South India's 'Tollywood' film industry addresses sex trafficking

Tollywood, an influential film industry, has produced six short anti-trafficking films designed to deter young men from buying sex in an effort to counter the number of trafficked girls and women lured by acting opportunities.

Danish Siddiqui/Reuters/File
A cinema goer watches Bollywood movie in Mumbai, on Dec. 11, 2014. South India's popular Telugu film industry – known as Tollywood – has produced six short anti-trafficking films to deter young men from buying sex. The film industry in India is often used by traffickers to trap aspiring actresses in brothels.

South India's popular Telugu film industry – known as Tollywood – has produced six short anti-trafficking films in what is described as a first from an industry often used by traffickers to trap aspiring actresses in brothels.

Tollywood churns out more films than its globally popular counterpart Bollywood and has major influence in the Telugu-speaking states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

The six films – dramas designed to deter young men from buying sex – were made by some of Tollywood's biggest production houses as part of a 'Stop Demand' initiative by anti-trafficking charity Prajwala and the United States Consulate General in Hyderabad.

"Nearly 30 percent of the girls trafficked are lured by opportunities to model or act in films," said Sunitha Krishnan, founder of Prajwala.

"[Roping in] Tollywood is important. They are opinion makers," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at an anti-trafficking conference where the films were shown.

Prajwala estimates that 200,000 women and children in India are forced into prostitution every year through threat and coercion.

Of an estimated 20 million commercial sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking, according to campaign and support groups working in India.

The states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are major source states for girls who are trafficked to various parts of the country, with Maharashtra, Delhi, and Goa being major destinations, studies show.

Pawan Kumar Manvi, chief producer with the Eenadu Television Network of the Ramoji Group, a media conglomerate that made three of the six films, said the film industry was a major contributor to trafficking.

"The industry was itself not aware ... but it should be made to feel guilty about its role," Mr. Manvi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Hyderabad.

"Now the industry has at least come forward and some other production houses too have produced public service announcements. Slowly, the industry is understanding its role."

The films will be released in theaters and on television channels in about a month.

"Having the support of this group allows us to reach hundreds of millions of people in this region – notably men and boys – with our critical message about sex trafficking," said Katherine Hadda, the US Consul General in Hyderabad. 

This story was reported by The Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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