When Preeti Mukherjee was 15, she attended the Oscars for her participation in Zana Briski's documentary Born Into Brothels. Today, she's a sex worker in the same red-light district Briski tried to help her escape.
Preeti was chosen to participate in Born Into Brothels when she was 12, given a camera and asked to document her life and that of her mother. When the film was nominated for an Academy Award, she and the other children featured in the film were flown to Los Angeles and Briski sought to help the kids escape brothel life. As the Times of India explains:
Preeti, who was in high school, and the rest got an offer to stay back in the US and study. Some did. She backed out.
"[Briski] gave a lot of money by cheque to my mother and asked her to release me, but she was unwilling. I am a girl and an only child and my mother wouldn't let go. Call it family pressure if you will. It's quite simple, really," Preeti said, with a dismissive shrug and a short laugh. "So, you see me here."
Preeti is, apparently, unique in the situation she finds herself in, with regards to most of her Brothels co-stars.
Abhijit, one of the kids in the film, now studies in New York University. Another girl goes to school there. Preeti is in touch with both of them. Two others are studying at Future Hope, run by a charitable trust. One has got married, while another girl, who was with an internationally funded NGO, has disappeared.
Preeti's mother, who refused to allow her to stay in the United States to study, feels alienated from her daughter, despite the fact that the younger woman's earnings as a sex worker help support her.
Mother Rakhi lives in the opposite building. Preeti pays for her living expenses. Rakhi says she wanted a "normal" life for Preeti. She still has a fading photo of Preeti with the Oscar statuette stuck on a wall. "That is all I have left of her..," she says, tears in her eyes.
"At this age, I have a flat in Salt Lake, a laptop, costly phones and plenty of money. What do I lack?" she looks you square in the eye. "Zana aunty and I are in touch by email. She was upset that I, too, had joined the trade like my mother, something she wanted to save me from. But this trade has really paid off for me."
At The Oscars Four Years Ago, Now A Sex Worker [Times of India]