Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My Brother Nikhil

It has a been a long fortnight. Longer still without a regular internet connection to the rest of the galaxy. Much longer with the frenzied heatwave that has continued unabated. Imagine, for a moment, starting the day with warm toothpaste. When perspiration overtakes inspiration, one is better left alone. It was in this frame of mind that I arrived at my local DVD shop armed with a credit card and absolutely no idea of what to pick up. As Vin Diesel and Arnold are not particularly high on my list of priorities, I gravitated towards the alphabetically arranged Hindi section. There, between Mere Mehboob and Mrityudaad was a sole copy of My Brother Nikhil. A month before, every gay man (and some women) with my email address had forwarded some kind of review of the film. I am wary of Bollywood's flirtation with gay issues including some half baked ventures like Bombay Boys and Fire. I dutifully bought a copy of MBN, but decided that its viewing priority was a notch below the rest of my selection, which included The Interpreter, Kinsey and (gasp) Swades. I was mistaken.

My Brother Nikhil is primarily a film about being HIV+. The film is set in the late 1980s when AIDS awareness was at an all time low- it is still perilously low in South Asia. Nikhil Kapoor (admirably played by Sanjay Suri) is an Alpha Male, destined for success. He is a swimming champion egged on by his pushy father (Victor Bannerjee). Mother (brilliantly portrayed by Lillete Dubey) is cast in the classic mould of the South Asian Mom unable to resolve her own issues with her husband-. ("I love you son, but do I have what it takes to tackle your father head on?) A chirpy Juhi Chawla is cast as Nikhil's sister. The film is set in documentary mould with flashbacks from Nikhil's life as seen through the eyes of his friends and familiy. Goa (as always) provides an exotic background.

The HIV theme is predictably handled. Yes, there is horrible discrimination and ignorance and a lack of subtlety about HIV in this part of the world. My Brother Nikhil does a reasonable job of conveying the private and public torment of coping with contagion in an highly unsympathetic environment. Let's not get totally carried away with all of this, however. There are high levels of concern in India and Pakistan on issues involving disability and disease. The perception problem with HIV/AIDS stems from the stigma that arises from the fact that most people assume it as being derivative of (in a word) S-E-X. The Pakistan designer scene and the charity czars are willing to jump onto any bandwagon. Eyes, kidneys, livers and cancer are "respectable" causes. They have given AIDS a miss, however. Why? Because it has to do with Sex. Gay Sex, sometimes. Prostitutes. (I refuse to call them "sex workers.") And that's just not dinner table conversation.

But I digress. Back to the film. My Brother Nikhil goes a step further. I had correctly assumed that the film would fudge the issue of how Nikhil became HIV positive. It doesn't exactly answer that question, but halfway through one of Nikhil's "friends" Nigel is shown to be far more than just a friend. They are actually lovers. I was momentarily dismayed. This was going to be another well intentioned hatchet job on homosexuality. My first reaction was to note how stilted the interaction was among the gay couple. On later reflection, this was not correct. It is probably how most young gay men would react when their intensely private relationship becomes visible to the world at large and (more importantly) to their incredibly callous and self-involved parents. It would be out of character for South Asian gay men to go into therapy (assuming this was available at all) in this situation. Suddenly my assessment of stiltedness was out of the window. MBN strolls perilously through scenes which the local censor boards would not approve of. In one telling moment the lovers superimpose their paint daubed handprints over each other as an alternative to the physicality that would normally have accompanied such intimacy. MBN is not a perfect film but it grapples more successfully (and bravely) with issues than previous efforts in this direction. And it must be lauded for that.


Blogger J said...

Awesome movie. I cried the entire last 20 minutes of the film while he was dying.

8:21 pm  
Blogger s said...

oh thanks for revealing the end, jon!!

6:04 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Hi Guys. Yes S, but I think I almost gave the ending away when I said that there are no happy endings in HIV based films. I tried getting my friends to watch it but I gather its playing unofficially on the Karachi cable circuit. So there are healthy doses of South Asian homosexuality piping into nice comfortable middle class homes as I write.

12:51 pm  

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