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AIDS film storms small town in Karnataka
India has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world next only to Africa. It is estimated that around 2.4 million people in India are living with HIV. Karnataka is one of the six high risk states that need immediate intervention.
UNFORTUNATELY THERE is not much awareness about HIV/AIDS and the people who are affected by it. The most affected are the four high risk groups – female sex workers, injecting drug users, MSM and transgenders. The Union Health minister of India said recently at the World AIDS Conference in Mexico, “We have to contain the epidemic within these communities immediately”. 

In the wake of this, the film 68 Pages becomes all the more important, ringing in a sense of hope amidst the gloomy scenario. Its message that one can continue to lead a happy, productive and fulfilling life even after being diagnosed HIV positive provides a healing touch, not only to the gay and transgender men but to other marginalised communities as well. 

Subverting the Bollywood film genre of song-dance and high drama, the film ‘68 Pages’ places center stage characters ignored by Bollywood - a transsexual bar dancer, a prostitute, a gay couple - to tell their stories of pain and trauma, of happiness and hope, about being HIV+ and marginalised. A searingly honest film about five lives marked by pain and bound by hope - in 68 Pages of a counselor’s diary.

The film which premiered at the International Film Festival of Kerala and has been screened in USA, Canada, Germany and Poland has won the Silver Remi award at Worldfest Houston in USA. The film continues to connect, communicate and change lives as its screens at cities and small towns all over India and the world. As part of the ‘Sang mere’ tour sponsored by HIVOS, the film has had more than 120 screenings in the past few months. 

Reaching even to small cities like Mandya, where it screened last week to a packed hall of over 600 people, it not only drew appreciation but also a long discussion about the issues in the film. Speaking at the screening Manjunath Prasad, project director, Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society (KSAPS), urged people to be aware and advocate on these issues. He said it is very important that people in even small towns understand that HIV is not an epidemic restricted to cities and they too should take care. 

“I was overwhelmed by the screening in my home town”, says Sridhar Rangayan, the director of the film who was born in Mandya. “In such a conservative town, it was encouraging to see so many people in the audience willing to listen and discuss. Especially when the film screened at the local PES college, the girl students were even bold enough to ask about homosexuality and gender issues. I think it is necessary to awaken and question dogmatic beliefs and value systems”, says Rangayan.

The screening in Bangalore was hosted by Pedestrian Pictures, Good as You and Alternative Law Forum alongwith the film ‘Love in the times of AIDS’ by Deepa Dhanraj in a double bill of queer films that intended to create awareness about homosexuals and the AIDS epidemic.

He hoped that the film raised social conscience about people living with HIV and removing stigma and discrimination. “I hope that this will become a movement to mainstream and integrate sexual minorities,” Rangayan opined.
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