Foreign Policy Blogs

Born into Brothels (2003)

They live in the margins of society, the children of prostitutes in Calcutta, India.
They are given time and space to discuss their lives with New York-based photographer Zana Briski.
Briski, who co-directed the film with Ross Kauffman, started a photography class with several of these children. She gave them cameras and let them choose their subjects and styles.
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What Briski accomplished through this is she gave them a glimpse, however fleeting for some, of a better life. Because of their origins, these children begin life behind the eight ball.
The children are vibrant and funny and, no doubt because of their circumstances, wise beyond their years.
But they are children, first and foremost. Briski never loses sight of that and treats them like nieces and nephews.
Faced with one of the world’s most Byzantine bureaucracies, Briski moves heaven and earth to get these kids into schools and one a passport to travel to Amsterdam for an international exhibit of young photographers.
The work these children create is stunning, especially given the fact that most had never even seen a camera before. But the cinematographic style of the film must also be mentioned: the camera moves artfully through the twisted streets of Calcutta’s red light district and really brings home the idea that this a place of secrets, of darkness, and desperation.


These kids know what their mothers (and grandmothers for some) do for a living and most accept their lot in life. While they may escape physical abuse, many of them suffer the outbursts of people who don’t really love them.
Though not heartwarming, this documentary lends voices to children who have none.
Born into Brothels is available to rent.
Murphy can be reached at: [email protected]



Sean Patrick Murphy

Sean Patrick Murphy is a graduate of Bennington College, where he majored in politics and Latin American literature. He has worked for Current History magazine, Physicians for Human Rights, and Citizens for Global Solutions (formerly the World Federalist Association). He lives outside Philadelphia.

Areas of Focus:
Cinematography; Independent Films; Documentary;