The horrors of human trafficking seem almost unimaginable, but Oass (“The Dew Drop”) does an admirable job of depicting the experience through the eyes of a young girl caught in its web. The film is not easy to watch, but it succeeds in engendering sympathy for the 1.2 million children sold into slavery each year.
The girl at the heart of the film is Kiku (Dibya Chhetri), an 11-year-old from Nepal. She wants to attend school, but her father sees no point. He’s not heartless, just realistic: the few opportunities for work in their village dwindle every day, so there would be nowhere for Kiku to apply her education anyway.
Hope arrives in the form of Kiku’s aunt, who returns to the village clad garishly in furs and gold to emphasize her nouveau riche status. She offers to foster Kiku in the city and send her to school. Kiku and her parents agree, and the girl leaves her mountain village behind.
It quickly becomes apparent that Kiku’s aunt has sinister intentions when she stops at a police station and allows an officer to rape her niece. Kiku is sold to a brothel in Delhi, betrayed by the adult who was supposed to protect her.
The scene of Kiku’s first night in the brothel is horrific. She’s repeatedly raped, screaming continuously as a succession of men loom over her. As upsetting as the scene is to watch, it’s profoundly effective at depicting just how twisted and cruel a man has to be in order to have sex with a woman — correction, a child — who so obviously does not want to participate. I wish every person who ever blamed a woman for having provoked her own rape would watch this scene. No person could ever do anything to warrant such barbaric treatment.
Oass goes on to depict other facets of trafficking, from the illicit relationships between pimps and the police to the role of NGOs in attempting to free women from sex slavery. This fictionalized portrayal of the problem strikes more emotional chords than most documentaries typically can.
However, by taking such a wide view of the problem, the story periodically loses its focus. Kiku disappears from the narrative while the story focuses on the pimps, madams, and prostitutes that populate her world. The sidetracks highlight the complexity of the problem, but it leads to gaps in Kiku’s character development.
When the focus returns to Kiku, she undergoes rapid character changes. One minute she’s just a girl who wants to go home; the next, she’s a jaded hooker volunteering to service a new client. The choice she makes in the film’s final scene, while uplifting, feels abrupt.
Character development issues aside, Oass distills the convoluted problem of modern sex slavery into a story that touches the heart. Here’s hoping the film draws more champions to its cause by personalizing the problem in such a moving way.