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Born into Brothels

4.2 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art, BORN INTO BROTHELS is a portrait of several unforgettable children who live in Calcutta's red light district, where there mothers work as prostitutes. Spurred by the kids' facination with her camera, Zana Briski, a New-York-based photographer living in the brothels and documenting life there, decides to teach them photography. As they begin to look at and record their world through new eyes, the kids, who society refused to recognize, awaken for the first time to their own talents and sense of worth. Filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski capture the way in which beauty can be found even the seemingly bleakest and most helpless of places, and how art and education can empower children to transform their lives.

Set in Calcutta's notorious red-light district, Born Into Brothels explores the lives of its most vulnerable citizens. Directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, the picture’s eight small subjects shot the still footage themselves. Briski first teaches them how to shoot and edit. The children then put her lessons into practice. They gain confidence as the film proceeds, yet there's always the threat that any of the girls, especially 14-year-old Suchitra, could be forced to "join the line" (work as a prostitute). For most, it's only a matter of time. The boys don't have it much better. Promising photographer Avijit's mother is gone and his father is a drug addict. "Without help," Briski notes, "they're doomed," so she takes matters a step further and tries to get them out of the brothels altogether. Produced for HBO, this heartbreaking, if inspiring film won the 2005 Academy Award for best documentary feature. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Special Features


Product Details

  • Directors: Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman
  • Producers: Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman, Geralyn White Dreyfous
  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: Bengali, English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Image/Thinkfilms
  • DVD Release Date: May 10, 2006
  • Run Time: 83 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000A2XCBC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,684 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Born into Brothels" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 22, 2005
Format: DVD
In order to photograph in the red light districts of Calcutta, India, photojournalist Zana Briski lived there for several years. Though many of the residents were wary of her camera, Briski found that the neighborhood children were unafraid and curious. So she began teaching them photography, giving each child a point-and-shoot film camera with which to photograph his or her environment and providing classes on technique and editing. This eventually resulted in international acclaim for the children's photographs and media coverage for Briski's unusual photo classes. "Born Into Brothels" is a documentary of Briski's class of young photographers filmed by Zana Briski and Ross Kaufman about 2 years into the project that has become known as "Kids with Cameras".

The best thing about "Born Into Brothels" is that it allows the children to tell their story in their own words. Zana Briski's class of 8 photographers -who call her "Zana Auntie"- are children of prostitutes, born and raised among the harsh realities of Calcutta's Sonagachi red light district. There are 5 girls: Kochi, Tapasi, Shanti, Puja, and Suchitra, and 3 boys: Manik, Gour, and Avijit, ranging in age from 10 to 14 years, but mostly pre-teens. The documentary is dominated by interviews with the children and by their photographs, with occasional voiceover or footage of Zana Briski. The filmmakers are commendably respectful of the children and their decisions. These kids understand their situations very well and tend to be philosophical about it, yet many of them yearn for opportunities to escape life in the brothel. Interestingly, the kids are not fatherless children of single prostitutes, as I might have expected. Many of their mothers' are married and live with large extended families.
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One of the most despicable things that has to do with this film is that there aren't more glowing reviews of it here at Why is that? Come on people! There must've been a wide viewing audience of it since its win at the Academy Awards!

We (i.e., The U.S.) don't often see the grittiest side of life. And when I say gritty, I MEAN gritty. The audience takes an emotional roller coaster ride with narrator and director Zana Brisky as she visits the red light district in Calcutta. Here she meets up with eight children who are the off-spring of prostitutes who "work the line", trying to make enough money to buy their next meal. The children seem doomed to a life of extreme poverty and, most likely for the girls, to also "work the line" when they reach the ripe old age of 14 or 15.

But Mrs. Brisky decides to teach the children how to shoot photographs of their surroundings (she gives each of them a simple point and shoot camera) and engages them in weekly classroom-like visits, showing them the photos they shot the previous days and telling them what they did right and wrong. The children are immediately smitten by the idea of becoming photographers, and they seem to be lifted out of their horrible surroundings, dreaming of becoming world-famous photo-journalists.

Throughout the film we see mostly the children, which I found to be extremely refreshing as far as documentaries go. Most documentaries (I feel) put too much emphasis on the documentary maker(s) and show shot after shot of them rather than the subjects their supposed to be telling the audience about. But not here. Only a fraction of the footage is dedicated to images of Mrs. Brisky, and those portions were vital to the film. Mrs.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
British photographer Briski goes to Calcutta and does a series of photos and comments about the children born to Indian women "working the line," which also tends to happen to the young female children as they grow older. Her observations and evaluations result in an award-winning documentary. To me, it smacks of the old colonial days wherein the "whites" go in and try to save the "browns" from themselves, and the vicious cyle of poverty and the caste system. She doesn't discuss the "men" that frequent the red-light district. Prositution cannot exist without a customer base. Her intentions are probably good and very Western, but in the end only one-to-two of the children remain in school. I was happy to hear that the children were HIV-free. The children are eventually called home by their parents to do the menial chores in the brothel neighborhood, and maybe not break their cultural standing and not try to climb above their meager circumstances. Some of the translations of the local language to English seems harsh with vulgaries, and the sub-titles were lacking. I would suggest that you watch the movie but be prepared for some slanted views - I always imagine that if an Asian photographer/journalist would go to downtown Detroit and do a documentary about the terrible lives that Americans lead, by shooting only the nasty, ugly scenes and downtrodden people, and writing the dialogue as they saw fit. Would this be true view of America, or Detroit?
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Format: DVD
Sonagachi is the infamous red light district in Calcutta, where brothels abound, and prostitution is a way of life. "Born Into Brothels" is an award-winning documentary that focuses on a group of children born into this seedy environment, and who are mentored by a Western photographer, Zana Briski who teaches them photography in the hopes of fostering their dreams for a better future.

I think Ms Briski has her heart in the right place - she opens the minds of these underprivileged children to a world that they probably would never have given much thought to otherwise. Teaching them to take pictures made them 'see' another world outside their poverty-ridden neighborhood, to appreciate little accomplishments even in their deprived circumstances, and to dream of a better life.

That being said - though her efforts here are laudable, it is obvious through the course of the documentary and at the end, that 'rescuing' these children was never an easy task, nor something that had the guarantee of success. This doesn't diminish her efforts, but it does give us pause for thought - what could have been done to ensure these and other children in similar plight would be spared the fate awaiting them - a life of selling one's body for pittance, debasement, and a never-ending cycle of abuse and poverty. Education was promoted as the key to the childrens' futures here, but in reality all but two of the children chose to remain in the boarding schools that Ms Briski had painstakingly got them admitted into.

In reality, there are no easy answers. The documentary does a wonderful job of showing these children with their dreams of a brighter tomorrow.
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