June 08, 2009

‘Your Name is Justine’

Apu

LAST YEAR, when I read Lotus’ review of The Road of Lost Innocence, just the review was enough to send shivers down my spine. I doubt I have the stomach for the entire book. The Road of Lost Innocence is a survivor’s account, the memoir of Somaly Mam who survived the brutality of the Cambodian sex industry and lived to help other girls caught in that hell. Closer home, it is common knowledge that many, many Nepali and Bangladeshi (as well as Indian) women find themselves sold into sexual slavery. What kind of world do we live in where girls as young as 10 are viewed as commodities to be used for a man’s pleasure?

Yesterday, I chanced upon a Polish/English movie, ‘Your Name is Justine’ that explores this subject using a focuslight on one young Polish woman’s ordeal as she is betrayed by her boyfriend and sold to a ruthless and brutal pimping gang in Germany. Mariola is held in captivity while her captors tell her that she is now “a piece”, and try to break her resistance through rape, beating and starvation. 

I confess I didn’t actually watch the entire movie. I couldn’t. Our Bollywood movies typically present rape scenes almost as a parody of the real act, but here, the physical and mental pain was visible and terrifying. I switched back and forth between channels every two minutes, unable to bear continuous viewing. One can only imagine the unbearable nature of an experience, where even its shadow is so vile.

Mariola is now given a new name, Justine. She can no longer speak her own language but must now negotiate in English and German. The rest of the movie is about the compromises she must make and the desperate attempts to retain her sanity and her sense of self. As if in a dream, she reminds herself that her name is Mariola and that she comes from Poland.

The movie ends unsatisfyingly, without the theatrical revenge or justice that a Hindi movie would have offered; yet, it is probably closer to reality. What was shocking was how many clients refuse to help her, even when they clearly realise that she is not a prostitute of her own volition. I had no idea that such prostitution rings were even present in first world countries. One must credit the film-makers for exploring such a subject and doing it without any gratuitous violence or nudity for the sake of titillation. Anna Ciesiak, a first-time actor gives a fine performance as Mariola – while at times, she appears as if on auto-pilot, the brutality of the experience is one which could numb the senses of the victim – and she succeeds in giving us the impression of a woman whose identity itself is in danger of vanishing.

In the Indian context, clearly everyone is aware of the elephant in the room but the authorities are not willing to do anything about it, or at least not do enough. While we have enough goons around to ‘keep women in line’ and get us to adhere to their version of Indianness, I wonder why such self-proclaimed defenders of Indian culture do not mind that there are hundreds of such women, being violated body and soul. Would prostitution flourish without the demand for it, fueled by a culture of tacit acceptance, that ‘boys will be boys’?

19 comments to ‘Your Name is Justine’

  • Your name is Justine is a stunningly crafted movie. It scared me cold because I could feel her reality on my own skin while I watched it.
    Prostitution by coercion is not only present in the “first” world but receives patronage from the so called members of the upper echelons of its society. A fair number of post communist economies in Eastern Europe (like Poland) have emerged (or probably always were) as easy centres of human trafficking. In fact,from my own experience as a UN volunteer I can vouch that as a thriving industry, it outranks drug trafficking in those parts.A typical scenario is to broker young girls from Polish villages and then force them to sell themselves either at urban areas within the country or, the more popular route, transfer them to Germany, Sweden or even Italy. Not very unlike how its carried out in South Asia or even Mexico >> USA.
    If you have the stomach for it, try watching a documentary called Cutting Edge :The Child Sex Trade by Liviu Tipurita. It exposes the child trafficking racket in Romania and some of the scenes are fairly disturbing.

  • I work in an organisation that supports local NGOs that help survivors of trafficking. I have spent some time talking to these girls. As expected the stories are horrifying. One girl, who refused to prostitute herself, was locked up in a room – WITH A SNAKE – and kept there, cowering in terror, till she agreed to what her captors wanted her to do. Another girl managed to escape and hid under the seat of a train. She is one of the lucky few. A fact of trafficking is that the age of victims is increasingly reducing. The number of children who are trafficking for prostitution is on the rise. And yes, it is an organised crime done with the connivance of influential people. What NGOs are doing is but a drop in the ocean.

  • Thanks for focusing attention on this issue, Aparna. I’m not completely sure about data on the extent of sex trafficking in India, as most of the reports or documentaries showcased on tv here in the U.S. deal with trafficking in SE Asia (as you pointed out, Somaly Mam has been a brave torch-bearer in this respect) and Eastern Europe.

    One such documentary is ‘Sex Slaves’– remarkable story, both the making of it and the film itself. Thankfully PBS is supporting it here, so there’s a lot of information folk can access here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/slaves/

    I would be interested in seeing a similarly investigative piece focussed on the trade in India. Like you say, it is the elephant in the room, and everyday people who would come out and support a PIL or any collective action just don’t have the required information on the subject or the necessary visual cues to jolt them into action. Even if that action is as small as joining a cause or group on FB.

    What does bother me the most is, I haven’t seen much in the media on the issue, unless it is some vague coverage of an act of violence in about two paragraphs on page B11. I remember this article (http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/05/11/sex-trafficking-in-india/) from ’07 by Kristof on the subject of sex trafficking in India: does anyone know if any Indian media has carried similar stories over the past four years?

