Patient Zero

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a846ae08f180e01c1a69bbf16ec2f235-2MY BROTHER NIKHIL. Director: Onir. Juhi Chawla, Sanjay Suri, Victor Bannerjee, Lillete Dubey, Purab Kohli. DVD (Elite) 2005.

Very few first-time filmmakers have been able to achieve what Kolkata-based Anirban Dhan (who prefers to go by his stage name Onir) does with My Brother Nikhil. Set in the 1980s along the azure Goa coast, this unassuming, small-budget (but not small-minded) entry serves up a remarkable portrait of a poz gay man’s struggle to find acceptance at a time when those with AIDS in India were treated with fear and hostility.

Based on a true story, the titular Nikhil’s fictional tale is a chilling reminder of what India’s mythical Patient Zero may have confronted. Canvassed together by docu-style first-person interviews interspersed with flashbacks, My Brother Nikhil follows the life of Nikhil Kapoor (Suri), a handsome aquatics champ whose carefree, beachcombing life is thrown off course on a warm night in 1989 when he is arrested.

What makes My Brother Nikhil gel are some savvy performances. Besides looking dreamy in a Speedo, Suri’s Nikhil is a remarkable character study of courage under the duress of forced transition from athletic hero to pariah to a champion of a different sort. Chawla, as Nikhil’s supportive sister Anamika Kapoor, is highly commendable, while Bannerjee, as a father quick to jump to (the wrong) conclusions, is noteworthy.

What truly sets My Brother Nikhil apart is the script’s natural acceptance of Nikhil as a gay man. He braves ostracism (Goa in the 1980s was not the Day-Glo happening place it is now) when he shacks up with his male lover Nigel De Costa (Kohli). Onir powerfully depicts Nikhil and Nigel as being highly intimate without being overtly sexual, while focusing on their commitment to each other. But for the inconvenience of AIDS, this couple might as well be picking out Corningware patterns.

Elite’s sharp DVD transfer boasts English subtitles, deleted scenes (as good as the main feature), and a knockout making-of short that features the stars discussing India vs. Homosexuality 101. The Pandora’s Box of the subject of gays and AIDS has been thrown open with a thunderous clap. May it never shut again.

—Aniruddh Chawda

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