Way before Sonam Kapoor played the lead role as a lesbian in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, and way before the cringe-worthy “gay movie” Dostana brought, there was My Brother…Nikhil, an adorable romance between two gay men, is directed by Onir. Starring Sanjay Suri, Purab Kohli, Victor Banerjee, and Juhi Chawla, the plot revolves around a young, talented boy who is tested positive for AIDS and how the world around him reacts to the situation.
Written and directed by Onir, the movie stars Sanjay Suri as Nikhil, a swimmer in Goa who grew up in a decent but subtly problematic family. His sister, played by Juhi Chawla, a primary school teacher, is his savior in many situations. They care for each other dearly. Played by Purab Kohli, Nigel is Nikhil’s boyfriend.
A champion swimmer in Goa, Nikhil’s life goes haywire when he gets diagnosed with AIDS. He is thrown out of his swimming team and expelled from his own house by his parents. Set in the early 90s, it was a time when AIDS awareness was considerably low in India. The movie in many ways shows the lack of knowledge that Indian society had in the late 80s and early 90s.
During these harrowing times, it is his sister Anu and his boyfriend who assist him and pull him through. When his own parents and all of his other friends abandon him, Nigel and Anamika fight with all their strength in pursuit of justice and social acceptance when his parents and all other friends abandon him. The part of the movie which shows the terrible conditions in which one is treated while in quarantine is inspired by the real-life incident of what a young man in Goa named Dominic D’Souza experienced in the late 1980s.
The main protagonist’s sexuality has been treated with immense sensitivity, and no part of the movie has any vulgarity or “jokes”. There are no stereotypical “gay tropes” that Bollywood typically puts forth while making LGBTQ films or any obligatory ‘special’ aspect to the relationship that Nikhil and Nigel shared.
The film was highly appreciated worldwide, and Juhi Chawla was lauded for her performance. Unlike most movies with LGBTQ as the main focus, it was the simplicity of the narration that made My Brother…Nikhil a heart-warming watch.
It is both emotionally compelling and socially relevant, even to this date, more than 15 years after its first release. It didn’t make a lot of noise at the Bollywood box office, but it did “pass the Censor Board without any comment.” Theaters have not been attacked. There’s no catcalling. It’s treated respectfully by the audience and the filmmaker, “says Vikram Doctor, a journalist. It was much more than just ‘that gay film.”
Juhi Chawla, Lillete Dubey, and the movie itself have won many major awards at international film festivals, including the Milan Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The movie is available on Netflix , Hotstar and YouTube as well, and it is a definite milestone in terms of gay character portrayal in mainstream Bollywood movies.