At the outset, I must clarify that ‘My Brother…Nikhil’ is not an entertainer in the true sense of the word. Nor is it a conventional tear-jerker. It’s about heroes among us, the villains in each of us, and the dignity that we all crave for yet take for granted in others.
Set in Goa, and spanning the ‘80s and early ‘90s, ‘My Brother…Nikhil’ is about the world around Nikhil Kapoor (Sanjay Suri), a state-level swimming champion. He has a doting father, Navin Kapoor (Victor Banerjee) whose own unfulfilled dreams of being a sportsperson, manifest into his high expectations of his son. Navin Kapoor finds his wife Anita Rosario Kapoor (Lilette Dubey) extremely soft on Nikhil, and often accuses her of mollycoddling him. Nikhil’s sister, Anamika nickamed Anu (Juhi Chawla) is his closest friend and confidante. She strikes a fine balance between indulging him and giving him his space.
Add to this, Nikhil’s friend, Nigel D’Costa (Purab Kohli), his swimming competitor, Kelly (Shayan Munshi) and Kelly’s girlfriend, Catherine (Peeya Rai Choudhary). There’s also a possible girlfriend for Nikhil, in the form of Leena Gomes (Dipannita Sharma).
This seemingly perfect world goes into smithereens when Nikhil is told he is HIV+, a term that nobody fully understood, back in the ‘80s. And this ignorance leads to much mistreatment of Nikhil, and those around him, as also BY those around him. Nikhil is shocked by his parents’ unexpected reaction, and leaves home. He is soon arrested and housed in a sanatorium lacking even the most basic of facilities. It’s his sister, Anu who stands by him through all this, along with her boyfriend, Sam (Gautam Kapoor), a lawyer, Anjali (Shweta Kawaatra) and Nigel.
While the narrative follows the rampage of the disease through the body of a champion swimmer, it also portrays Nikhil’s fears and his unease at being helpless and dependent. There is also a marked departure from the stereotypical Bollywood depiction of homosexuality and the related sequences are handled in a refreshingly sensitive manner, on the emotional plane.
Comparisons with Revathy’s ‘Phir Milenge’ are unavoidable as both films deal with HIV + protagonists. However, Phir Milenge had at the heart of it, a courtroom battle on the protagonist’s right to work, while ‘My brother…Nikhil’ is about the protagonist’s right to dignity. There’s not one courtroom scene in the latter, despite the presence of a lawyer’s character.
This movie is clearly, a showcase for Sanjay Suri’s talents. He rides the transformation well, from the lithe, fun-loving youngster, to the gaunt, agonized patient. Juhi Chawla provides the spark in the story, and barring a few cloying moments, she plays her character well as a happy-go-lucky person, who comes into her own as a rock-solid presence in Nikhil’s life. Lilette Dubey and Victor Banerjee assay their roles with easy grace and great dignity. Purab Kohli’s prowess comes to the fore in his restrained portrayal of Nigel. Gautam Kapoor performs adequately in a role with little expectations of him.
This low budget directorial debut of Onir, economises on the music (Viveck Philip), with just one excellent song, ‘Chandni Muskuraye…’ with three versions placed appropriately throughout the movie. The singers are KK, Sunidhi Chauhan and Shaan, with the Sunidhi version coming out a notch better in its rendition. ‘My brother…Nikhil’ does a lot for basic awareness on AIDS. But ultimately, it’s an intimate, introspective tale of relationships that weather emotional crises.
(edited version published on April 7, 2005 in Madras Plus, the city features supplement of The Economic Times, Chennai. Pics courtesy the film's official website)