“AIDS Sutra:Untold Stories from India” with a touch of Bollywood

http://sajablogs.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451dd1469e20105361b738b970b-800wiFor time-pass I watch a lot of movies and I also read books.  I suppose it’s normal to find stories about films in books about India, since the film industry infiltrates the culture. Even in this anthology on the serious subject of AIDS,  I was able to find a bit of very uplifting Bollywood material.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India, a landmark collection of essays that presents a complex and gripping picture of the disease. Sixteen of India’s most well-known literary writers go on the road to tell the story of people affected by the epidemic and the stigma that surrounds them. “This book reveals the human side of the disease,” write Bill and Melinda Gates in their introduction to this groundbreaking anthology. (source)

Bhoot Ki Kahaanian by Jaspreet Singh references Taare Zameen Par (2007).







Return to Sonagachi by Sunil Gangopadhyay presented a delightful dilemma: where on earth do we hide the whisky?  I bet it was Johnnie Walker.  Read on to see how the dilemma reminded me a bit of Umrao Jaan (1981) and (2006):






Now here’s the Umrao Jaan-ish part:



See!  A poetry writing prostitute with a heart of gold, just like Umrao Jaan.


Love in the Time of Positives by Nalini Jones baghban00 describes how Baghban (2003), and in particular the part played by  Salman Khan, ended up saving someone’s life.

On the day he planned to die, he decided to spend his last afternoon at the movies. Basavaraj described the film he saw at great length-a family drama starring Amitabh Bachchan called Baghban. It is the story of loving parents who give everything they have to their son and look froward to a happy old age.  But their children have grown selfish, caught up in their own concerns, and the parents are left destitute until an unlikely saviour, a street boy the couple had adopted and educated, comes to their rescue.  Sitting alone in the theater, Basavaraj began to worry about this own parents. He realised he was their only son, their best hope for ‘a good old age’. He wanted to be like the adopted boy in the film, the only one who doesn’t forget what he owes his family.  Basavaraj went home, threw out the pills, pored away the alcohol, and cast himself as the unlikely saviour- the son who is secretly HIV positive. (source p.320)



So if you’ve seen Baghban, I suppose the credit would go to Salman Khan  for saving the life of Basavaraj! Who would have thought!?  I wonder if Salman-ji knows about this.


The Daughters of Yellamma by William Dalrymple includes an Amitabh Bachchan siting!  In some parts of India young girls are “married” or dedicated to the temple goddess as prostitutes.  Dalrymple interviews one of the women and she recalls the time she lived in Bombay:

I ate fabulous biryani at the Sagar Hotel and once when I was in the streets I saw Amitabh Bachchan pass by in his car. (p. 226)


As much as I enjoyed to Sunil Gangopadhyay’s piece, I enjoyed The Last of the Ustaads by Aman Sethi which both mentions and pays a great tribute to Gadar, Ek Prem Katha (2001).  Maybe I loved Sethi’s piece so much because Gadar is one of my favorite movies.


Questioning the plight of truck drivers in India and their higher tendency to have HIV than the general population, Sethi interviews a truck driver:

Is it just ‘modern life’? When finding answers to sudhcomplex questions in a country infested with faux holy men, one must turn to the sole oracle of truth—Bollywood super hit film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha(Gadar: A Love Story), Tara Singh the truck driver, played by trucker demigod Sunny Deol, is asked a poignant question by Partition refugee Sakina, played by Amisha Patel.  ‘Tara Singhji,’ she asks as sh expertly ties hi turban, ‘why don’t you get married?’ Tho this, Tara Singh shakes his turbaned head, and gives her an answer that made practically every truck driver in India nod his head approvingly and say ‘Wah!’ ‘Madamji,’ says Tara Singh, ‘I live in Khana Buddur; today my truck is parked here, but tomorrow I might  be in Delhi. After that why would anyone want to marry a truck driver?’ Thought the movie is set in 1947, Tara Singh’s question touches upon an issue that is relevant even today.  Truck drivers aren’t particularly discriminated against when it comes to marriage partners; but some of the younger drivers I spoke with said that finding partners was becoming harder and harder.  I watched Gadar on the recommendation of Sanjay and some of his friends Played out against the backdrop of the Partition riots in 1947 in the border states of India and Pakistan, Gadar tells the tale of how a heroic Jat-Sikh truck driver rescues a wealthy Muslim girl from a rampaging mob; wins her trust, marries her, rescues her once more–this time from her rampaging father–and finally settles down, in a happy ending. While several films have had their heroes careen up and down highways in trucks, the heroes. are rarely truck drivers;l the truck just happens to be the closest vehicle at had to make good their escape, rescue their lovers, or run over their enemies.  Gadar is perhaps the only mainstream hit in which the protagonist is a truck driver who proves to be a good husband, father, patriot, and all round nice guy.  Unfortunately, Gadar  too starts with Tara Singh accepting that fate has dealt him a poor hand by making him a truck driver.  He obligingly sings and dances and plays the part of the happy truck driver, but he understands the distance between him and the object of his desire.  As he says, ‘Even if I wanted to, I can’t touch the moon, can I?’ The rest of the plot is a story of redemption–of proving that truck drivers are honourable, powerful , and patriotic.  Why does truck driving lack izzat?  Why are truck drivers victims of negative stereotypes?  Is it class? Is it their association with a high-risk behavior group? Does, in fact, being categorised as  a high-risk group stigmatise them even further? From Gadar to their portrayal in the Indian press, truckers are regarded as rough and ready and reckless, dirty and dissolute.  Prone to drink, driving accidents–and now disease. (p. 306-7)

