Even with intriguing subject matter and revealing interviews as selling points, “Highway Courtesans” probably won’t take a theatrical route to reaching receptive auds. Earnest but prosaic short docu about Central India women pressed into prostitution by parents and siblings likely will be a fest staple prior to pubcasts and nonprofit showcases.
Helmer Mystelle Brabbee — longtime artistic director of the Nantucket Film Festival — obviously developed close, trusting relationships with her subjects during years of intermittent filming (in variety of formats) throughout rural Bachara community. Following centuries-old local tradition, many clans “persuade” their eldest daughters to work as prostitutes along nearby roadsides. (Most customers, apparently, are truckers.) Village elders defend the practice, and most of the young women grudgingly accept their roles as breadwinners for poor families. But Guddi Chauhan, the pic’s chief focus, gradually rebels against her demeaning role as Brabbee follows her from age 17 through 23. Despite pressures from her demanding, dependant family, Chauhan aspires to become a teacher. But even as she struggles to reinvent herself, it’s increasingly obvious her long-time boyfriend (and sometime customer) will never marry a woman with such a dodgy past.