kIf you’re looking to add some classic queer films to your watch-list, then a worthy candidate is the iconic Indian AIDS drama, My Brother Nikhil.
The 2005 film – directed by Onir and staring Sanjay Suri, Juhi Chawla, Victor Bannerjee and Lillete Dubey – is based on the true story of the life of Goa-based swimmer and gay man Dominic d’Souza. The film focuses on the period 1987 to 1994, when d’Souza acquired HIV. He was rejected by his family and most of his friends, and kept in forced isolation by law.
This tearjerker was an instant hit worldwide and was a pathway to a new wave of Queer Indian cinema at a time when it was a criminal act to have gay sex. The law was bought down finally in 2018, fourteen years after this film classic was released.
For LGBTQ South Asian communities, it’s vitally important to see people like us, navigating the same problems we must as Queer South Asians finding new ways to live our lives.
Is HIV still an issue?
“There is a misguided perception that it is a western disease, and affects western/white people..." explains Gus Cairns at HIV information Charity NAM. "This is just wrong, and damaging on so many levels. So we need to come together and get the conversation going, start educating, and enable members of our community to access information, support and choices to manage sexual health and well-being.”
So why is it important for us to self-organise to raise awareness, to support our own and to make a demand that more must be done?
“We need events that provide a sense of belonging, of community, and a space where members who may be HIV+ are not alone…” says Rita from Club Kali. “We also need for those who haven’t considered being tested to start a dialogue. Also, above all, to break open the taboos around HIV.”
Naz Project London set up #SholayLove funded by the Public Health Innovation Fund targeting South Asian (SA) men who have sex with men (MSM) to raise awareness on HIV and STIs and encourage testing.
“So much of the work needed in our communities is work that understands our cultures and the myriad reasons why we may not be accessing the services we need.” explains Josh Rivers, Director of Communication at Naz Project London. “We hope that by helping facilitate conversations and testing opportunities in spaces designed with us in mind, that we can continue to empower BAME communities to take charge of their sexual health.”
Although our understanding, treatment, and prevention of HIV has improved dramatically in recent years, sexual health issues can still lead to isolation, rejection from family and our community, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and increased mental health issues. Shame stops us talking about it. Funding needs to be found to create and support more safe spaces to enable discussion.
GIN – the Gay Indian Network, a support and social group for LGBTQ South Asians – runs a monthly Health and Wellbeing Group safe space for open conversations to take place.
“Our members can share their experiences of being LGBT in tightly integrated Indian communities, the trauma of coming out to families that are religious and often deeply conservative, often followed up by exclusion from important social events…” explains Mayank Joshi, who set up GIN. “They can also talk about the challenges of navigating the gay scene as queer people of colour – challenges that lead to feelings of isolation, acute shame, and loneliness.”
Watching My Brother Nikhil is a good starting point to remind ourselves how far we've come, and of the challenges still being faced.