    This is not to say there is a dearth of material on the subject– I acknowledge the fact that there are films that focus on child and female trafficking in the countries of the sub-continent, but it is a shame that these docus are not easily available for public screenings. A list of them are available here: http://www.captivedaughters.org/filmNepal-India.htm

    Another list on sex trafficking documentaries from around the world can be accessed here: http://www.dreamofjustice.net/pdf/FilmList-HumanTrafficking_CommercialSexualExploitation.pdf

  • MTV Exit did put together a documentary on the subject in ’07. I believe it was titled “Sold” and focussed on trafficking in India.
    It was funded by USAID.

  • apu

    Thank you all for your comments and for the links and resources provided. I think one of the problems is that (i don’t know whether rightly or wrongly), well off people believe that this is not “their” problem, and as such, don’t care about it. The media of course, esp TV, has a now-on-now-off spotlight on most issues depending on what they think will boost their TRPs at a given moment, so there is really no sustained coverage on anything, including trafficking. For starters, unless men are shamed for their behaviour in frequenting such hellholes, nothing is going to change.

  • Hi Aparana. I just saw a news item that actor Shiney Ahuja has been arrested for the rape of his maid. I’m boiling with anger and just had to say something. What better place to say it than here.

    If the news reports are to be believed, then the way legal procedures have been ignored is shameful. The law states that she should be escorted by a female constable. And she’s not been given that. More shameful is the five star treatment they are giving Shiney Ahuja. Apparently he was “interrogated” in an AC room!

    A link to the trafficking theme: Many girls who work as domestic maids, especially in Delhi, are from impoverished areas in Jharkhand and Bihar. They are semi literate and sent to work as domestic help. Its a whole racket. This trafficking for domestic work. Even less has been written about it than trafficking for commerical sex.

  • Anna

    Thank you Aparana for this review. This movie is so realistic.Unfortunately this movie had no advertisements in Poland,Only few cinemas showed it.That is a shame that only stupid romantic comedies are advertised on such a large scale and movies like this one are hidden and do not get any attention. Unfortunately things like this happens and we should be aware of it.Maybe if more girls would watch it they would realize how careful they have to be when it comes to trust somebody.

  • rahul

    this is a gem of a movie,i saw it today on utv world movies,really i felt for the character ,later i searched on google and found this is one of the few reviews there so may be its not that watched across the world ,lets hope this kind of movies gets wider release

  • apu

    Anna & Rahul, thanks for your comments. I do hope television will bring it to a wider audience.

  • Hey, I am Pritam , 27/M/Mumbai. I came across your review of ‘My Name is Justine’ when I googled about the film after I watched the film. Yup, it is horrific experience for any girl to get betrayed by her “loving bf” and than later sold in some brothel. But I particularly don’t agree with a certain opinion of yours in this review,

    “…What was shocking was how many clients refuse to help her, even when they clearly realise that she is not a prostitute of her own volition…”

    Now I would like to give you male’s POV there. First of, any male who is paying for sex and walking an extra mile to visit the brothel for that, has no balls anyways. So now, if such a guy is in bed with some prostitute and she starts telling him to help her to get out of it, there is no way in hell that this dude with no balls would have any courage to stand up to her and help her get out of that place/situation.

    Also, most of guys who are visiting brothels are well to do losers who are either unhappily married or those who cannot get a girl to f**k. I don’t think they would willingly get into this, since they also need to hide “such visits” from the society they live in. Think about it…for a loser to make some money to be able to pay for sex, than take a risk to visit the brothel and over all that go out of the way and try to help that girl get out of that place…it’s really too much to ask for from a loser…you know?

    And I believe police always involves the informer in their following interrogations whether it’s Germany or India. So I think thats why none of the customers really find it exciting to help some girl get of that gutter.

    –Pritam.

  • apu

    Pritam – “it’s really too much to ask for from a loser…you know?” I agree, actually.

  • NEELA

    its amazing movie…….
    congratulation to the director and the actress ANNA AND THE ACTOR

  • sunny

    i watched the movie yesterday.. it really touched me…

    Hats of to the whole crew…

  • i well tray than fail & upside ………..

  • Pavan

    yes it is very touchy movie and for me who believes it is man’s duty to protect woman and helpless even if it leads to death, this movie gave motive to resign my selfish profession in corporate, to enter bureaucracy so that such situation never comes to any one under my jurisdiction.

  • Arun Baliga

    Excellent review Aparna..watched the movie recently on utv world movies and googled for some more info on the movie and found your review..
    ..Arun

  • Vinod

    Brilliantly made movie and in no instance it was seen to be a fictious movie, as it was so close to reality. I feel the credit must go to the director and the lead actress in the movie.
    It is very disheartening to see any women in that situation but the worst thing is, it happens everyday!

  • ugmadhu

    “I confess I didn’t actually watch the entire movie. I couldn’t. but here, the physical and mental pain was visible and terrifying. I switched back and forth between channels every two minutes, unable to bear continuous viewing. One can only imagine the unbearable nature of an experience, where even its shadow is so vile.”

    The same here when I saw this movie in the early 2008 on UTV. I could neither stop watching the movie nor watch it continuously savoring the movie scenes.

    It hit me badly as I have two daughters and sometimes I realize that there is a shadow of fear in me about their future in this monstrous world.

    I went into a sort of depression after watching this movie. But later I found new wings in me and found the true meaning of freedom and relationship.

    I love and also dread this film.

    Anna Ciesiak should give training for our Bollywood actors about how to live in the character.

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