Films about HIV/AIDS

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

I’ve resigned myself to stares from shop assistants when they see the DVD of the Indian movie I’m trying to buy. I get all kinds of questions including, “Do you like them?” One shop assistant said, “They are too long.” Time flew like lighting when I was screening Phir Milenge, starring Shilpa Shetty and Salman Khan.

Marriage is one social issue that is in every film from Mumbai. Producers finance films about love and arranged marriages all the time because most viewers seem to be comfortable with that, but shy away from abortion, single parents, and definitely not HIV/AIDS.

In Phir Milenge, the subject matter is being HIV positive, which makes family and friends flinch, but it is a beautiful movie visually, shot in soft hush tones, lighting that is just right and appropriate close up shots to show how Tamanna, Shilpa Shetty’s character loved Rohit, Salman Khan’s character.

Revathy’s film is about Tamanna, an advertising executive at T.P. Associates who accidentally discovers she is HIV positive. She gets permission from her boss to take a few days leave, although he is reluctant because the advertising agency is in the process of making a presentation to their first and most valuable client.

Rohit, somebody Tamanna secretly loved during her school days at The School of Art and Theatre, is the reason for the leave. He is home from the United States for the first time to attend the annual performance for their teacher’s birthday.

Like the rest of the world, Rohit and Tamanna consummate their love for each other without using condoms because that menace called HIV/AIDS happens to other people and not them, rich and accomplished people. It is unfortunate that we slot experiences into little boxes, where they are imprisoned and are not allowed to venture out to other countries and people.

It is the same for the film Phir Milenge. It is deemed as an Indian movie and therefore cannot be seen in Vancouver, Perth, Edinburgh, Durban or Rome. That is unfortunate because it is relevant for the whole world, especially a world that denies that HIV/AIDS is present in their immediate and extended families.

Phir Milenge is not the first film about being HIV positive, but it is part of the one million original stories I’m searching for because the script is frightening. It is the reason why we cannot successfully fight HIV/AIDS because we sweep it under the carpet, as if it will go away if we don’t talk about it.

Phir Milenge also did something extraordinary. It shows lovers fighting the disease together, something unusual because we are used to one person lying in a hospital bed or a hospice, in pain alone, when there were two people during sex. Tamanna was with Rohit until the end when he died in her arms.

The film is also about deception because although Rohit told Tamanna that he didn’t know about his condition, the dialogue indicates that he did. When she asked him what he was doing with his life, he said not much. At the school reunion, he said, “I haven’t laughed in a long time.” It is obvious that something was depressing him.

The script was tight. It didn’t give me time to think about the electricity bill, taxes owed to the South African government and other problems. Tamanna does what very few people would do. She takes her boss to court for firing her because she is HIV positive and does not care that the court case will put her private life on the spotlight.

Her boss refuses to shake her hand, so does Tarun Anand the lawyer (Abhishek Bachchan) she approaches to represent her. He was so scared after Tamanna told him why she was fired, he ran to his doctor complaining that she had shook his hand, gave him coffee and both of them were breathing the same air. The doctor reassured him that the virus is not transmitted that way.

Family support is the key in very difficult circumstances. Tamanna is able to fight her boss in court because she has her sister Tania’s support. In fact Tamanna discovered she was HIV positive when she donated blood for Tania, who had an accident on her motor bike.

HIV/AIDS is a taboo subject, so is unwanted pregnancy, which was the foundation for Balki’s film Paa, where Vidya Balan’s character Vidya, kept the pregnancy and had the baby with the help of her mother.

In Kya Kehna, directed by Kundan Shah, Priya (Preity Zinta) falls in love with Rahul (Saif Ali Khan), the school’s playboy, despite her brother Vikram’s warning, who knew Rahul’s reputation. She falls pregnant and Rahul admits that he is the father, but refuses to marry her, saying he cannot marry all his girlfriends. Her father Mr. Bakshi (Anupam Kher) kicks Priya out of the house. She stays with a couple that lives near the railway station.

Her father feels that he has lost his honour in society and nobody shows up for Vikram and Nina’s wedding reception. Nina’s father rubs salt in the wound when he says if he had known about Priya’s pregnancy he would not have allowed Nina to marry Vikram. “I feel like I’m leaving my daughter in a sewer.”

Her three brothers miss her so much, the father forgives her. The Bakshi family rallies around Priya, taking her to school and generally pampering her, which boosts her morale because she has lost all her friends except, Anuj, the boy next door who has loved her since childhood.

Films about HIV/AIDS and accidental pregnancy are topics of discussion in film schools, coffee bars, hair salons, stock exchange, trains, everywhere, but not on the big screen because of our attitude. We go to the cinema to be entertained, and not to be made aware of grave issues facing us as a society such as HIV/AIDS, rape, divorce, parents in old age homes, orphans etc. In South Africa, advertisements about HIV/AIDS, news items, television coverage show only Africans as being inflicted by the disease and no one else.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.
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