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There were several cringe-worthy moments in the recently released Begum Jaan. One of them was within the first few scenes itself when an older woman helps a young woman from getting assaulted by undressing in front of the potential rapists. This trick, of course, worked because (first of all, it’s a film) the assaulters not only realized that the woman who stood as a barrier, naked, was like their mother, but they also felt guilty and left the scene after a lot of melodrama, without fulfilling their motives.

Likewise, there was another horrendous scene when the same woman, when younger, saves her mother (a sex worker), from sexual assault by a police officer by undressing, which makes him realize she is like his daughter. And what follows is a theatrical falling-to-the-knees-and-spewing-out-vomit as a form of realization and penance.

Which makes us wonder how puerile Srijit Mukherjee’s views about sexual assault and rape really is. But then what’s done is done. Only if Srijit Mukherjee could do us a favour and not tread this path again without enough research and some real-life understanding of how rape is not just about the body and sex, it has a lot to do with power dynamics.

And we really can’t blame Vidya Balan and the other actresses for not performing or living their characters to the fullest because there wasn’t really any scope in the first place. So after watching Begum Jaan, we thought we’d make a list of films about sex workers which actually got it right; films that had a strong storyline, and films which weren’t solely dependent on the usual melodramatic elements added in Bollywood potboilers such as cat-fights, betrayals, the saviours and the villains. Here’s taking a look at a few fantastic films on sex workers that were high on realism and low on the masala.

Mandi

Begum Jaan was probably inspired by this film which was about Rukmini Bai (Shabana Azmi) who runs a brothel, in the heart of the city, that was once patronized by Princes. But there arises an issue when her new landlord’s daughter is to marry the mayor’s son, after which the people demand the brothel to be shifted to the outskirts of the town.


Chameli

A poignant tale about a banker and sex-worker who bump into each other during a rainy day in Mumbai, this film is about Chameli (Kareena Kapoor), who was sold to a brothel by her uncle when she was younger, and who manages to positively impact the sad and lonely life of Rahul Bose.


Dev D

A modern adaptation of Chandramukhi from Devdas, Kalki was terrific as the school-girl who is caught in an MMS racket and who eventually turns into a high-profile escort.


Laksmi

Written and directed by Nagesh Kukunoor, this film is about a 13-year old girl who faces harsh realities of the world after being kidnapped and forced into the prostitution business.


Chandni Bar

This gritty drama is about a young woman (Tabu) who, after the demise of her parents, moves to Mumbai and begins working as a bar dancer in order to survive in this big, bad world. 

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