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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 01:35 GMT
HIV message Bollywood-style
By Jane Elliott
BBC News Online Health Staff

Karamjeet Ballagan
The film hopes to raise awareness of HIV
Fears about the rising HIV infection rates in Asia prompted one Birmingham health worker to make a mini Bollywood film.

And now Karamjeet Ballagan's film is set to tour the villages of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to help educate the population there.

Ek Pal, Hindi for 'One Moment' (of regret) tells the story of a young married Indian man who discovers he has HIV, and the shame he and his family feel.

Through music, the film, in true Bollywood tradition, tells of love, tragedy and guilt.

Prejudice

Karamjeet explained that she had found a huge amount of denial and ignorance among Birmingham's Asian community, who were reluctant to accept that Aids/HIV could affect them.

Conferences, leaflets and meetings had failed to attract a response from the local community, particularly the women. So Karamjeet decided the only way she could change prejudices was by getting the community leaders on board and taking to the silver screen.

The leaders of the spiritual community were saying to them that we did not have those sort of problems
Karamjeet Ballagan

"One of the reasons we went ahead was because Asians were totally in denial. They did not believe that HIV could affect them, and I was worried that we were going to end up with very high infection rates like in Africa.

"Figures in India are rapidly rising, making some kind of action necessary.

"People were too embarrassed to attend the meetings we had and the leaders of the spiritual community were saying to them that we did not have those sort of problems.

"They wanted to sweep them under the carpet, but when we presented the leaders with statistics they became more understanding."

Success

Karamjeet and her team realised that the best way to get their message through to the Asian community would be to set their film in India and base it on the very popular Bollywood genre.

All the cast were prominent Indian soap stars who mostly gave their services for free.

And Bollywood's most famous singer Kumar Sanu agreed to record the sound track.

The film, although provocative, has been a great success and because it had been endorsed by the community leaders in Birmingham, was acceptable to all to see.

"They were all watching the film and the drama was helping us to get the message across. But until we start to normalise the process of HIV it will be hard for people to show any attention.

"This is a way for people to identify with HIV."

The Naz Foundation, an international HIV/Aids and sexual health technical support agency working in South Asia, said it was delighted that the subject was being tackled.

Spokesman Shivananda Khan said it was important the HIV message was broadcast to as many people as possible.

"We need to have more education. Education and awareness is a necessity.

"It is horrifying what is going on. The more efforts that are being made to educate people the better it will be."


SEE ALSO:
Aids warning for Bangladesh police
20 Aug 03  |  South Asia
Threat to Cuba's Aids success
15 Aug 03  |  Americas
'Don't send me to my death'
07 Aug 03  |  Health


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