Highway Courtesans begins with a black-and-white clip from a Bollywood movie that extols the life of regal courtesans. Director Mystelle Brabbee understands how the sexual politics of India’s pop-cultural landscape has shaped the country’s people, men and women alike. The courtesans of the film’s title, though, do not give their bodies to kings but to the truck drivers who pull over on the side of the road near an impoverished Bachara town in Central India where a father treats his daughters very differently than he does his sons. One after another, this pimp will pull his little women out of school, asking them to sell their bodies, thus squelching their chances at happiness with men who would want to father their children. Though six years in the making, the film feels flimsy at 71 minutes, lacking both in ambition and focus: Brabbee’s camera is constantly rambling, hunting uncertainly for crisis that already exists before her eyes. (This explains, in part, why the names of the subjects appear on the screen next to their words: When they speak, Brabbee is often dawdling on the sidelines where we can’t see anyone’s lips.) The film’s aesthetic lacks a certain sense of vigilance and the chronicle itself doesn’t cast too deep a light onto the social conditions of its characters or the hegemony the courtesans work to boost, but a series of confrontations between eldest Guddi and one of her brothers and, later, her boyfriend strongly reflects every patriarchal step of her country’s caste system.
- Women Make Movies
- 71 min
- Mystelle Brabbee
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