When Bollywood Spoke About AIDS Through Movies

You book your ticket for a movie to enjoy three hours of your life sitting in the air-conditioned cinema hall to enjoy your favorite actor or director’s work on screen. But sometimes, you come out of the hall with a changed mentality, an altered perception or as a changed person – because something strikes a deep chord.

Cinema has the power to influence minds and therefore it is a vital function of this visual medium to bring social awareness on topics that can help a human life. While some topics are easier to discuss, the ones that need real audacity and determination are about those that have stigma attached to them.

In a country like India, where sex is considered a taboo, a discussion on a condition like AIDS makes people uncomfortable. Let’s just say that a person infected with the HIV+ virus is an outcast. But there have been powerful stories crafted by Bollywood that have done their bit towards creating awareness and changing people’s perceptions towards AIDS.

Today, the 1st of December, is observed as World AIDS Day. Let’s go back in time and see Bollywood movies that focussed on the social plight of those infected with the virus while also creating awareness on the need for empathy towards them.

Phir Milengephir-milengeThe movie did not enjoy box office success as not many people preferred to see their favorite actor suffering from a condition like AIDS in the film. The movie saw Salman Khan as Rohit, an AIDS infected person. Similar to the central plot of 1993 US film Philadelphia, which won an academy award, Phir Milenge is about the stigma the central character, Tamanna (Shilpa Shetty), faces when she is tested HIV+. She is fired from the office as soon as the news spreads but with the help of a lawyer (Abhishek Bachchan), she fights all odds to restore her dignity.  Revathy, the movie’s director has gone on record and spoken about the difficulties she had to find an actor for Salman’s role.

Nidaan
nidaan
Nidaan is about how an upper middle class family copes with the sudden news about their college going daughter diagnosed with AIDS. It clears an important myth about the ways in which the virus can be transmitted. Though not a commercial success, it discussed important aspects of the medical problem like the apathy of friends, fear of shame and disgrace, business-minded doctors and need for companionship. It communicated an important message about love and care for those who face such a tribulation in life. It was also made tax free by the government from the educational point of view.

Asukh
asookh
Asukh is about a young film star daughter whose relation with her father undergoes a massive change when her mother is diagnosed with AIDS. Rituparno Ghosh is known to weave stories around specific characters who share an intense relationship with each other. In Asukh too, he tries to sensitively portray the suspicions, anxiety, dismay and pain of those facing the horrors of this disease,  through the father-daughter relationship.

68 Pages68-pages-compressedA sex worker, a transsexual bar dancer and a gay couple, already burning under the continuous humiliation by the society, find themselves infected with the HIV virus. The movie is a poignant take on the evils endured by AIDS affected patients and rips apart the bogus, prejudiced and reactionary face of the society that we live in. Through the 68 pages that the counsellor in the movie fills with her emotions regarding the patients, the movie also explores the bright side of the undying hope of survival and fight for dignity of those reeling under constant shame. The film was a sincere effort in creating awareness about the issue as it was produced in association with Department for International development, UK. The movie has also become a part of the National AIDS Control Programme and is a mandatory resource used by NACO in all its counsellor training programmes.

My Brother Nikhilmy-brother-nikhil-compressedThe movie won a lot of praises for its sensitive yet powerful comment on two significant realities of our society – AIDS and homosexuality. The movie went ahead to show how an AIDS infected person is kept in isolation as he is considered a health hazard to the society. It’s just his sister and his boyfriend who refuse to leave his side. 

–Gladis Monteiro

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