(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
68 Pages (directed by Sridhar Rangayan) is a mid length feature about the lives of 5 HIV+ people from various social backgrounds as seen through the eyes of a counselor.
For all its good intentions, it reeks of a low budget amateur film with uneasy close-ups of characters with bad makeup, stilted dialogue and a tacky background score. Given that form is the vehicle of content, it might just have helped to take the film an extra mile to those who are not eagerly awaiting word on social ‘issues’.
That regret aside, the content itself is substantial and researched. There are a number of important points being made about social and moral discrimination that marginalizes certain practices and choices, forcing them to exist in dark corners where the risk of disease looms large. The side effect of skimming over innumerable issues like the closure of dance bars, middle class hypocrisy, plight of sex workers, stigma associated with disease and personal betrayal and loss, is that the film is left with no time to get to the heart of any one matter. Eventually it settles down in an uncomfortable place between a personal story about human frailties and triumphs and a ‘message-cum-information’ film succeeding only partially as both.
There is no denying that AIDS awareness is still largely an unaccomplished project in India but curiously most efforts in this direction stop at the cursory ‘wear condoms, avoid drugs and do not discriminate’ message. At a distance from the truth, it continues to be seen as a gay/prostitute/druggie illness. If one was to get tested, they would realize how even the best of doctors end up providing sketchy and even contradictory information about testing methods, results, risks etc.
The film is being showcased as part of the gay pride month across the country. Arguably HIV is marginally a bigger concern for the gay community and the illness adds to the greater stigma associated with different sexual orientation. But while no one is debating against a life of dignity for all, ‘pride’ has a slightly different shade of meaning. It entails taking a step further than fighting for fundamental rights- a step in the direction of celebrating who one is. The community has its task cut out in struggling against dated social and legal mores for the rest of the year. Maybe this one month, they should damn it all and revel in the thrill and discovery of the unique perspective and being they are gifted with-irrespective of who is approving and who not.