UN lauds Revathy for tackling AIDS
Actress-director Revathy Menon and Bollywood have won praise from the UN for taking the AIDS epidemic head-on in a new film starring Salman Khan, Shilpa Shetty and Abhishek Bachchan.
"For the first time ever, a mainstream Bollywood Hindi film 'Phir Milenge (We'll Meet Again)', has placed AIDS at the heart of its story line," the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS said.
"When Bollywood, one of the world's largest film industries with massive audiences, produces a film about AIDS, everyone has to sit up and take notice," said Peter Piot, the programme's executive director.
"It is extremely significant that Bollywood is joining the struggle against the epidemic and helping to break the silence that surrounds HIV and AIDS. We applaud the making of this film."
The UN agency said Bollywood produces some 800 films a year and on any given day 15 million Indians watch them.
Directed by Revathy, "Phir Milenge" is about a successful career woman, Tamanna (Shilpa Shetty), who works for an advertising agency. At a school reunion, she meets Rohit (Saman Khan), on whom she had a schoolgirl crush.
They spend time together, fall in love and have sex. They then part company, promising to meet again. But after going their separate ways, Tamanna discovers that she is HIV-positive and tries to contact Rohit in vain.
As a result of her diagnosis, she loses her job and fights for justice with the help of Tarun (Abhishek Bachchan).
Rohit, meanwhile, too discovers he has AIDS and returns, hoping he has not infected Tamanna. After a number of setbacks, Tamanna eventually triumphs in court as Rohit succumbs to the virus.
The film thus touches the ignorance, fear, stigma and discrimination associated with AIDS in the workplace and the use of courts to right wrongs committed against those living with the disease.
"People are dying or getting infected every minute of every day and I hope this film will highlight what we are up against in India today," Revathy said.
"I think it is vital to both confront injustice and help people get access to treatment."
"It is up to all of us to challenge the stigma and I hope I've played my part by taking on the role of Rohit when some other actors were perhaps a little reluctant," said Salman Khan.
"The film says it can happen to anyone," he said.
An estimated 5.1 million Indians are living with AIDS, the highest number in a single country outside South Africa, said the UN agency.
"I think I have managed to make a really sensitive, moving groundbreaking film about one woman coming to terms with HIV," said Shilpa Shetty. "I had tears in my eyes when I saw the final film. I think we've done a good job."
Abhishek Bachchan said he wanted the film to be an eye-opener. "We must take the threat of AIDS more seriously and become more active in trying to combat it. That means everyone -- from the man and woman in the street to the highest levels of power."
A Sahara Manoranjan production, "Phir Milenge" premieres in Mumbai Thursday and is scheduled for worldwide release the next day.