Love Sonia Movie Review: Mrunal Thakur is a Revelation Aided By Terrific Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadha in This Horrifying Tale of Survival Against Odds
Love Sonia Movie Review

Once in a while comes a film that leaves such a heavy impact on you that you seek desperately for reasons to cheer yourself up. Love Sonia is one such film. Directed by Tabrez Noorani, the movie deals with the subject of human trafficking that is rampant across the world, despite heavy laws imposed on it in many countries. Getting rave reviews at LIFF 2018, Love Sonia opens in India this week. Having been able to catch a special screening, I am still numb by the sheer horrors that my mind had to endure through the movie's main protagonist Sonia (Mrunal Thakur). This is not for those who prefer breezy fare. Love Sonia Dialogue Promo: Mrunal Thakurs Character Is Forced Into Prostitution In This Blood Curdling Teaser!

Sonia dotes on her younger sister Preeti (Riya Sisodia), who she feels is prettier than her. And so does her father (Adil Hussain), an impoverished farmer struggling to make the ends meet. However, for him, Preeti's beauty makes her a nuisance while Sonia's lack of physical appeal (at least in his eyes) is compensated by her toiling away in the fields. In a moment of desperation, he sells Preeti to a pervy moneylender (Anupam Kher) to send her to Mumbai. A fraught Sonia, wanting to save Preeti, pleads to the moneylender to send her to where her sister is.

Sonia is sent to Mumbai, where she is sold to one of the brothels owned by a devious Faizal (Manoj Bajpayee). Put under the care of Madhuri (Richa Chadha), Sonia is pushed into flesh trade even before she can understand the bleakness of her plight. As the horrors of her situation dawn upon her, Sonia finds courage in the fact that she might be able to see her sister soon. And possibly, save her.

In the year 1988, we were witnesses to the grim depiction of flesh trade in Mira Nair's Oscar-nominated Salaam Bombay!. Two decades later, the world has changed a lot but not the situation of the human trafficking victims forced into sex trade. Tabrez Noorani's Love Sonia is a stark view of how a girl is inducted into the business of sexual exploitation and the tortures she had to endure to make sure that she remains in her prison. There is no respite for the viewers, as our protagonist goes through the hands of one customer to another, one torture to another, while great care was taken to make sure her 'seal' remains intact (in the second half, an illegal surgery is done to make sure it stays that way. This is no popcorn stuff, unless you want to choke on them).

At the start of the film, a young boy catches a butterfly in a glass jar. He allows himself and his friends to let their cheeks caressed by the butterfly, as it tries to leave jar. For them, the butterfly's touch feels like a kiss but for the insect, it is a desperate attempt to escape. A few days later, when Sonia asks the boy what happened to the butterfly, he says it refuses to kiss him anymore, as it has made the jar its home. Manoj Bajpayees Gali Guliyan and Love Sonia to be Screened at Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2018

This innocent scene is a metaphor for what a young Sonia goes through later in her pursuit to save her sister. A moment of respite arrives for her in the form of a social worker (Rajkummar Rao), but she is so numb by the experiences that she refuses to leave with him. Then there is Rashmi (Freida Pinto), a prostitute who has willingly confined herself to the brothel for she has nowhere else to go. She is so psychological ravaged by the place, that Sonia's aversion to accepting her as a sister leads her to incite more cruelties on her.

The director has done her research and it clearly shows throughout the film. From showing how desperate fathers sell their daughters to how certain protectors of law themselves are hand-in-hand with the trafficking that goes beyond international boundaries, Love Sonia is one unflinching take on how human spirit survives amidst unimaginable horrors. It also depicts that even if the girls are rescued, there is a mighty chance that they might relapse or end as victims of another evil - drugs. In short, there is very less respite for both the characters and for us as the viewers.

While Noorani doesn't go to the film extreme lengths of brutally showing us the acts of horror, he refuses to let us flinch away from queasiness of many a scene. The first half, especially, is savage what with the depiction of the pitiable conditions of brothers and the psychological impact they have on the inhabitants. Manoj Bajpayee's Faisal is one slimy bastard who, hands down, is the villain of the year for the cruelty and cunningness he possesses, willing to let a man rape a girl for a puff of a cigarette.

The second half takes Sonia and her tortures to international levels. While there are some shocking scenes, like the aforementioned surgery and how the girls are trafficked in shipping containers confined there for days, before they see a new land and awaits a new horror. However, maybe our minds have become too numb by then, the second half feels a little weaker than the first half.

The whole Mark Duplass scene feels distracting, more because of the star's presence. Eerie sure, as the scene capitalises on Mark's quality of portraying unassuming creepiness. Those who have watched his Creep movies will agree with me on this. But the scene doesn't add much to plot, save for claiming the presence of a Hollywood star, and could have been excised.

But even in the moments of grimness, Noorani, captures the tenderness of the relationship between the sisters. This is why we are able to relate to why Sonia is willing to herself suffer just so that she can save Preeti. The cinematography by Lukasz Bielan manages to perfectly capture the rawness of the dark underbelly of our society, while Martin Singer's editing keeps proceedings within the limits of not making the film feel stretched out.

There is a dialogue in Love Sonia when Madhuri tells Sonia that while her sufferings have no cure, 'picture kabhi na kabhi toh khatam hoga' (the movie might end for her at some point). The picture, in this case, being her ordeal. Not spoiling the conclusion, but when the actual picture ends, and it ends with some positivity, it doesn't leave us room to celebrate. For the situation of girls like Sonia and her sister is one dark maze that may not have a clear exit, like the brothel-house she was trapped in.

The performances

Love Sonia features an ensemble cast, but the show totally belongs to its lead, the young Mrunal Thakur. The actress (soon to appear in Hrithik Roshan's Super 30) is a revelation, delivering one of the strongest performances by an actor this year, gender no bar. She encapsulates the terrors that her character goes through with enough panache and precision. After Laila Majnu's Avinash Tiwari last week, Bollywood welcomes another fantastic addition to the category of real talent.

Supporting her with some incredible performances are Manoj Bajpayee and Richa Chadha. This is perhaps the slimiest role that Manoj Bajpayee has done. The actor relishes digging his teeth into playing a character so vile in his actions and yet in his mind, he is just doing business and thinks he is saving the girls. Or he wants them to feel that way! He even provides the movie's sole caustic humour moment, when he lapses into a slew of abuses explaining virginity to a customer on phone. After Gali Guleiyan and now Love Sonia, Manoj Bajpayee is on a rocking form.

Richa Chadha impresses big time as the experienced sex-worker who is made to feel like the mistress of the house, only to be discarded when her owner has no use for her.  Capturing both haughtiness and frailty in her act, Richa's performance will leave a heavy impact on you. Freida Pinto has a smaller role compared to others, but she will catch you unaware with her disarming presence. Riya Sisodia also gets her moments to shine as Sonia's equally unfortunate sister. Rajkummar Rao, playing the sole male character with pure white layers, is endearing. Demi Moore's much-hyped role is just a cameo. Saie Tamhankar, Anupam Kher, Adil Hussain play well in their short but impressionable roles.

Yay!

- Performances, especially by Mrunal, Manoj and Richa

- The unflinching view of human trafficking

- Nearly distraction-free narrative

Nay!

- Not palatable for the general audience

- The second half is a tad weaker

Final Thoughts

Love Sonia is a queasy, unflinching saga that is difficult to stomach but it also speaks of the triumphs of the human spirit over insurmountable odds. Love Sonia might not revel in its brutality but it sucks you into being a part of its depiction of real horrors. Well-directed and filled with brilliant performances, this one deserved all appreciation.

Rating:4out of 5