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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.