Kareem Samar

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The Courtesans Of Bombay Review


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Ismael Merchant's 1983 documentary takes a quick and almost casual look at one of Bombay's odd compounds: A residence/office/studio of sorts where women with entertainment industry aspirations spend their days practicing. Patrons will drop by to watch, paying what they feel appropriate. By night, as one of our local tour guides (a rent collector) tells us, things occur that we're better off not knowing about.

These are the titular "courtesans of Bombay," and we eventually come to learn a little (probably too little) about this peculiar industry in India's big cities. The most cutting moment is how one of the narrators notes that pregnant women in this area pray for a girl: A boy is useless, his only potential worth to the family would be in being a pimp to other girls. In the compound, one young girl is so valuable that she can work while the rest of the family just sleeps all day on the floor (as is seen frequently in the crude video footage).

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