In India, prostitution is a multibillion-dollar business, with as many as 10 million sex workers conducting business there at any one point in time. Anand VRS Tomar’s THE BED (2017) attempts to illustrate the ways that this trade can affect children and, indeed, the ways that early exposure to prostitution can shape how children live their lives. THE BED primarily works in simplicity and frankness, which creates a kind of horror.
The film takes place in one long-take reverse zoom, which initially focuses on a child’s amidst the sound of disconcerting masculine sexual grunting. Because the shot is so tight, it’s impossible to see what’s actually happening. As the shot pulls outward, the viewer can see that the child is a little child, terrified, hiding under a bed, while above sex is being sold, most likely by her mother. After the man gets up, pays, and leaves, the woman attempts to comfort the child. It’s the juxtaposition, however, of the man’s grunting with the child’s face that is entirely unnerving and horrific. Like the child, we are unable to see or know what’s going on—we also sit in the vulnerable position. Moreover, it’s the young girl’s acting that really works here. It’s incredibly challenging to have child actors maintain the character for such a long take, and she accomplishes the task masterfully.
While the subject is both sensitive and relevant, the film does read more like a public service announcement or another kind of commercial than as a piece of cinema. It is absolutely shocking, but its length means that it really can’t go into the challenges and nuances that exist in the world regarding sex work, underage prostitutes, and trafficked children in Asia. Because of its length, it does gesture toward melodrama do much of its work. However, as a short work that attempts to introduce its audience to a painful and often shameful problem, it does simply and elegantly that primary staple of film –the close-up—to make its point.