Love Sonia: My favourite 2018 film

There are these certain films that come every once in a while and they never ever leave you. I’ve had very few films have that kind of impact on me, when I’m either moved too much, or engrossed too deeply, or maybe I just feel the character intensely. This last happened to me with Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani. Blame my Calcutta roots or my love for Vidya Balan, that’s one film that I’ll never be over. Love Sonia is exactly that. It’s a story waiting to be told, to be heard, felt, even.

Debutante director Tabrez Noorani has revealed in interviews that it took him 14 years to make this film, to bring it from paper to screens. If this film was in the hands of another director, we may have not seen these 14 years in the film, but with Noorani’s Love Sonia, you see the research that’s gone behind making this film. My only complaint is that his protagonists, Sonia and Preeti, girls from a village don’t really have a village accent. But let’s not talk about that. This film is too beautiful for me to be saying even this.

Love Sonia is a story about two sisters, Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) and Preeti (Riya Sisodiya), their poor father, his helplessness to sell off his own daughter (Preeti) in the flesh market, Sonia’s search for Preeti and the ugly truth of the flesh trade, of this world. After the first few minutes of setting up, the film’s narrative shifts to Bombay, where both the sisters are stuck in their own ways, in their own worlds. But Noorani’s Bambai is not about the Gateway of India, or the Queen’s Necklace or Juhu Chowpatty. The bus Sonia and her ‘trader’ take to Mumbai takes them directly to Kamathipura and there is a very beautiful aerial shot of Mumbai, showing that this is a maze that Sonia might not be able to escape.

While watching the film, especially the brothel scenes, I was taken back to Mira Nair’s Queen Of Katwe. In her film, where she had to show muck, there was actual muck. In Love Sonia, if Noorani wanted to show the filth of brothels, he literally shows them. When the film moves out of Bombay, to Hong Kong and LA, Noorani looses his grip a little but I’m not complaining. What compensates for the very small mistakes he makes is the heart and honesty with which he tells this story. And the performances!

Adil Hussain plays Sonia and Preeti’s helpless father who sells off his daughter with such a heavy heart, that you almost see him running out once he’s collected the money. His act of this aloofness from himself even is on another level altogether. Manoj Bajpayee plays a pimp and oh-my-god, is there anything this man can’t do? His character, referred to as Babu, is a brutal man, or maybe an adjective ever worse. And Bajpayee brings out the emotions of greed of this character with so much ease. Riya Sisodiya as Preeti doesn’t have a lot of do, but she plays her part to the T.

The women who actually shine in the film are Freida Pinto, Richa Chadha and Mrunal Thakur. Pinto plays Rashmi, a woman who is sold into this trade by her ex-husband. Rashmi likes to wear small clothes, dance to item numbers and wants to provide this lost girl, Sonia, with a sense of comfort, of belonging. Pinto’s portrayal of this character is beyond amazing. Madhuri, played by Richa Chadha, on the other hand, is a little more complex. She is fierce at first, she’s the one who’s supposed to teach new girls what all has to be done, but later, she’s the one who makes the biggest sacrifice. But the best of them all is debutante Mrunal Thakur.

In an interview, Freida Pinto had said that Mrunal Thakur is the future, and indeed she was so correct. Sonia is a very difficult part of play. Actors, who’ve been acting for a while now, may find it tough to express as Sonia would, walk and talk as Sonia would, look as Sonia would. But Thakur makes it all seem so easy, so natural. Noorani plays with a risky script but because his gun is on Mrunal’s shoulder, it’s a perfect shot. As an actor, Thakur is so nuanced, that at various points you think that she’s a veteran in the acting business. With Love Sonia, Thakur gives us a kind of debut performance that we, perhaps, haven’t seen in a long long time. The path ahead for her is just full of light for her.

All in all, Love Sonia is the kind of film that you’ll take with you, hold it close to your heart for days and days to come, as you wait for Mrunal Thakur’s next film…

Also, it’s been a while since I left the theatres after watching the film and I just can’t seem to get over it. It’s created a lump in my throat, chest, in the pit of my stomach. So make sure you’re ready for this after effect…

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