This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
The girl is 13 years old from a small mountain village in Nepal, but we know she is about to be trafficked as a sexual slave within minutes of the opening scenes of "Sold," an arresting film based on Patricia McCormick's novel which puts the spotlight on a horrible truth hiding in plain sight: millions of children are trafficked all over the world in a multi-billion dollar underground industry.
"Sold," co-written and directed by Oscar winner Jeffrey D. Brown and executive produced by Emma Thompson, is based on the true stories of young victims unwittingly sold into prostitution. Their tales are coalesced into one narrative, intimately told. The opening scenes are lovely; a carefree young girl named Lakshmi is seen flying a kite, and running happily through the hills above her village home, the Himalayas in the distance and joyful music rippling in the background. Later, her mother brushes her hair and prepares dinner in the family's hut by firelight; we catch a glimpse of Lakshmi's eyes glittering at the sight of fancy jewelry from the big city. Later, such luxuries seem even more remote when the rains come and the roof leaks, and the crops are ruined. Though we know what's coming, it's not exactly clear her family does when Auntie Bimla (Tillotama Shome) shows up with the promise of work as a maid in the big city to help the family survive.
Indian actress Niyar Saikia (14 years old during filming) plays Lakshmi with fearless candor and warmth. We are already fearful for her as she boards a train, then a bus, and literally crosses the bridge into a large and dangerous world, the streets and people crowding in on her. Then she arrives at Happiness House in Kolkata, India—a brothel. Shot on location in Nepal and India, the film gives us a vibrant, tangible sense of place, the color and dust of a crowded ancient city, and the layers of secrecy and corruption under which Lakshmi and those like her are trapped.
The film does an excellent job of letting us inside Lakshmi's physical and emotional experience. We are with her step by step, as the creeping awareness of what she does not know begins to dawn on her; we can be one step ahead, but barely. As she struggles to trust and please those she encounters, Lakshmi senses that something is wrong, especially upon meeting Mumtaz (Sushmita Mukherjee), a sinister surrogate for the kindly mother she left behind, who has armed her with the wisdom that will be both her undoing and her salvation: "All happiness comes from thinking of others, misery from thinking of yourself."