Bollywood Film on HIV/AIDS Opens to Mixed Reviews, Could Represent Ideological Shift on HIV/AIDS in India
"Phir Milenge," the first Bollywood Hindi film to focus on HIV/AIDS in India, may represent a shift in Indian popular culture as the country is "belatedly starting to come to terms with the virus," the Washington Post reports (Lancaster, Washington Post, 8/29). However, some audience members "booed and heckled" the film, which opened worldwide on Friday, and some left the theater, "apparently unable to digest their favorite actor suffering from AIDS," the AP/Los Angeles Times reports (AP/Los Angeles Times, 8/28). The film, which was directed by Revathy Menon and stars Indian actors Salman Khan and Shilpa Shetty, tells the story of Tamanna, a female advertising executive who is fired after her employer discovers she is HIV-positive. Tamanna then files and eventually wins a discrimination lawsuit against her employer. The film examines the stigma, discrimination and ignorance associated with HIV/AIDS in the workplace, as well as how people can address HIV discrimination through the country's courts. The Bollywood film industry -- which is based in Mumbai, India -- produces 800 films a year and an estimated 15 million people watch the films each day (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/24). According to the Post, the film borrows its central plot from the 1993 U.S. movie "Philadelphia," in which an HIV-positive lawyer files a wrongful dismissal suit after he is fired by his firm. Menon, who has been involved with HIV prevention efforts in her home state of Tamil Nadu, said, "There is a stigma towards my film itself. The press is saying it's an AIDS film. If a main character in a film has cancer, you don't call it a cancer film." Menon added, "Truthfully speaking, I just thought this was a cause that needed to be talked about" (Washington Post, 8/29).
Many people in India are unwilling to talk about HIV/AIDS and its prevention because of taboos about discussing sex. HIV-positive individuals in India often face discrimination, with some hospitals and schools having turned away HIV-positive people, the AP/Times reports. In some Mumbai theaters, moviegoers jeered when Khan's character was shown very ill in the hospital, and some people left the theaters, according to the AP/Times. "I didn't realize the movie was about AIDS or I wouldn't have brought my kids," Nisha Mehta, who left the movie early with her three young children. However, engineering student Ali Amin said that more films on HIV/AIDS are needed. "The subject was handled well. It's high time we begin changing our attitudes," he said, adding, "The movie shows it's not just illiterates, but also the educated who don't have a clue about AIDS" (AP/Los Angeles Times, 8/28).
A kaisernetwork.org video feature on HIV/AIDS in India is available online. The report -- prepared by Fred de Sam Lazaro, also a correspondent for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer -- includes interviews with people who are on the front lines of India's efforts.