For more about the book,  read a review  from The Telegraph, Calcutta India, and another from The Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. Listen to the NPR Podcast on the book: ‘AIDS Sutra’ Challenges Widespread Denial In India’

Also, if you want to get filmy with it, here’s something else.

The AIDS Jaago (AIDS Awake) project is four short dramatic films which aim to dismantle myths and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. These films were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and made by acclaimed Indian filmmakers Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding; The Namesake), Vishal Bhardwaj, Santosh Sivan and Farhan Akhtar. Designed to use the immense power of moviemaking to wake people up about AIDS, the project was the brainchild of Mira Nair and was produced by her company Mirabai Films. (source)

Watch for Free on Jaman HERE

other Bollywood Movies on HIV

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12 thoughts on ““AIDS Sutra:Untold Stories from India” with a touch of Bollywood

  1. Vey interesting post. Sometimes people say that Bollywood movies don’t show the ‘real’ India, and that they are all about fantasy. That may or may not be true, but what I always remember when I am watching a movie is that the ‘real’ India has watched it too. Maybe it won’t show me what life is like for the majority of people there, but watching the movie itself is a very real part of their lives. And the movies will have changed them, as it shows in this book, just as they have changed me.

    • Joss-ji,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. :) I agree, there are always pieces that are more “real” and can be quite enlightening. Yes, I assume that most people in India don’t have huge spralling central staircases in their homes that are so often shown. :) I am also assuming that people who don’t live in the USA understand that shows that were so popular abroad, like Dallas or even the Simpson’s cartoon don’t represent ‘true’ American life, but do show some intersting slices of this life, even though silly and exaggerated. Indeed the impact of art on life is meaningful. Thanks for stopping in dost.

  2. Adab Sita-ji, and thank you for all the information and your fabulous commentary (as always) in this post. I’ve always admired how great it must be to be in a profession that facilitated such tangible impacts on society. All great examples! The specifics are troubling, all so sad, na? :'(

    • Nawab theBollywoodFan-ji,
      You are too kind, I merely sprinkled in a few sentences between the great authors’ works. Great point about how those in the industry must feel about their impact on society. Maybe the sad tale of AIDS in India is about to take a happier turn. Let’s hope so. With Bill and Melinda Gates in there it might help a bit.

  3. Lovely post. As one who grew up in India and has seen how movies do permeate daily life, I am still amazed at just how much influence cinema has on people and culture there! Thanks for the great summary of the book. It doesnt seem to be my ideal “time-pass” book though – too heartrending and real!

    • bollyviewer-ji,
      Thanks for stopping in. How wonderful that the movies do inflitrate daily life to bring some cheer and escape; I know they certainly do that for me. As far as “time-pass” that probably wasn’t the correct word to use, but as a culture vulture, I’m always trying to use the new Indian-English phrases I pick up in the movies….for time pass. :D Don’t let the serious subject scare you form the book though, it was indeed sad at times, but over all very interesting and has some threads of hope.

  4. Great finds, Sita-ji. Very informative and uplifting, and I hope Bollywood plays a stronger role in the area of HIV/AIDS awareness.

    • Daddy’s Girl-ji,
      Thanks for your comments, and looks like it’s already been done. Thanks to your question I went on a search and found the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation ALSO funded some AIDS films in India:

      The AIDS Jaago (“AIDS Awake”) project is four short dramatic films which aim to dismantle myths and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. These films were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and made by acclaimed Indian filmmakers Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding; The Namesake), Vishal Bhardwaj, Santosh Sivan and Farhan Akhtar. Designed to use the immense power of moviemaking to wake people up about AIDS, the project was the brainchild of Mira Nair and was produced by her company Mirabai Films. “We cannot underestimate the potential of film to change behavior and transform the world.” — Mira Nair

      You can watch for free at Jaman:


      And here’s another I found:

      “The Catholic Church in India has collaborated with Bollywood to make a commercial film highlighting the problem of Aids. The movie: Aisa Kyon Hota Hai (Why Does This Happen?), was released across the country on Friday. India has the world’s highest number of HIV-positive cases, after South Africa. More than five million have tested positive million according to official statistics. Father Dominic Emmanuel, who wrote the screenplay, said the Church is worried about the breakdown in inter-community relationship and the rapid spread of Aids in the country. Father Dominic said the church decided to spread their message through the popular medium of Bollywood because of its wide reach. “


      Thanks for asking! Now I’ll go in and amend the post with the Jaman link thanks to you.

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