PANAJI: Forget those drab, dreary documentaries on the AIDS epidemic. Four of India's finest filmmakers have put their individualistic stamps on four short fiction films that travel into the very heart of the human dimensions of the deadly epidemic. And do these films connect? You bet they do.
The response of the audience to the four films at the 38th International Film Festival of India Tuesday was just as overwhelming as the impact that these films had on a completely different gathering at the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival held in September.
Mira Nair, Vishal Bhardwaj, Farhan Akhtar and Santosh Sivan have directed the four short stories, highlighting different aspects of the HIV epidemic in India and clubbed together under the title "AIDS Jaago".
Screened here in the run-up to World AIDS Day on Dec 1, the films will be shown in movie halls around the country before full-length features.
In Mira Nair's words, the idea is to tap into the Indian craze for movies to spread awareness about AIDS through films that entertain even as they educate. "I therefore opted for three of my favourite Indian directors to team up with me and we roped in known Indian movie stars," she said.
Each film in the "AIDS Jaago" series, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has a distinct style and rhythm, but all of them make for uniformly riveting viewing. Especially outstanding is Sivan's Kannada-language "Prarambha" (The Beginning).
With a cast headed by B. Saroja Devi and Prabhu Deva, the lively and utterly unpretentious "Prarambha" is about of a truck driver who finds a runaway boy hiding in his vehicle. The latter has been expelled from school because he is suspected to be HIV positive. The truck driver takes it upon himself to get the boy back into school.
Nair's segment, "Migration", starring Shiney Ahuja, Irrfan Khan, Raima Sen and Sameera Reddy, addresses the fate of a migrant worker who has an affair with the bored wife of closet homosexual. The dalliance has tragic repercussions -- the migrant worker's wife and newborn child back in his village test positive for HIV.
Vishal Bhardwaj's "Blood Brothers", featuring Siddharth, Ayesha Takia and Pankaj Kapur, adopts a thriller-like approach to narrate the tale of a man who allows his life to hit the skids when he, in a case of mistaken identity, is handed an HIV positive report by a diagnostic clinic. When he finally tracks down the man that he has been confused with, he discovers an individual who lives life to the lees despite being aware of his medical condition.
Perhaps, the least engaging of the four films (but strictly in comparative terms) is Farhan Akhtar's cinematic essay, "Positive...". It is about a young man, exasperated with his father's philandering ways, who leaves for South Africa to study photography only to return, at his mother's behest, to be by the side of the HIV-infected, terminally ill old man. With actors of the calibre of Boman Irani and Shabana Azmi holding it together, the film gets its point across despite its verbosity.