12 Jun 2024  |   05:10am IST

The Rainbows in Goa

The film ‘My Brother... Nikhil’, directed by National Award winner Onir, is based on the life of Dominic D’Souza. Without this film, Dominic’s story might have been remembered only by a few family members, friends, film fraternity members and health officials. Onir, one of Bollywood’s few openly gay directors, made his directorial debut with this 2005 film and will be in Goa with his latest film ‘Pine Cone’
The Rainbows in Goa

Nilankur Das

It was February 14, 1989, Valentine’s Day, when Dominic was taken from his Parra home, which he shared with his mother and aunt, by a local police officer to the police station in Mapusa. From there, he was escorted to the local Asilo Hospital in a police van with no indication why he was there. Dominic was familiar with the hospital, having been a frequent blood donor. While in a room at the hospital, he glimpsed a doctor recording his name in a register labeled 'AIDS.' This was how Dominic learned of his diagnosis, a shocking revelation that came with no prior warning or explanation.

The police handcuffed Dominic and escorted him to an abandoned tuberculosis sanatorium in Corlim. Once there, he was locked inside with armed guards standing at attention just outside the doors. He spent 64 days in quarantine, isolated from the outside world. During this period, his mother, Lucy D'Souza, was determined to challenge the authorities. She filed a writ petition at 

the Panaji Bench of the Bombay High Court, arguing against the legality of Dominic's detention.

Lucy’s legal team, led by Anand Grover, contended that Section 53 of the Goa Public Health Act, which had been amended in 1987 to include specific restrictions and provisions regarding AIDS, was unconstitutional and violates the guarantee of equality before the law, the right to freedom, protection of life and personal liberty, and the right to constitutional remedies, respectively. Also, the act contradicted World Health Organization guidelines that the government had endorsed, which did not support such stringent measures against individuals with AIDS. The case dragged on for months, during which time Dominic remained in isolation. 

However, in mid-April, the court issued an interim order that brought a glimmer of hope. The order released Dominic from the sanatorium and confined him instead to house arrest at his home in Parra, still under restrictive conditions.This case highlighted significant legal and human rights issues surrounding the treatment of individuals with AIDS during that period.

Dominic D’Souza, Goa's patient zero for the virus, was an AIDS activist. In April 1992, he and his friend Isabel de Santa Rita Vas founded the HIV/AIDS non-governmental organisation ‘Positive People’. As a young man, Dominic was one of the first actors to join the Mustard Seed Art Company, Goa's notable English-language theatre founded by Isabel. He performed in the company’s first two shows. After his release from house arrest, Dominic was fired from his job at the World Wildlife Fund and began working for Advocate, Padmashri Norma Alvares, a supporter of his court case. He became active in the global AIDS community. Sadly, Dominic  died in a Mumbai hospital in May 1992, a month after registering the new organisation. Positive People remains the largest organisation of its kind in Goa and continues to advocate for people living with AIDS today.

The film ‘My Brother... Nikhil,’ directed by National Award winner Onir, is based on the life of Dominic D'Souza. Without this film, Dominic’s story might have been remembered only by a few family members, friends, film fraternity members, and health officials. Onir, one of Bollywood’s few openly gay directors, made his directorial debut with this 2005 film. Starring co-producer Sanjay Suri and actress Juhi Chawla, ‘My Brother... Nikhil’ addresses the government's harsh treatment of AIDS patients in the 1980s and the associated stigma. 

The film received critical acclaim and was screened at over 40 international film festivals. Juhi Chawla earned an IIFA nomination for her role as the main character’s supportive sister. The film won multiple awards, including the Audience Choice Award at the Milan LGBT Film Festival and the Best Film & Jury Audience Choice Award at Montreal’s image+nation Film Festival, ensuring Dominic's legacy endures.

Onir was born in Bhutan and brought up in Kolkata. That his directorial debut is a Goan story, that connected him to Goa organically, he muses. He loves the expanse of the sea and the gentle slopes of the Western Ghats. The IFFI’s Film Bazaar is his annual pilgrimage. He is an active participant in Film Bazaar, from the scripting workshops to distribution stalls, he was there every where. 

Onir’s connection to Goa is rooted in friendships and camaraderie, the house of Wendell Rodrigues was Onir’s home away from home, Vivek Phillip from Siolim is the music director of all his films and documentaries. His love for Goa grew thousand folds when he was shooting ‘My Brother…Nikhil’.

His message for the Pride Month of June 2024 is of inclusivity. He says, “We all should be allies, we would like to include all to walk with us for a better future. Hetero-Normative people need to be/ can be confident in their ideologies so that every one can celebrate this life”. He wonders why the idea of sexuality in hetero normative people so fragile that they see others as threats! 

The term ‘pride’ became linked with LGBTQIA+ marches due to Craig Schoonmaker, who was involved in organising the 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day March. He suggested replacing ‘Gay Power’ with ‘Gay Pride’ because he believed that while people may not have much power, anyone can have pride in themselves, leading to greater happiness and potential for change within the movement.

The inaugural Pride Parade in India took place on July 2, 1999, in Kolkata, known as the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk, marking it as the oldest Pride march in South Asia. Despite limited participation, with only around 15 attendees from various cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, notably lacking female representation, the event holds historical significance. Kolkata was selected as the venue due to its deep-rooted involvement in numerous human rights movements, including feminism, Dalit rights, disability rights, and child rights. Now, two decades since the 1999 Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk, Pride Parades have become a widespread phenomenon across India, with over 21 cities hosting such events. This transformation highlights the growing acceptance and visibility of LGBTQ+ communities nationwide, symbolizing progress in the fight for equality and LGBTQ+ rights in India.

Onir’s latest film ‘Pine Cone’ will be screened at Museum of Goa on Friday, June 14, at 6 pm. He will be present there at the venue to interact with the audience. The programme will be moderated by Sachin Chatte, and the members of the crew will be on panel for discussions. ‘Pine Cone’ is a semi-autobiographical film about a filmmaker and the different phases of his life with a focus on his relationships. The film was awarded Rainbow Stories Award by The Minister of Equality, Australia at Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.

Onir says, “I want Pine Cone to push that audience to acknowledge that our lives are not only about their acceptance. There is love, loss, and desire that is very often made invisible. I want them to watch this love story as another love story and think why as a gay man I can without any hesitation go and watch and enjoy a heterosexual love story. Why can’t they do the same with our stories? What is the fear? That is the reason I adapted a very mainstream Indian cinema style to tell this story. I want it to be accessible.”


Idhar Udhar