The key insight was the target audience had heard of someone else getting AIDS. And to avoid all beliefs which they had.
In the early 2000s, sex was shown as bees buzzing, legs and famously intertwined flowers. And India also had documented 0.27 million cases of AIDS. This was attributed to ignorance, assumptions, stigma, lack of awareness and poor sexual habits and ‘it cannot happen to me.
There had been lots of communication on AIDS to the target audience – male migrants, 18-40 years, SEC C, D and E1, metros especially port cities. In these cities unprotected sex with non-regular partners was high.
Assumptions included – unprotected sex under alcoholic influence is safe if the woman is healthy then.., sex only with one sex worker etc. PSI/India’s (Population Services International) decided to tackle the problem. This was part of PSI’s Operation Lighthouse Project, a five-year national HIV/AIDS (awareness) programme in 12 major port communities across India.
In a pitch, Lintas won it. The team was Tushar Kadam, Nikhil Rao, and Hitesh Tiwari led by Priti Nair.
Against such beliefs and the audience, preaching was to be avoided. The key insight was the target audience had heard of someone else getting AIDS.
So a character Balbir Pasha, created from the socio-cultural milieu, would be representative of the audience. This character became the vehicle to advise and correct the beliefs the audience believed in. He would be an example of bad sexual choices.
The name Balbir Pasha was selected from a list. It was community neutral, macho, peculiar and sounded a little immoral.
The campaign talked about him and the possibility of him contracting AIDS. People listen when it’s about someone else. But since it was them, they could relate to. It did not tell men what to do but merely acknowledged the behaviour (not preaching).
The original idea was an event-based one which morphed into the whole campaign. K S ‘Chax’ Chakravarthy shot the films.
This was one of the rare instances where the campaign presented at the pitch was executed. The Balbir Pasha multi-media campaign is said to be one of the main reasons why AIDS did not spread further. (and do catch a young Nawazuddin Siddiqui is one of the films.)