When a local crime czar railroads an impoverished boy into selling his kidney, and then reneges on the fee promised, the boy strikes back in a very unexpected way. Michael Keller’s debut film, Red Gold, is situated in the slums of India where abject poverty is the norm and staying alive takes outstanding will and creativity. Not surprisingly, a sly kingpin rules the mean streets, complete with the aid of a team of thugs and local law enforcement.
Forced into manhood far before his time, young Ravi is the sole support of his younger sister and widowed father, a depressive man whose debts keep him enslaved to alcohol and general uselessness. Ravi’s source of livelihood is the village dump, where he sifts through garbage all day, alongside a group of older wiseguys. Every morning Ravi sets out to work and collects a large bag of valuable trash. Inevitably by days end, Ravi’s competitors beat him up and steal his pickings.
One day, feeling particularly downtrodden and desperate, Ravi wanders into the crime boss’s illegal blood bank and sells his blood for money. Each week Ravi returns to the blood bank, and in this manner, is able to pay off some of his father’s debts, and buy food for the family. Most of the villagers make money from the local crime boss in this way, which only increases the gangster’s power over the community, and keeps his blood-fees low. When Ravi’s father’s bills continue to mount, the gangster tells Ravi that if he agrees to sell his kidney, the gangster will give him $3,000 American dollars. Frightened and uncertain, Ravi soon sees that this deal is his family’s only hope for survival, and agrees to the gangster’s terms. But it’s what happens after the “operation,” that will shock your sensibilities for a very long time.
Red Gold’s plot about illegal organ trafficking and profound social injustice is neither novel, nor restricted to the slums of India and narrative cinema. It’s a very common and insidious problem throughout the world. Keller’s movie exposes the issues sensitively, through the eyes of a child, so that viewers can imagine what they would do, should they find themselves in similar circumstances. As the story plays out, and possibilities narrow, you can only imagine the shock factor. What’s particularly special about Red Gold, is that the film is not limited by the ensuing crime and all that comes after, but is also about Ravi’s coming of age, and all the wonderful things this entails.
Red Gold is yet another rare example of glowing cinematic perfection and profound intelligence. Try as I might, I can’t find a single flaw in Keller’s important movie. I should warn you, however, that the film does contain some graphic scenes, but if that doesn’t bother you, then by all means, try to see Red Gold as soon as time allows.
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