By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tabrez Noorani, a producer on the Academy Award-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire", will direct a movie on sex trafficking after first encountering victims of the trade in Los Angeles more than 10 years ago.
"Love Sonia", which starts filming next week, will feature actress Freida Pinto, who starred in "Slumdog Millionaire", with newcomer Mrunal Thakur in the lead role.
"This is a movie that found me," Noorani told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Mumbai, where he is scouting for locations. "It's a story that needs to be told, to show the plight of these girls, what they go through."
Noorani, whose production credits also include "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", "Life of Pi" and "Eat, Pray, Love", said his introduction to human trafficking was in Los Angeles in 2003, when some girls were found in a container shipped from China. One of the victims was a young Indian girl, he said.
The incident inspired Noorani to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on trafficking in Los Angeles, as well as groups in India and Hong Kong. He has participated in several raids of brothels, he said.
He then spent years working on the screenplay. The film, which marks Noorani's directorial debut, tells the story of Sonia, a young Indian village girl who gets trapped in the global sex trade industry.
Securing investors was a challenge, he said.
"It took a long time. There aren't many people who want to put money into something like this," he said.
"There haven't been a lot of films on trafficking out there because it isn't such an easy, uplifting story."
Almost 36 million people are enslaved worldwide -- trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labor, or even born into servitude, according to the Global Slavery Index. About half - 16 million - are in India.
India is both a destination and a transit country for women and children trafficked into sex trade. Many are from poor rural areas, lured with the promise of good jobs or marriage. Instead, they end up sold into prostitution in cities such as Mumbai.
"It is an unflinching look at the issue. It's something you can't water down because that would be unfair to the story," said David Womark, a producer on "Life of Pi", who is producing Noorani's film.
"But a great drama can highlight the human element of the problem," he said.
Actors Paul Dano, Manoj Bajpai and Anupam Kher will also star in "Love Sonia", which will be filmed in India, Hong Kong and Los Angeles.
It comes on the heels of another film on trafficking, "SOLD", which opened earlier this month. Featuring Gillian Anderson, it tells the story of a Nepali girl who is unwittingly sold by her impoverished parents to an Indian brothel.
Amidst the gloom and despair of the sex trade industry, there is also hope, Noorani said.
"These women and girls - they are full of spirit. Some manage to break free and move on. There's a lot of hope."
(Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)