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Mira Nair Takes AIDS Message to Indian Cinema Halls

Indian American film director Mira Nair has joined India's top directors in a project to show short films on the impact of the Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) before the screening of Bollywood blockbusters.

Nair said she got the idea of this collaboration of filmmakers to raise awareness about the disease from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is funding the project, according to USINFO, a US government website.

A foundation representative contacted Nair and presented "the startling statistic that if we don't control what's happening in India in terms of the lack of awareness and stigma and other things associated with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)," the magnitude of India's AIDS epidemic could equal that of Africa in a few years.

The director, who now lives in Uganda, knows the problem firsthand. Figures of a 2006 UN study show that 72 percent of the 2.6 million global AIDS deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa with devastating socio-economic impact.

She wants to use the "immense power" of Indian cinema to "wake people up about AIDS." She calls project AIDS Jaago, or "awake" in Hindi.

"I proposed that I would get together the most cutting-edge, commercial, populist film directors from different regions of India, who would each use iconic movie stars who are recognized in our country, who would each make a dramatic tale of 15 minutes in length," she said.

Nair assigned one AIDS topic to each director, "and then they had the freedom to do what they needed to do," she said. Nair herself is well known and respected for her directorial ventures like "Salaam Bombay", "Monsoon Wedding" and the most recent, "The Namesake".

She assembled impressive talent for the four films. "I chose the directors I most admire," she told USINFO. Director Vishal Bhardwaj's film "Blood Brothers" is about the psychological impact of the infection and "living positively w ith it," Nair said.

Santosh Sivan, a South Indian director who received international acclaim for his 1998 film "The Terrorist", focuses on the stigma of AIDS with the true story of a small boy who was barred from school because his parents were HIV positive.

Farhan Akhtar, "a wunderkind of the new Bollywood," currently is shooting a film about the need to be open about the subject of sex education and HIV/AIDS.

Nair herself directed a film called "Migration", "about the virus as the great class leveller that links rural, urban, upper class, working class, migrant labour," she said.

Actors like Irfan Khan, Siddharth and South Indian idol Prabhu Deva have been cast in the films. Up and coming stars Samira Reddy, Shiney Ahuja and Reema Sen also appear in the movies.

Nair said she hopes that by the end of the year, the films will be screened in cinema halls in India and elsewhere. "They can really translate anywhere, China, Africa, anywhere," she said, adding, "If these four films succeed, then next year we can get another four directors" to do another series.


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