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Highway Courtesans
A film by Mystelle Brabbee
India/US, 2005, 71 minutes, Color/BW, DVD, Hindi, Subtitled
Order No. W05870
This provocative coming-of-age film chronicles the story of a bold young woman born into the Bachara community in Central India – the last hold-out of a tradition that started with India’s ancient palace courtesans and now survives with the sanctioned prostitution of every Bachara family’s oldest girl. Guddi, Shana and their neighbor Sungita serve a daily stream of roadside truckers to support their families. Their work as prostitutes forms the core of the local economy, but their contemporary ideas about freedom of choice, gender and self-determination slowly intrude on the Bachara way of life.

HIGHWAY COURTESANS follows Guddi from the ages of 16 through 23 as she turns her world upside down, incurring the wrath of her fathers and brother as she struggles with tradition, family and love in hopes of realizing her dreams. In probing beyond the surface of a world of paradoxes, HIGHWAY COURTESANS resists easy moralizing and reveals the very real costs – financial, social and personal – for breaking with tradition. As a community hangs in the balance between traditional and contemporary values, this gripping documentary raises universal questions about sex, the roles of women, and the right of one culture to judge another.


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

  • Nashville Film Festival
  • Belgrade Film Festival
  • Women's Film Festival in Seoul
  • Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
  • Singapore International Film Festival
  • Tekfestival 2005, Rome
  • Jackson Hole Film Festival
  • Jerusalem International Film Festival
  • Mill Valley Film Festival
  • Bermuda International Film Festival
  • Atlanta Film Festival
  • Kino Movie Eye Film Festival
  • Seattle Documentary Film Festival
  • Rio De Janiero Film Festival
  • Hawaii International Film Festival
  • Zagreb Film Festival
  • Denver International Film Festival
  • Cardiff Screen Festival
  • Hamptons International Film Festival
  • South by Southwest Film Festival, US Premiere
  • International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)
  • International Women's Film Festival
  • Asian American International Film Festival
  • Seattle Independent So. Asian Film Festival
  • Jakarta International Film Festival
  • "Stranger than Fiction", IFC Center
  • Adelaide Film Festival
  • IFP Market Best of Fest, Berlinale Market
  • Indo-American Art Council Film Festival
  • Monteal Human Rights Film Festival

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    "Timeless in its observations"
    Jeanette Catsoulis
    The New York Times, Critic's Pick

    "Candid interviews with the subjects are impressive."
    Erin Clements
    Time Out New York

    "Extraordinary documentary... fair-minded portraits"
    Andrew O'Hehi

    "Far from the altogether downbeat experience you'd expect."
    Jay Carr
    AM New York

    "Compelling and illuminating"
    Avi Offer

    "Courtesans' poignant, provocative...Brabbee's view is respectful. Despite the girls' nearly hopeless situation, she portrays them as hopeful, strong and surprisingly optimistic...."
    Rachel Mehendale
    The Daily Texan

    "15 films to watch from IDFA 2004...”
    Eugene Hernandez

    ”The prostitutes of Mystelle Brabbée's Highway Courtesans hold the audience enchanted with their strong characters and beautiful souls in the face of unfortunate circumstances...”
    Mark Fagan
    Austin Chronicle

    "****(four stars)…[a] thoughtful and sure-handed documentary... We follow Guddi for several years and learn about life in "the profession" and the extraordinary challenges she faces in leaving it… Finding ways to be ordinary in their world must take extraordinary courage."
    Sarah Lindner
    Austin American-Statesman

    “Intriguing subject and revealing interviews…”
    Joe Leydon

    "****(4 stars) Critics' Choice. Recommended"
    Chicago Reader

    "ABSORBING, touching and sometimes enraging."
    Chicago Tribune

    "* * * (3 stars) "
    Chicago Sun Times

    "…an incisive examination of a prostitution caste in India...."
    Galway News

    "... a remarkable piece of ethnographic work.”
    Michael Rabiger
    Author of Directing the Documentary

    “Brabbee's intelligent documentary…represent(s) the latest achievements in Asian and Asian American filmmaking.”
    Asiance Magazine

    “Highly Recommended...Excellent…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.”
    Educational Media Reviews Online

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    Highway Courtesans is included in the following Special Collections.
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