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By : Piyush Roy, Sunday , October 07, 2007
Mira Nair’s AIDS JAAGO—a combination of four short films on AIDS-related cases from India also showcasing directors like Santosh Sivan, Vishal Bharadwaj, Farhan Akhtar—may have been courting news for its premiere at the recently concluded Toronto Film Festival, closer home, another director Sridhar Rangayan’s third film, 68 Pages, is doing the same—albeit quietly.
His film weaves together five empathetic Mumbai-based short stories revolving around AIDS victims from some of the marginalised sections of society like a sex worker, a transsexual bar dancer and a gay couple. The common thread is hope.
Rangayan, who had earlier made two films revolving around the Indian homosexual community including the critically acclaimed Gulabi Aaina (India’s first film on drag queens that made it to the official selection of over 30 international film festivals) says: “Though we have been making proposals to various bodies for the last two years for an advocacy film on the issue of AIDS amongst MSMs (men having sex with men/ homosexuals) and transgenders it didn’t progress beyond the concept note till a UK agency, DFID, chipped in early this year to produce it in association with the Humsafar Trust.”
Vivek Anand, executive producer and co-writer of 68 Pages—he is also CEO of Humsafar Trust—says: “We made it as a support to the National AIDS Control Programme Phase 3, which in its third and latest phase aims to focus on issues amongst homosexuals, transgenders, sex-workers and intravenous drug users, all of who find representation in the film.”
While three million people are estimated to be HIV positive in India today, according to the NSS 2005 survey, 7.5 per cent among MSMs, 8.5 per cent among sex-workers and 49 per cent among transgenders are reported to have tested positive, adds Anand.
68 Pages is based on real life experiences of Vrushali Deshmukh, a former counsellor with the Humsafar Trust. “She worked with us from 1999 to the fall of 2004 and handled over 6,000 cases involving MSMs and transgenders in Mumbai,” says Anand, adding, “And like her onscreen character Mansi, she too did go to the Columbia University to do her Masters in Public Health.”
Rangayan, who has for the first time opted for well-known faces from TV and theatre like Mouli Ganguly, Jayati Bhatia, Zafar Karachiwala and Joy Sengupta, says, “Known faces help in pushing an advocacy issue forward. We initially toyed with the idea of casting Smriti Irani or Mona Singh in the counsellor’s role because they are perceived as compassionate and strong characters, but then realised that their onscreen images of Tulsi and Jassi were too overbearing. So we zeroed in on Mouli Ganguly.”
Anand reveals that the entire cast and crew of 68 Pages worked at half their market prices for the film that was wrapped up in 11 days in Mumbai. “We made it at one per cent the budget of Salaam-e-Ishq and 10 perc ent of Bheja Fry,” says Rangayan.
Rangayan hopes the pre-release goodwill will contribute to him being third time lucky with the Indian Censor Board. Though internationally feted, both his previous films still await a censor certificate for an India screening. “We applied thrice with the board in Delhi for releasing my last film Yours Emotionally! But forget okaying it with a cut or two, they rejected it.”
Hopefully 68 Pages will have it better.
Preview for counselors at PSI September 22, 2007Posted by humsafar in 68 pages, counselors, MSM, PSI.
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“Thank you for the wonderful movie. Below is the feedback from our counselors and team members. We are glad to hear that it will be screened during trainings for SACS counselors. It is a good tool to reach out to a lot of people working in this field. I hope you will soon have the sub-titled version, so that we can have an opportunity to screen it to our team members in South India.”
~ Gopa Khan, PSI
This movie was screened for PSI’s Refresher training on Sept 6th , 2007 for over 25 VCT and Helpline counselors and other VCT staff members. The movie was well-received by the counselors and PSI staff. Everyone felt that it was an unusual and well made movie that provided a counselors perspective on how a counselor should ideally be non-judgemental and supportive of HIV Positive clients and be their advocate.
The key role played by “Mansi” Counselor and her perspective on her clients were shared by the PSI counselors. Most of them could relate to her role and felt it was their life being played out in the movie and the various challenges they faced with their clients.
The important aspect of the movie was how it brought characters and situations alive and made them “normal” and “real” for the general audience. Most of our clients who are CSW or transgendered clients face daily harassment and stigma and discrimination. Showing their daily lives with their families, their concerns for survival made counselors realize the challenges our clients face. The discrimination faced by “Payal” in the hospital by a nurse bought to the fore the challenges the clients face with the burden of being HIV Positive.
“Kiran” and his partners role was greatly appreciated by the counselors. Such movies help bring out sexuality issues in the open and remove the stigma associated with MSM clients. The breakdown in the relationship between the couple was well defined and the poignant moment when the counselor reveals “Kirans” HIV status and the counselor’s and the client’s grief in dealing with the unexpected test result.
The other touching episode was the role of the BMC sweeper, who was an unknown person, who succumbs to his illness and the guilt the counselor faced of being so close but not reaching out to the client before it was too late.
Humsafar’s effort to bring all these roles of people together is commendable and we all feel that such a movie will not only make a huge difference in counselors, health workers and in their approach in dealing with our clients with humanity but also bring about a sea-change in the general populations attitude towards a sex worker, a transgender or a MSM client. All the characters depicted in the film makes one realize that anyone can get infected –a sex worker , MSM , a sweeper or a person working in an MNC. If this point comes across to the general population, anyone into risk behaviour would be less complacent. We hope this movie will be screened to all healthworkers, doctors, counselors and the general population. An incredible movie much needed today.
Thank-you Humsafar for bringing out such a wonderful and strong movie with a message for all.