New Film Shows Another Side to India’s Sex Workers

In ‘India Tomorrow,’ a client is shocked when a woman knows more about the stock market than he does.
Apr 9, 2016·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

From a penchant for smoking and swearing to a unique set of mannerisms, Bollywood films have long been criticized for stereotypical portrayals of female sex workers as amoral and abused. But a new short film from Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali sees sex workers in a new light.

India Tomorrow, released this week on Facebook and YouTube, chronicles a conversation between a sex worker and her stockbroker client. The young woman surprises the client, not only by offering him financial tips but also by standing up to him when he threatens to hit her.

“I deliberately chose a sex worker because very often we feel ‘her life is over, poor girl,’ ” Ali told the The Indian Express. “But even [sex workers] can—and very often they do—have plans and dreams.”

An exact figure on the number of sex workers in India is difficult to come by, but officials estimate that there are somewhere between 800,000 and 3 million female sex workers in India.

While many sex workers were trafficked as children and forced to work in brothels against their will, activists say others do so by choice. For years, sex workers have petitioned the nation’s highest court to clarify laws that prohibit soliciting and pimping but are unclear on prostitution. That’s left sex workers unsure of their legal status and often the subject of random arrests and imprisonment.

“I have met a lot of girls who will get into the sex trade in big cities because they cannot support their ambition, because they cannot support their education,” Ali told Bollywood Hungama. He said the woman in India Tomorrow is a student simply doing what she needs to in order to make ends meet: She’s intelligent, self-sufficient, and totally in control.