Finding the Good in the Bad

by E. Nina Rothe

Because of the colder weather, shorter days and gloomier light in NYC these days, I've been thinking more and more about serious issues. It often happens to me in the fall, I retreat inside and therefore inward too. Apart from experiencing a mild case of SAD each winter -- I recently wrote a post about this year's more serious bout with it on my blog -- lots of heavy world causes and lofty ideas begin inhabiting my
mind, distracted only by the upcoming holidays and some miscellaneous winter events.

Most of you are certainly aware that World AIDS Day is on the 1st of December of every year
and takes place around the globe, with various 'celebrations' and observances which vary from open-air gatherings, to marches and parties thrown by the best and brightest celebrities of films, music and sports. While I always knew the day was there, I never fully participated, other than perhaps wearing my red ribbon for 24 hours, or buying a (RED) t-shirt at the Gap... This year, a project close to my heart brought new meaning and passion to this incredibly important world health cause and gave me the push necessary to begin understanding this crisis from a very personal viewpoint.

The first case of HIV was detected in India in 1986 and at last count, in 2008, it was estimated that around 2.3 million people are living with the disease there. Of those numbers, 39% are women and 3.9% are children. Although it seems that the disease is no longer progressing as quickly as it once was, it is still a widespread plague and education is the only way to fight it. Education in a country which is mostly rural based with a population that relies on word-of-
mouth and pop culture - such as movies and TV - for information. OK, so far so good, right?! Well it would be if it were not for all those pesky morality laws and censor boards, which regulate who and how people can kiss on screen and what can be spoken about on the air. Hence, loads of misconceptions and myths persist about AIDS and HIV, causing the disease to continue spreading, with a slight slowdown in recent times, but at an alarming rate nonetheless. When we figure that the country of India holds ONE FOURTH of the world's population, the idea of a monstrous disease like AIDS spreading at all is very scary.

Enter Mira Nair and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2007 Ms. Nair introduced the audience of the Indo-American Arts Council film festival in NYC to the film 'AIDS JaaGO' - meaning AIDS Awake - a collection of four short films by four of the most beloved filmmakers in modern Indian cinema. The shorts were meant to be played in multiplexes throughout India before the main films, to illuminate and educate the common folks about the disease. While the film received a lot of media attention and the individual shorts played constantly on Indian TV, it is with the very recent release of the DVD - a fabulous release party was organized at a downtown Indian eatery NYC by distributing company FilmKaravan, just this past week - that the film finally has found an international voice. BTW, it's now available through Amazon and for rent on Netflix. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. It's informative, but more than that, it's a wonderful piece (pieces!) of filmmaking.

Briefly, the four stories are 'Positive' by Farhan Akhtar - he is well respected as both a director
and an actor, and is even on the verge of becoming a rockstar in India! - a film dealing with the effects of AIDS on the adult son of a man who appears to have brought the disease on himself... 'Blood Brothers' by Vishal Bhardwaj - he is best known as the Indian filmmaker who reworked the Shakespeare tragedies of 'Macbeth' and 'Othello' to great audience and critical success - which deals with medical mistakes and how horrible the results can be. Then there is 'Prarambha' (The Beginning) by South Indian director and cinematographer Santosh Sivan, which is a touching insight into just who the youngest victims of the disease are; and finally Nair's own 'Migration' a film that touches on infidelity and how far and wide the disease is able to travel, truly, in its migration...

The films are all individually poignant but collectively momentous, with the wonderful actors featured - all read like a who's-who of Indian superstars and supertalents - and great format. Though short in time, each one is a complete and indepth story about relationships and human mistakes. Those kinds of mistakes that I can imagine having made in college or could have happened to my own best friend.

I highly recommend watching the films and now that I own a copy, I find it great to be able to refer to it from time to time. Just in time for World AIDS Day!

Images of 'AIDS JaaGO' courtesy of FilmKaravan


  1. It's funny that information in India is either really low-tech - word-of-mouth - or high-tech - TV & films. Slow-going, but very heartening to see such efforts made by the cream of Indian cinema.

  2. Thank you Nina for sharing this with us. I'm definitely going to look for this film. Now that Hollywood has moved on as it were from telling AIDS related stories - I think it's especially important to see the international scope of this disease and its impact.

  3. Thank you Julia,

    I find it quite ironic too that the Indian communication system is either ultra techy or word-of-mouth in the village. Nothing in between... But this film tries to incorporate everyone in its message. Rent it if you get a chance. It's very good.

  4. Jojo dear!

    You are always so supportive of your fellow Divas! Thanks for the comment and yes, absolutely try and get it, you will enjoy it a lot! The stories are each and individually great films in themselves. Anyway, seems like Indian cinema is finally dealing with the disease, no apologies, no falseties. Good to see that!


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