November 29, 2007 / 8:46 AM / 12 years ago

Bollywood shorts on AIDS to get YouTube release

By Tony Tharakan

PANAJI, India, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Four short films made by top Bollywood directors to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS in India are slated to be released on the video-sharing Web site YouTube in February after making their debut on local television.

The 18-minute creations of Mira Nair, Santosh Sivan, Farhan Akhtar and Vishal Bhardwaj will also be shown at a screening planned for federal lawmakers on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

"The YouTube release will happen in February after we get over with screenings on TV," producer Shernaz Italia said.

"There is going to be a huge television blitz and we hope to collaborate with theatres on special screenings for school and college students." NGOs will be allowed to make copies, she said.

India has the world’s third biggest caseload of people living with HIV/AIDS and discrimination against patients is rampant.

The low-budget shorts, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will also be screened at Indian theatres before full-length Bollywood films.

"The films were made with a view that people will watch them, to have a Bollywood flavour," Italia said. "AIDS is the focus, whether it deals with the stigma or how they get AIDS."

Collectively named "AIDS Jaago" (AIDS Awake), the films were screened for the first time at the 38th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa this week.

Prabhudeva, Irrfan Khan, Shabana Azmi, Shiney Ahuja and other well-known actors feature in the films but Italia said she was disappointed at the lack of support from other A-list stars.

"We wanted to get several high-profile actors but very few wanted to be associated with AIDS," Italia said.

The project is the brainchild of "The Namesake" director Nair whose film, "Migration", deals with AIDS as a leveller of social classes and weaves stories from rural and urban India.

Bhardwaj’s "Blood Brothers" is about a young man whose life falls apart after being diagnosed HIV-positive. Akhtar’s "Positive" shows how a family copes when the father is at the last stage of the disease.

Sivan’s Kannada-language film "Prarambha" (The Beginning) explores how society deals with those infected through the story of a school that expelled an HIV-positive student.

According to the latest U.N. figures on AIDS, the global prevalence of HIV/AIDS has levelled off, in part due to effective HIV programs. After originally estimating some 5.7 million were infected in India, the U.N. reduced that estimate to 2.5 million.

AIDS activists say lack of awareness and widespread stigma and discrimination have contributed to paranoia about the virus, although India reported its first case more than 20 years ago.

Surveys have shown that many people, including some federal lawmakers, believe that a person can get HIV by shaking hands with an infected person.

In recent years, Bollywood has made two full-length movies on HIV/AIDS. Neither was a commercial success. (Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Miral Fahmy)

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