On the screen, a couple was getting married. A North Indian bride and South Indian groom. But the match-makers were absent. Dr. Suniti Solomon explained how her presence would raise questions. People would be uncomfortable, and ask why an AIDS doctor was at the wedding? It was best that she stay away to avoid stigma for the couple.

The notion of stigma came up a lot in the San Jose premiere screening of Lovesick (2018), which occurred at the Student Union Theater at the San Jose State University campus on Saturday, October 20 and was filled with the hubbub of a friends-and-family gathering. Posters of the microbiologist Dr. Suniti Solomon, on whose work the film was based, were emblazoned with the tagline: “In India, where marriage is a must but AIDS is unspeakable, how do you find love if you’re HIV+?” The screening of the film was an answer to this question. We learned that like other Indian matchmakers, Dr. Solomon would match by religion, education, and income; but she also matched by white blood cell counts (CD4) and viral loads.

(R to L): Ann Kim and Priya Giri Desai, co-editors of Lovesick.

The evening began with Vandana Kumar, publisher of India Currents, introducing the directors Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai prior to the screening. India Currents Editor Nirupama Vaidyanathan and Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain facilitated a Q&A session with directors Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai. To answer questions from the audience, Dr. Sunil Solomon, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University and the son of the late Dr. Solomon skyped in to talk about his mother.

(R to L): IC editor Nirupama Vaidyanathan and former editor Jaya Padmanabhan in conversation with Lovesick co-director Ann Kim. 

The stigma that continues to be associated with HIV came up several times in the evening. In 1986, when Dr. Solomon documented the first case of HIV in India among sex workers, AIDS was seen as a ‘dirty disease,’ associated with sex workers, drug addicts and homosexuals. Her work was questioned. Yet, she persevered, and is regarded as a pioneer in the field. In 2015, Dr. Solomon was posthumously awarded the Padma Shri medal by the Government for her contribution to science.

In April, Urvashi Pathania reviewed the film for India Currents and mentioned that “both Manu and Karthik are sweet and lovable, but there is a certain emphasis placed on the fact that neither was “to blame” for contracted HIV.” When posed with this question at the event, the film-makers related that those who come to the clinic are preponderantly housewives who have contracted AIDs. As the evening progressed, the knowledge of the audience continued to grow, as did the admiration for the unconventional and fearless doctor.

Our review had praised the film as “humorous, poignant and tender.” “The film is an homage to the remarkable Dr. Solomon, who passed away before the film was released… She understood the interconnectivity between human wellbeing and love — and all of its accoutrements, like desire and compassion — and her own love for others will always be remembered.”

India Currents is a media partner for Lovesick.

Geetika Pathania Jain is the Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

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