Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: What Happened to… Avijit from “Born into Brothels”

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Avijit Halder from Born into Brothels

Avijit Halder at 11 years old.
Photo from Kids with Cameras.

It makes sense to me to start off the “What Happened to the Subject?” series with a child who starred in a documentary, because it seems to me that we can see greater changes than with an adult subject. And, boy, has Avijit Halder, one of the kids who was in Born into Brothels, had his life totally transformed by the documentary he was in. “I wouldn’t be the person I am if it weren’t for Born into Brothels,” says Halder, now a junior at New York University, where he studies film. He lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “I’m doing very well. I am happy.”

Although Halder grew up in the bowels of Calcutta, he was clearly the most promising of the kids depicted in that film about the children of prostitutes; he was already showing proficiency at photography in the documentary. He has maintained that trajectory. Soon after the documentary was released in 2004, Halder was given financial support that allowed him to attend a high school in New Hampshire for a year, followed by two years in Utah, where it wasn’t as bad as you’d think, he says, except for the lack of noise, which he had come accustomed to in India.

Halder got a grant from Tisch to study film, and Kids with Cameras, the group that Brothels co-director Zana Briski started, pays the lion’s share of his tuition. But Halder isn’t coasting. He has classes from 9 to 5, and then he works from 7 to 11 in low-paying campus jobs to help make money to pay for a trip back home to India, which he hasn’t visited in over a year.

Halder admits he misses home, and that he wishes that “NYU was there, so that I could also eat my grandmother’s food, be with my friends and go to Tisch.” But, he recognizes, “if you want something better in life, you have to sacrifice something.”

He is still in touch with many of the kids from Brothels, most of whom are also doing well, going to universities in India and getting married, although Halder says there are two Brothels alumni who have slipped back into the hard life of the slums.

Even if he had not been in the film, Halder says that he “would have been successful, but not as successful.” In fact, he wants to clarify a misperception that the film has perpetuated. His late mother was not a prostitute, Halder says. She was actually a teacher in the red light district, and she had made sure that Halder was getting a good education. (He also reports that his father, who was addicted to drugs, is doing better now.)

Another interesting clarification that Halder makes is that he and his friends weren’t aware that they were being filmed as subjects in a documentary. Does he feel that he was exploited? No. “It has benefited all of our lives,” he says. “It’s all justified.”

“I didn’t have a voice then,” he adds. “Even though I wanted to be an artist, there would have been no way to become one. It gave me a voice. It gave me a life.”

Check out Avijit Halder’s videos on YouTube.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Daniel

    FOREIGNID: 23489
    Thanks for this great update. Hearing about the lives of documentary subjects years later only underscores the power of the films that captured them for a moment in time. I definitely remember Avijit’s bright smile and disposition and am glad he’s doing so well.
    Look forward to hearing about others in this series!

  • Zana Fan

    FOREIGNID: 24564
    I’m glad to hear that Avijit and the others are doing well.

  • Mainak Chatterjee

    FOREIGNID: 31035
    Hi I am Mainak living in Calcutta in India. This film is based on the place Sonagachi in Calcutta which is a red light place. The film had made a revolutionary change in the mind of the people of Calcutta and cleared the misconceptions they had about Sonagachi. I pose my salute to the persons who were involved in making this film. Home to here more comments from you in future about this film

  • Alexamarshall

    Hi Avijit you are just so special and the opportunitys we have in our life comes home after watching Born in Brothels well done I would love to get contact details of how I could assist other children by donation Keep up your happy positive you Thanks Lexie

  • A Nameless Friend

    I was very moved by your story and the story of your friends.  I hope you all continue to do well in life.  

  • A Nameless Friend

    Thanks for checking up on Avijit, Mr. Roston.  I felt desperate to know that the children I saw from this 2004 Documentary were doing okay.  They’re all still quite young, so I’m hopeful for the two that may have lost their way end up safe and happy in the end.