MIRA NAIR’S AIDS JAAGO URGES AUDIENCES TO ‘WAKE UP’ TO THE REALITY OF AIDS
Mon Dec 17,2007
Using the Power of Cinema to Spread the Message
Dubai, December 12, 2007: Acclaimed Indian director Mira Nair discussed AIDS Jaago, her latest cinema project in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) today.
In the company of South Indian star Ramya, Bollywood celebrity Raima Sen, producer Shernaz Italia and DIFF programmer Uma da Cunha, Nair outlined her vision for the project: “We wanted to make ‘chaalu’ films—street-wise, savvy films that will appeal to the people.” She explained that ‘jaago’ means ‘awake’ in Hindi, and the films were meant to educate audiences about the growing problem of HIV/AIDS in India.
The project began a year and a half ago, when the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in India visited Nair with the idea of making a film about HIV/AIDS. He stressed the alarming statistics in India forecast that without further action, HIV/AIDS could rise to pandemic proportions.
The conversation was an ‘awakening’ for Nair: “I spend half the year in Uganda and I have lost a third of my intellectual and social community there to AIDS.” Having had great success with her participation in the 9/11 short film collection 11’09”01, Nair proposed a similar idea, and AIDS Jaago was born.
Nair asked four of her favourite cutting edge commercial directors to make a short film. She explained the directors’ brief: “One, complete freedom, with the only limitation being that we shouldn’t repeat ourselves. I chose the theme of the virus being the great leveler. It knows no boundaries and no class. Vishal Bhardwaj chose the theme of living positively with AIDS, Santosh [Sivan] told a wonderful true story of stigma, and Farhan [Akhtar] chose the impact of the virus on a middle-class Indian family. The second point was not to make cinema feel like homework, or some workshop on public health, and third to use recognizable movie stars in each and every role, no matter how small.”
Nair explained the use of recognizable stars: “Cinema is almost one of our temples. Our actors and actresses have always been in a way like gods and goddesses. That is why I wanted to use these actors to convey the message, because this is what would speak to the people.”
Both actresses present at DIFF jumped at the chance to play roles that could potentially have been injurious to their reputations. Ramya explained: “South India is more conservative. I didn’t know at first that I had to play a sex worker. I’d always been a girl next door who marries the hero. But as long as the message gets across to the people, then my role doesn’t matter.” Raima Sen concurred, saying that she had been eager to work with Nair and to be part of something socially relevant.
The film officially opened on December 1, World AIDS day. Since then, the films have enjoyed wide release on television to very popular reception, even on rival channels, and will soon be dubbed into regional languages. Each of the four directors has pledged to use their film as a preamble to their next commercial DVD, and Nair hopes to make another series of four short films that can be combined with the previous films to be released as a feature.
DIFF programmer Uma da Cunha anticipates that other filmmakers will follow Nair in creating ensembles of shorts to represent causes, themes and ideas of importance to them.
The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) was launched in December 2004 under the theme: Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds.
DIFF is held under the honorary Chairmanship of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum. DIFF is a not-for-profit cultural event, presented and organised by the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority.
As the previous editions of DIFF have demonstrated, the Festival not only presents cinematic excellence from around the world, but is also an important high-profile platform for aspiring home-grown talent.
“Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds,” has been hailed by all as a unique and relevant theme to promote better understanding and mutual respect between different communities and countries.
Since its inception, DIFF has become an important meeting point for international and regional filmmakers and industry professionals setting the foundation for potential future collaborations.
The past three editions of DIFF have presented more than 250 films, documentaries and shorts from more than 48 countries.
In 2006 the festival took place at the magnificent Madinat Jumeirah resort. As a further commitment of DIFF’s endeavours to facilitate greater opportunities for regional Arab talent, the Muhr Awards was launched. Another first for DIFF in 2006 was the setting up of the Industry Office, which was established with a view to exclusively assist the needs of all registered delegates.
The fourth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival will take place from December 9-16 and will present the best of Arab and international cinema in the feature film, shorts and documentary formats. Building on the success of last year, DIFF 2007 will also host the Muhr Awards and the Industry Office with new features.
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