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Rocky reception for India AIDS film

Some jeer the country's first big movie on the topic and others walk out, unhappy to see top stars in unusual roles.

August 28, 2004|From Associated Press

BOMBAY, India — India's first mainstream movie that tackles AIDS opened worldwide Friday, with the film's creators expressing hopes that it can help end the stigma surrounding the disease.

But some fans who watched the first showing in Bombay theaters booed and heckled, objecting to one of their movie heroes -- Salman Khan -- portraying a person with AIDS. Several people left after finding out what the movie was about.

"Phir Milenge," or "We'll Meet Again," is a departure for India's prolific film industry, Bollywood, which is best known for its sugarcoated romances and thrillers.

Indian movie stars Khan and Shilpa Shetty portray HIV-infected characters jolted out of their normal lives to fight discrimination in society.

India has 5.1 million HIV-positive people, the world's second-highest number of infections after South Africa, and international health experts say infections could skyrocket if more isn't done to combat the spread of the virus.

Many in India are reluctant to talk about AIDS and prevention because of societal taboos about discussing sex. HIV/AIDS sufferers in India often face discrimination, and local media has reported widely on schools and hospitals that turn away HIV-positive people.

In Bombay, where shows featuring top stars usually sell out days before a release, tickets were still available at theaters before the first show began.

In a couple of Bombay theaters, there were hoots and catcalls when Khan was shown fighting for his life in a hospital. Some people left -- apparently unable to digest their favorite actor suffering from AIDS.

"I didn't realize the movie was about AIDS or I wouldn't have brought my kids," said Nisha Mehta, accompanied by three children ages 6 through 10, who left before the movie ended.

But engineering student Ali Amin, 20, said more such films were needed.

"The subject was handled well. It's high time we begin changing our attitudes," he said. "The movie shows it's not just illiterates, but also the educated who don't have a clue about AIDS."

Kenneth Andersen, the head of UNAIDS in India, said this week that the organization would help promote the movie in Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

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