This is a documentary about a group of children in Calcutta’s Red Light District. Photographer Zana Briski was documenting their mothers’ lives and became interested in the children, who in turn showed interest in her cameras. She equipped them all with cameras and provided them with ongoing photography lessons.
The children were enthusiastic and prolific photographers. Some of them showed considerable talent. But, regardless of their talent or potential, their futures were quite clearly cut out for them: they were going to follow in their parents’ footsteps because theirs was a world devoid of opportunity. Childhood is short and often brutal in Calcutta. The girls would soon be prostitutes. The boys would be pimps and drug dealers.
Perhaps there’s a universal quality of irrepressible joy to childhood, because these children seem just as happy as the children on my street. When they smile, they seem lit from within. You get the sense they know what the future holds for them, but they’re resilient and philosophical about it. They don’t expect much from life, so they’re not easily disappointed. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much to brighten their lives. They seize every opportunity to be happy.
Of all the children, Avijit is the one most graced by luck and talent. He draws, paints, photographs and philosophizes well beyond his years. He is also surprisingly ambitious for a boy growing up in the slums of Calcutta. But after his mother is burned to death in the kitchen by her pimp, Avajit surrenders briefly to hopelessness. “There is nothing called hope in my future,” he says.
Throughout all their hardships, these children smile. They glow. They play in the little pockets of time they get to themselves. They fly kites from the rooftops, where they are sent to play while their mothers and grandmothers earn money in the rooms below. They grow like weeds out of the cracks in the sidewalk, somehow surviving and thriving despite a lack of everything children supposedly need.
Note: If you do rent the DVD, keep the kleenex box handy and be sure to watch the bonus bits.