A week after watching Born into Brothels, it sticks with you. The subtle way the film captures beauty in such an unusual place (Calcutta’s red light district) sucks you in. It captures so well the pure simple joy at life that only kids can express. And seeing the creativity Zana’s photography class allows the kids to discover in themselves is inspiring. But this all happens with an undercurrent — seen in that millisecond break in a smiling kid’s facade that reveals sadness; in those suspect happenings that catch the corner of your eye and quickly pass off-camera. The things the camera isn’t meant to see.
The bits of this undercurrent caught on film are what really gives Kauffman and Briski’s work its power. Because, ultimately, the directors are only in the brothels temporarily, passing through and doing what they can, transformative as it may be for those kids who participate in Zana’s program. The kids live there. And that’s why you’ll be thinking about the brothels long after the lights come up.