The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gere & ‘donkey’ vs AIDS

Chennai, Oct. 21: In Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts offers Richard Gere a choice of condoms. Tomorrow, the Hollywood hunk will tell Indians they have no choice if they want to live without fear ' they must wear condoms.

Gere knows he has a mountain to climb to convince the whole of India, so he will have at his side his “donkey” Kamal Hassan to “carry the weight (of the message)” up the slopes.

In case you are a fan of neither, there will be Sania Mirza, too, to lend support. And Prabhu Deva. And Usha Uthup.

For once, a social awareness campaign will take on the glitter of a film awards “nite”. An array of mostly south Indian stars ' actors, artistes, musicians ' will gather at a Hyderabad function, to be televised across the country, to carry out their “important social obligation” to tell people how they can keep their lives free of AIDS/HIV.

The event, part of the global “Heroes Project” started by Gere, will be held in collaboration with Sun TV. It “will be the biggest in India so far”, the US actor told a news conference here today.

Of the more than 40 million AIDS patients and HIV carriers on the planet, “one in six is an Indian”, he explained.

“In my peer group in the film industry, I have lost hundreds of my friends (to this disease) and I do not want anyone else to suffer that.”

Gere said he was excited to be working with Kamal Hassan ' a “very wonderful man” and “our donkey, which will carry the weight up the mountain”.

The Indian actor is likely to find this “weight” much lighter than the burden of “guilt” he has been carrying for not having done anything about AIDS awareness. “Though HIV has been at the back of our minds for quite some time, no active position was taken, especially by the film industry,” Kamal Hassan said. “There was a feeling of guilt'.”

He said he might push anti-AIDS messages in a subtle way in his films in the future, just as he has given up smoking on screen “after losing some of my friends to cancer”.

Kamal Hassan announced that nearly 2 lakh of his fans “will be working as foot soldiers” for the project, carrying the message to the villages “gently and kindly, on a person-to-person basis”.

“This is the beginning,” Gere said. “Once you create a critical mass of energy, it (the message) becomes incredibly powerful with the media.”

Illyaraja has composed a theme song for the show, which will feature Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Amala and Mohan Babu among others, Gere said, apologising for mispronouncing the names.

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