'Actions speak louder than words'. A scene in Love Sonia features a police raid at a brothel, where a social worker Manish (Rajkummar Rao) shouts aloud to Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) to come out from a tiny, dark hide-out and embrace her escape from the dark world. Instead without muttering a single word, the latter sinks inside further and refuses the freedom only a step away. Just a few minutes of this frame and you are left numb! That's the effect this Tabrez Noorani directorial has on you.
Love Sonia begins with a terrific shot of a young boy showing off his prized possession - a butterfly captured in a glass jar to his friends. He allows them to let their cheeks be caressed by the butterfly, as it tries to escape from the jar. Later in the film, this acts as a metaphor for a crucial scene.
Coming back to the plot, Sonia (Mrunal Thakur) is a doting sister to Preeti (Riya Sisodia). Their life takes a brutal turn when their father (Adil Hussain), an impoverished farmer, sells off Preeti to a money-lender Dada Thakur (Anupam Kher) who whisks her to Mumbai. When Sonia fails to get any news about her sister's whereabouts, she leaves on a quest to bring Preeti back, only to find herself tricked into flesh trade in Mumbai.
Sonia soon finds herself at one of the brothels owned by the shrewd Faisal (Manoj Bajpayee), where she meets Madhuri (Richa Chadha) and Rashmi (Freida Pinto) who make her aware that the world isn't how it seems to be. The rest of the plot revolves around how Sonia always looks for a flicker of hope in her worst nightmares.
Tabreez Noorani needs to be applauded for taking up such a hard-hitting subject when it came to his directorial debut. While we have seen many films based on human trafficking in the past, it's the filmmaker's realistic portrayal of the murky side of humanity that sets it apart from the rest. He makes you swallow the bitter pill with every scene, as Sonia embarks on a journey that should never be the fate of any girl in real life.
On the flip side, the screenplay wobbles post the interval as events unfold a tad bit conveniently. The pace of the film too might take a toil if you ain't used to relishing your scenes slowly.
Speaking about the performances, Mrunal Thakur makes a smashing debut with Love Sonia. Devoid of any vanity, it's her expressive face which haunts you for a long time. It's not just she who feels the emotions on-screen. She makes you feel them too! Riya Sisodia plays her part well, but fades a bit when she's in the same frame with Mrunal.
Manoj Bajpayee sends shivers down your spine with his slimy and manipulative character who doesn't bat an eyelid when he lets a girl get raped just for a single puff of a cigarette. Richa Chadha's gut-wrenching act is terrifying. Freida Pinto leaves you shell-shocked with her transformation. However, one wished that her role was a bit more fleshed out. Adil Hussain too leaves a mark. Despite a limited screen-time, Rajkummar Rao proves his acting mettle once again after Stree. Sai Tamhankar packs a punch. Demi Moore's role is more like a cameo.
Lukasz Bielan's lens perfectly capture the claustrophobia of the dark underbelly of our society. Martin Singer's editing could have been a little more sharper to keep the film taut. The background score too adds layers to the film.
Love Sonia gives you a tight punch in the gut with its bestial truth, but at the same time, it makes you realize how a single thread of hope is still a powerful thing. I am going with 3.5 stars.