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Mira Nair's tribute to AIDS sufferers

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By: Priyaranjan Trivedy
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mira Nair's repeated overtures to Bollywood big guns about an year ago came a cropper, because when the actors heard she was looking for them to appear in a segment of the 80-minute long omnibus on AIDS awareness. They were ostensibly worried over the stigma and that their professional worth could fall if they acted in an AIDS-related film. All the hoopla surrounding her $ 100 million Hollywood film Shantaram starring Johnny Depp vanished into thin air, and this left the director really surprised.

A gutsy lady that she is, Mira didn't give up, because she felt it was crucial that the movie celebrities spoke to people on preventing AIDS and provide succour to HIV positive and AIDS infected people. She reasoned that the massive star power needed to be involved in the fight against AIDS, and since Indians do not go to see an 80- minute film, they should get their money's worth, if they are to be goaded into watching a small-length movie.

Defying all obstacles in its way, the film was completed and premiered on Sunday at the 32nd Toronto International FIlm Festival, to an impressive audience turnout of about 800, comprising journalists and festivalgoers.

Mira's segment, named as Migration, stars actor Irfan Khan as a closet homosexual, whose much neglected wife, played by Sameera Reddy, has a one-night fling with a migrant worker, played by Shiney Ahuja. But something terrible happens, as Reema Sen, who plays Shiney's wife, is diagnosed as having AIDS, along with her newborn. This segment gives a clear-cut message of using protection while making love with your loved ones.

Inspite of being busy with her project Shantaram, Mira took 24 hours off to promote the AIDS Jaago omnibus at the Toronto festival. It is worth recalling that Mira's earlier movies, The Namesake and Monsoon Wedding also had their North American premiere at the festival. She revealed that four short films in the omnibus, produced in association with The Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation, should reach the widest audience globally, including India of course. She somehow even persuaded Vishal Bharadwaj and Santosh Sivan, directors of two of the segments, to come to Toronto to join her in a discussion after the screening. A notable absentee was director Farhan Akhtar, who was still convalescing from a malaria bout.

Vishal Bharadwaj's presentation, Blood Brother, is a suspense thriller in which a young stalker follows an old man. The stalker happens to be diagnosed with the HIV virus. Through persuasion by his wife, the young man summons enough courage to inform the old man that he is HIV positive. To his utter shock and disbelief, old man seems unperturbed at the disclosure. The young man is concerned enough to take medication. The message via a narration to the audience is that AIDs can be treated just like any other serious disease. The young man muses that although his life might become shorter due to AIDS, he had sufficient will to make it more meaningful than ever.

Farhan's segment is a story of a child witnessing his philandering father. Years later, on returning from South Africa after completing his studies, he finds his father dying of AIDS in a hospital. He feels distanced from his father, but on his mother's insistence, reconciles with his father. On questioning his mother's fidelity towards his ailing father, the mother says that she could not abandon an ailing husband who needed help.

Santosh Sivan's flick spreads the message that unfortunate children afflicted with AIDS virus need not be stigmatised at home and at school, and have all the rights for having a proper education. Sivan required well-known actors to be in his segment, and fortunately Prabhudeva willingly obliged. Saroja Devi, a south Indian acting veteran, has played the principal of the school who realises that the stigma against AIDS had cost the boy his education.

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