Already frazzled from a week of screenings I had trekked across blocks of Manhattan to attend one of the last few parties at the New York Indian Film Festival, where I found myself talking to the director Jeffrey D Brown. We spoke about actors, movies, family. His stepfather was Indian and Jeffrey had spent some time in East Africa when he was young which is where my family are from.
Jeffrey told me about Sold, a book he was adapting by Patricia McCormick. I remember listening, eyes transfixed. The story was about a young girl of thirteen, Lakshmi, who is trafficked from her mountain village in Nepal to be sold into a brothel in India. A still shock came over me but I needed to hear more. The book is about one girl but based on the story of thousands. And that's just in Nepal, where 20,000 children are estimated to be trafficked every year. 200,000 Nepali girls are thought to be forced to work in the sex industry in India. It was like being slapped in the face.
I wanted to know what could be done. Jeffrey was going to make this movie and I knew there and then I had to be involved. I bugged Jeffrey for the script and time passed as Jeffrey and Jane Charles, the producer, worked tirelessly to raise funds. After a screen test - to make sure I could pull off the Indian accent - I had the role of Anita, another girl who finds herself imprisoned in a brothel in Kolkata.
I flew over to India for the first time since I was five. There was something so familiar about India, as vivid in real life as it was in my childlike memories, the sounds, the smells and yet I felt like a stranger, an outsider looking in at times. I remember immersing myself in the reality of Anita's existence whilst on set. Accepting that her life was constricted by the walls of Happiness House, the brothel in Sold, and by the daily routine of waking up, eating, experiencing friendship with the other girls and of course 'servicing customers'.
I found that Anita had to have a numbness about it all to survive, and through accepting her experience I also found myself numb at times. But I remember so clearly the moment when the horror of life at Happiness House set in. It was when Anita is told by Mumtaz, the madam of the brothel, to put make up on an unknowing Lakshmi for the first time. I remember listening to her instructions and seeing Niyar who plays Lakshmi, such an innocent, young girl, that my heart sank and I burned with anger and indignation.
It is horrific to hear the kinds of torture women and children are subjected to on a daily basis. It is even more shocking to learn of the numbers. Slavery still exists all over the world. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) 20million people are in some form of slavery in the world, of that 4.5million are victims of forced sexual exploitation, 5million are children. And this "industry" is worth $150billion a year in illegal profits.
What saved me from feeling lost and hopeless was the fact that in some small way I was part of the Sold team and that this film, which has hope at its heart, is going to shine a light on the reality of child trafficking and modern day slavery.
Prevention is key to addressing the issue. Sold is now working with a charity partner, Childreach International, who launched a campaign #TaughtNotTrafficked to keep children in school, where they are less vulnerable to trafficking. The film and campaign are a call to action against the human rights issue of our time.
I hope more than for anything else, that with time and support for organisations like Childreach International and people sharing the truth about trafficking like the team behind Sold, the numbers that are so massive to get your head around will decrease, and one day disappear.