouchable ...

  14. HAzel

    I think this filmmaker is ridiculous. She makes the film entirely about herself and her feelings. Yes, she interviews the children, but obviously leaves some opinions out. Why is it that we have to focus on her feelings and her "challenges" through the film. Example: She is trying to get the young boy a passport and all we see is her complaining about how difficult it is for her to obtain the paperwork and such. This is not what one wants to watch in a film about the children. I would have rather heard the boy's side of the story.

    More interviews with more of the children and more 'fly-on-the-wall" observation scenes would have improved this film. Nowhere in the film did I want to hear any blabber from Zara Auntie other than explaining the accomplishments of the children. The scenes in which she is teaching the kids about the cameras is good enough information on her intentions and "struggle" this type of documentary calls for.

    Overall it sends a great message to help those in need, but it definitely lacks the backbone of the real story.

    1. Christine81

      at this point who cares about the documentary? the film is not as important as to the changes that this woman brougt to the lives of these children.
      Relating to the passport procedure, the meaning of her complaints was to underline the problem of bureaucracy.
      There might be better documentaries out there, but so far I have never seen the documentarists radically change the bad situation in which people were. Two souls were saved because of her and the film.

    2. Natalie Miller

      Are you intentionally blind and callous? What opinions would you like expressed? Those of the schools that kept the kids out? Those of the bureaucracy who's only goal is to have their palms greased, or of the pimps and drug dealers who keep Calcutta under such a tight rein. Maybe you'd like the opinion of the businessmen who struggle so hard to keep their businesses running while westerners attempt to undermine them at any turn.

      This film was told, unflinchingly, from the viewpoint of a photographer who became close to a group of women and who then became even closer and more attached to their children. That you choose to focus on her attempt to get one boy his passport, which took up, maybe, twenty minutes of a two hour documentary is myopic to the point of blindness. Her difficulties, as another poster has already said, were documented as a way to highlight a dysfunctional, corrupt system.

      Of course the film has it's flaws, but everything can be nitpicked. What I found most wrenching about this film was the simple rendering of children being children. They were the same as kids in Paris and London and New York. They laughed and they found joy in little things and they were waiting to be awed. They laughed hilariously at things only children find funny. They found ways to be happy, even growing up in squalor most of us can't even begin to conceive of. And that, I think, is the true beauty of this film. It's not about the filmmaker; it's about these kids who laugh when there's nothing to laugh about and who reach and struggle for the sun until the will for it is totally stammped out of them.

      Most of us cannot conceive of this life. It's a bummer if we don't have a cell phone or cable tv, but there are millions upon millions of children who struggle to find fresh water. We could all do with a good dose of empathy when considering those less fortunate than us. A good dose of feminism wouldn't hurt, either. A well educated, well informed populace will make better decisions than a populace that blindly follows.

  15. abi

    what drives these women to go in this line?
    poverty huh? just to fill the stomach why they want to go as prostitutes......
    there are a lot of jobs with which these women can live a decent life happily...........
    india is not a poor never fails to award the cricketers in crores even they loose the match.....
    it invests crores and crores to conduct common wealth games..
    why doesnt this govenment never take initiative to change the lives of these less fortunate people....
    i pray lord vishnu to take another avatar and save this country...

    1. Kellyann

      not everything is by choice. you must be a man and an ignorant one at that

  16. Kasturi Mukherjee.

    I'm just a simple girl from Kolkata in India where this documentary was shoot.I just want to say that without having the power of education no one can enjoy their freedom whether its in Kolkata or on abroad.

  17. CC

    Zana Briski is a woman with heart of gold. In addition to her professional goal of taking pictures of the prostitutes of the red light district of Calcutta, India, she tried to help to make the lives of the kids better by teaching photography and by helping to put them into school. The children were charming and talented, and I wish they all get their education to make their lives better and help to live their friends, relatives, and families better.

  18. aliceNbob

    Manufactured impropaganda. why is it flipping through various film types, various camera types. if you understand the language, they dont talk about anythign close to a sex related. that is more of a slumtown, they live like that because the animus ai was getting to them. the same ai that takes over goverments, by doctoring the info, the world of stitchens. the narrator speaks for everyone in the video. english was the last language to be learned. if your name is C. Paine. then you will always see/feel pain for rhe duration of your life. a portion of the population is controled through command archtecture. a dna based virus was created that infected the machineworld.

  19. VJ

    The real saint is the one who has a heart of gold- Zara Auntie, you are no less. May you find all happiness in life. Hats off to you.


  20. louiseiiid

    One of the absolute best documentaries on this beautiful site.

    I am so touched by these people's lives and how they cope with their environment. How such brilliance and talent can emerge from such squallor is an inspiration to everyone.

    I lived in India for 2 years and now live in Amsterdam. I hope to have my Indian nephew visit next year - the difference between a 13 year old Indian child and a 13 year old European is more than a world apart. I just wish I had done something this useful in my time in India - top marks to Zara Auntie - I hope she finds some happiness in her achievements. It is so difficult to make a change in a place where everyone accepts their lot as 'karma'.

  21. Jezebel

    Saw this in class Tales of the Night Fairies by Shohini Ghosh. Ah-may-ZING !!

  22. xx424

    GR8 MOVIE.. I guess its high time we Indians wake up to reality, shed aside d burden of age-old ignorance. I don't know which stand is correct but I know that its all pervasive and in all ages. during mauryan times prostitution was legal and taxed. there is no world as we dream of 'Ram-rajya" I believe it should be legalized as we are denying some fundamental rights to prostitutes.

  23. yasmin

    Im so sad the kids didn't go to school; only those few that their parents supported them. It just goes to show how much education can go and how much some people with they could have. Americans trough away this blessing by dropping out of school. I am a university student and want to achieve a carrier as a teacher to make a difference in this world. My dream has always been to go to all these third world countries and make a difference.

  24. Abdussalam

    A really touching documentary!!
    So captivating...very powerful.

  25. Roniet

    An amazing film. I couldn't tear myself away from it..thanks for sharing this brilliant story, awakening and enriching so many lives

  26. Renn

    A must see documentary.

  27. Stephanya

    Hi, I only see this documentary as a beautiful to show teenagers and young children that what they say they suffer is nothing compared to what these children go through everyday. The fact that modern teens believe everything should come easy and with out work is completely wrong. Lucky for those children in Calcutta that they have great people willing to help them with no cost. I wish them all a blessing and have those children in my prayers. Expecially Gour and Puja. Lucky Avijit is in NYU. God Bless Them

  28. rahina

    only a few of the children were lucky enough to change their future. they were lucky enough only because they were chosen by the film directors to cast in their movie.
    other wise they too would have gone in the line. i wish voluntary organistions in india itself take the initiative to make a change in the life of these less fortunate people. once they are forced into this hard life, they become numb towards everything. that is why some of them even dont care about their children and wasted the opportunity to educate them. how can they love their children? afterall they are the burdens in their lives cos they are not born out of love.

  29. symeria

    hi i love the video people should wake up to reality and start thinking among other people that dont have the same luck as them, i want to make a difference , im a senior and im 17 years old , my goal is to study artificial intelligence and when i make it , im whilling to give all the money that i will earn while working to asociations and to people especially to children that need support and help like the ones in the video ! this is an exellent presentation on whats going on in the reality world , and i will tell everyone i know about it and also put it on my myspace....