HT Short Stream | Chintu, a young boy living with HIV, is saved by unlikely heroes, but he ends up rescuing them - Hindustan Times
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HT Short Stream | Chintu, a young boy living with HIV, is saved by unlikely heroes, but he ends up rescuing them

Apr 02, 2024 12:49 AM IST

Director Tushar Tyagi covers a wide canvas in this tear-jerker of a film, but its greatest strength lies in the way it conveys emotions with minimal dialogue

There is a moment in Tushar Tyagi’s Saving Chintu (2022) when we see the protagonist for the first time. It is a piercingly emotional experience for a shot that runs for barely a few seconds. Chintu looks about seven, and he enters a room holding an adult’s hand to meet his prospective adoptive parents — a gay couple, Sam (Sachin Bhatt) and Oliver (Edward Sonnenblick).

Chintu, the child actor, played by Arihant Angad Nayak, is the protagonist of Saving Chintu. The adult Chintu is played by actor Adil Husain. (Tushar Tyagi) PREMIUM
Chintu, the child actor, played by Arihant Angad Nayak, is the protagonist of Saving Chintu. The adult Chintu is played by actor Adil Husain. (Tushar Tyagi)

Sam and Oliver live in America and with the help of Sam’s childhood friend, Mira (Dipannita Sharma) set up a meeting at an HIV rehabilitation centre in India. Here, they pay the indifferent, unscrupulous officer in charge to officially adopt Chintu. Sam and Chintu are HIV-positive.

“Get the patient here,” says the officer. The boy walks in — anticipation, despondence, hope, and humiliation writ large in his eyes. Many years later in the story arc, and parallel in the structure, we meet Chintu as an adult (Adil Husain), a doctor, and his wife Asha (Priyanka Setia), waiting to adopt a child.

The 25-minute bilingual film (English, Hindi) is neither heavy on dialogue nor virtuous messaging, but Tyagi’s deep understanding of the subject becomes clear in the scene where we first see Chintu. It is powerful, restrained, emotional and ultimately, cathartic.

 

Dipannita Sharma acts as a friend of a same-sex couple, who adopts Chintu, in the film(Tushar Tyagi)
Dipannita Sharma acts as a friend of a same-sex couple, who adopts Chintu, in the film(Tushar Tyagi)

“I met so many children affected by HIV, living in institutions, as part of my research for the film. It was an extremely emotional journey. Tears, heartbreak, everything was part of this journey. Each child I met had fear as well as dreams in their eyes,” Tyagi says.

Saving Chintu says a lot without many dialogues. The film is as much about living with HIV and the hurdles that a same-sex couple wishing to start a family in India faces as it is about adoption itself and the inner life of an abandoned child shunned because of his disease.

Sachin Bhatt and Edward Sonnenblick play a gay couple who adopts Chintu, an HIV positive child, from a rehabilitation centre. Bhatt plays a character who is also HIV positive.(Tushar Tyagi)
Sachin Bhatt and Edward Sonnenblick play a gay couple who adopts Chintu, an HIV positive child, from a rehabilitation centre. Bhatt plays a character who is also HIV positive.(Tushar Tyagi)

Adoption by same-sex couples across the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ+) spectrum is not permitted in the country, though adoption by single individuals is. In fact, adoption by LGBTQ+ prospective parents is legal in only a handful of countries. The 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court of India decriminalising homosexuality was a breakthrough for LGBTQ+ people in that it decriminalised their existence, but a family in the conventional sense of marriage and children is still illegal for them. “Cultural acceptance is a far bigger challenge,” Tyagi says. Several adoption centres told Tyagi that they don’t even entertain applications from same-sex couples even from countries where same-sex marriage is legal. The film was a response to the despair he felt.

“The theme that is not obvious but I think very crucial in the messaging of the film is the idea that good karma goes on to multiply. Oliver and Sam adopt Chintu. Chintu ends up adopting two kids,” he said.

The 34-year-old filmmaker grew up in various parts of India on account of his father’s Central government job but calls himself a Meerut boy. He now lives in the US. In 2016, while battling chronic pain and anxiety, he happened to meet the (Indian) doctor treating him outside the hospital. “His wife nudged him to tell me his story. And that was the germ of Saving Chintu,” Tyagi says. That doctor was adopted by American parents. He became a doctor. Every six months he comes to India to offer treatment for free.

The following year, while in Rishikesh for a yoga retreat, Tyagi met an American national who was HIV-positive and who sold all his belongings to move to Nagpur and start a shelter for HIV-positive children. “Interacting with him gave me the final push to make this film.”

Tyagi’s photographer friend Ritika Jayaswal and actor Adil Hussain both came on board as producers. Tyagi also brought Corey Wright, an American screenwriter, on board to co-write the screenplay with him.

The film, made on a budget of 50 lakh, had many online screenings during the pandemic — including the Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival, the New York Indian Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, and several others. The film doesn’t have a streaming home yet. This isn’t his first film — in 2014, Tyagi made Gulabee about a young sex worker summoning all she has to escape her past.

In both Gulabee and Saving Chintu, Tyagi’s characters are flawed and hopeful, and make mistakes but are capable of uncommon courage. Watching this film is a reminder that what we have in common with each other is always more significant than our differences.

Short Stream, curated by journalist and film critic Sanjukta Sharma, will present an independent short film that is making a buzz in film festivals. The film will be available for viewing for a month (till May 1, 2024).

The film is owned by the production house/filmmaker, and the Hindustan Times does not endorse any of its views or messages.

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