PeopleIn a joint initiative, college students and transgenders make a short-film called “Nambikkai” that highlights discrimination HIV-positive people face. Akila Kannadasan reports

“Vivek, why aren't you having tea? Having issues with your budget?” teases Shilpa. “Nope, I'm on a diet!” comes the reply. The group at the coffee table breaks into laughter. There are more jokes, more laughter. Tea and puffs are passed around. They talk about Vivek's higher studies and his plans for the future.

Shilpa and Vivekananth share an easy camaraderie, thanks to the short-film “Nambikkai”. It all started when 20-year-old Vivekananth, a Bio-Technology student of Sri Krishna College of Arts and Science decided to make a short-film about the stigma HIV-positive people faced in society.

Having staged several street-plays about the issue as part of his college's NSS activities, Vivek sought to take it up a notch. “I wanted to spread the message through the visual media,” he says. He wrote a script and gathered a team of 15 like-minded students. Two transgenders, Shilpa and Karthik priya, filmed it.

Trained in videography and editing under Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative's (TAI) empowerment programmes, the two of them were more than willing to work with the students. But they did have initial reservations , says Shilpa, who is a graduate in Psychology. “We wondered how the students would treat us. Would they mock us? Would they respect our opinions? But they laid our doubts to rest,” she smiles.

Behind the scenes

The film was shot in and around Kuniamuthur and Kovaipudur. “We became such good friends. The crew was very professional. They were open to all our suggestions,” says Shilpa.

Grinding schedules, a demanding director, team lunches after a hard day's work…

Shilpa says she enjoyed every moment. The crew, most of them just under 20 years old, was led by Vivekananth, the director, and associate directors Poorna Chandran and Kumaresan. Says Vivekananth, “For the script, we drew from the lives of HIV-positive people we interacted with during our NSS camps.”

Shilpa and Karthik Priya have previously made eight short-films with a team of transgenders from 11 districts in Tamil Nadu. Their film ‘Society and Our Lives' was screened at the National Youth Festival in 2009. “We interviewed IAS officers such as Madurai's district collector Sagayam for one of our films,” says Shilpa.

“Nambikkai” tells the story of a little boy whose HIV-infected parents commit suicide due to discrimination. A victim of discrimination himself, the kid succeeds in life, thanks to the support of his relatives. The under-eight-minute-movie is supported by the NSS and Department of Social Work, Sri Krishna College of Arts and Science.

It is to be screened in colleges in and around the city in order to collect funds for HIV-positive children of Assisi Snehalaya, a care and research centre for HIV/AIDS based in ThirumalayamPalayam.