MUMBAI - A new Indian movie about human trafficking starring Freida Pinto and Demi Moore is to be screened in towns and villages around the country to raise awareness of a crime that affects millions.
"Love Sonia," which traces the journey of a young girl trafficked from rural India into the global sex trade, hits cinemas in the country this week after screenings on the international festival circuit.
Director Tabrez Noorani said he wanted to champion "hope and courage" and raise awareness of trafficking around the world.
"I want to show that the crime of trafficking is not restricted to, say, India or China. It's a global problem," Noorani told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
"Everyone has to be aware ... that it's happening in their backyard," he said.
India is home to at least 8 million slaves, according to the latest figures from the Australian-based Walk Free Foundation.
Government figures show the country recorded more than 8,000 human trafficking cases in 2016, 20 percent higher than the previous year, although rights activists say many cases go unreported.
Many victims are from rural areas and are often lured with promises of jobs in cities. Instead they are forced to work in brick kilns or farms, enslaved in homes as domestic workers, or sold to brothels.
The founder of anti-trafficking charity Shakti Vahini said movies were an effective way to raise awareness in rural areas — particularly if they featured major stars.
"We go out and do a lot of lectures. But when they see it in a movie, they see the danger as more real," said Ravi Kant.Other films to have been used in this way include "Mardaani," a 2014 film i
n which a woman police officer takes on a child trafficker.
"Mardaani" director Pradeep Sarkar said it was important to show traffickers were "regular, normal people living next door."
"Love Sonia" is the directorial debut of Noorani, a veteran producer whose credits include "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Life of Pi", and stars the acclaimed Indian actor Rajkummar Rao alongside Moore and Pinto.
Noorani said he wanted to make an "authentic film" on an issue he has worked on for many years as a board member of the Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
"The film heroes hope and courage," Noorani said. "Education is the best way to fight human trafficking. People will hopefully walk out of theatres eyes wide open."