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Highway Courtesans

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Mystelle Brabbée, Anura Idupuganti, Tom Donahue
Directed by Mystelle Brabbée
VHS, color, 71 min.
College - Adult
Sociology, Gender Studies, Social Work, Anthropology, Asian Studies, Multicultural Studies, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Triveni Kuchi, Social Sciences/Instructional Services Librarian, Rutgers University Libraries

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 1/12/2006

Filmed in central India between 1995 and 2004, this documentary is an excellent longitudinal study of daughters’ lives within the Bachara community. The Bachara community traditionally places the oldest daughters into business viz., prostitution. Prostitution has been continuing as a tradition in this community since courtesans entertained kings and other royals in the palaces of India hundreds of years ago. Only the locations and clientele for these activities have shifted in modern times from palaces and kings to the highway and truck drivers.

A Bachara family depends entirely on their daughter's income from prostitution to meet their day-to-day needs to survive. The daughters are said to be "kept within the family" as opposed to the more common and traditional role for daughters of Indian families as being "given away in marriage." The father and brothers play the role of pimps encouraging and selling their daughters or sisters’ services as sex workers. This film uniquely presents the clash among the strong roots of family tradition, the social problems of prostitution, and the issues surrounding modernization of the Indian society through the interviews of three Bachara community girls - Guddi, Shana (sisters) and Sungita (neighbor) over a period of ten years.

The film tracks Guddi, who is the oldest daughter in her family, from the age of seventeen when she has just started prostitution (and doing what is expected of her), through the age of twenty-three when she has changed her profession from that of a prostitute to a schoolteacher. Through a series of interview clips, the film shows the strength of Guddi’s character in taking such a bold decision despite the great loss to her income, family and personal relationships. Shana and Sungita accept Guddi’s decision, but continue their own jobs as prostitutes. They eventually give birth to children and believe that their lovers would visit them when they stop by on the highway. Guddi goes on to become an active member of Action Aid Project that works with the Bachara community and successfully pursues teaching and social awareness projects. She realizes that as a Bachara community girl, she could still make a choice to not continue with prostitution, unlike her lesser fortunate counterparts in Kamatipura, Mumbai. Even though she is hurt and disappointed with the man she loves (who won’t marry her), she is hopeful that she will find someone else, fall in love again and in due course get married. Interviewing these Bachara community women in a matter of fact style about love, marriage, education, AIDS, and so on, and without any shades of moralizing, Mystelle Brabbée simply and amazingly weaves the pain, acceptance, resignation, yet love and hope that the Bachara women experience as they go about doing their business of prostitution.

This documentary has gained tremendous popularity around the world and has been screened at more than twenty-five film festivals around the world including International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam’s World Premier, South and Southwest Film Festival, Adelaide Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Belgrade Film festival, Tekfestival 2005 (Rome), Jerusalem International Film Festival, Women’s Film Festival in Seoul, and Singapore International Film festival.


  • Chicago Int'l Documentary Film Festival, President's Jury Award
  • Galway Film Fleadh, Best Feature Documentary