Nothing can be more tragic than discrimination against children: Onir, Filmmaker

Nothing can be more tragic than discrimination against children: Onir, Filmmaker

It’s Zero Discrimination Day today. First launched on World AIDS Day in December 2013, and observed on March 1 every year by the United Nations and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV & AIDS (UNAIDS), the day celebrates the right of everyone to live a full and productive life with dignity and equality before the law and in practice.

This month also sees 15 years to the release of My Brother... Nikhil. Starring Sanjay Suri, Juhi Chawla and Purab Kohli, the movie was based on the true story of Dominic D'Souza, an Indian AIDS activist who was patient zero for the virus in Goa. In 1989, was quarantined and illegally kept in isolation in a tuberculosis sanatorium for 64 days. As the film celebrates its anniversary on March 25, we got its director Onir to reminisce about the first mainstream Bollywood movie to tackle the subject of discrimination against people suffering from HIV/AIDS as well as alternative sexuality.


At the onset, Onir admits that My Brother... Nikhil will always be special to him, as it was his fifth script and until that point, it was just his dream to become a filmmaker. "What inspired me to make the film was the story of Dominic D'Souza. I had read about him and seen newspaper clippings and I always felt the need to tell that story. When I look back, I'm glad it was my first film because it gave me a certain identity. Even 15 years later, the film is screened by many NGOs when they want to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS or even discussions around sexuality.

Though Dominic's story dates back to 1989 and the movie released in 2005, Onir points out that the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS exists to this day. "Things in India have changed only theoretically, in terms of acceptance. I know people who are HIV+ve and are open about it. I make it a point to work with some of them. But it's not easy," he admits. However, the filmmaker adds that like with everything else, there is a movement to make things better since we are not a stagnant society. "That being said, our society is so divided. When you belong to a certain class, these things are relatively easier to deal with. But, when you are from a different stratum, women are thrown out of the house and children are abandoned," he states.

A still from 'My Brother... Nikhil'

For Onir, it's this question of acceptance that's the most heart-wrenching aspect of not only Dominic's story but anyone facing discrimination. In his project, the protagonist lost his family’s love, which was so unwavering before they were faced with his reality. "Be it anything, what always bothers me is where does all this hatred for the other come from. And how can you not have compassion for someone who is suffering so much, for whatever reason? Especially when there is so much awareness about HIV does not spread through casual contact. Despite that, if there’s so much discrimination, it’s not acceptable,” he emphasises.

While discrimination against anyone is undesirable, Onir asserts, “It is extremely unfair when children are subjected to discrimination, especially because of misinformation. Nothing can be more tragic than that. The child has to go through so many layers of trauma —  contracting the infection from the mother's womb, being abandoned or orphaned or then, the family becomes so micro — it's just the mother, the father and the child."

In Onir's opinion, the drive to create awareness against HIV/AIDS has lost steam in the past few years. "For the sake of the younger generation, one cannot afford to let that happen. Especially in schools," he signs off.


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