Directed by Jonathan Demme, the winner of Academy award 1992 for “The Silence of the Lambs”, what sets “Philadelphia” in a different league is that it is the first commercial Hollywood movie to touch the then taboo subject of homosexuality and AIDS. Set-up in the 80-90s, when AIDS was the disease of the untouchables and the society was homophobic; Philadelphia handles both the issues with subtlety yet authority.

At the centre of the plot is Andrew Beckett aka Andy (Tom Hanks), an excellent lawyer at the prestigious Wheeler Firm in Philadelphia. Andy leaves no stone unturned in his efforts to conceal two major things about his personal life: one – he is a homosexual and two – he is suffering from AIDS. Just when he is being promoted by the firm to handle a big and important client, one of the partner notices a lesion on his face, particular to AIDS patients. Immediately after, Andy gets fired by the company on account of charges of incompetency, deliberately setup against him. Andy now wants to sue his employers against charges of discrimination.  After being refused by several firms for representation, Andy meets Joe Millers (Denzel Washington), who also on first meeting refuses him but later changes his mind after a chance encounter with him in a library. Six months later, the trial begins, causing a media furore for having two scandalous issues, at its core. With not much evidence in his favour, and his debilitating medical conditions, Andy doubts if he will be there to see the end of the trial. Just after he is being rushed to the hospital from the courtroom, the jury comes out with an expected but surprisingly tough verdict.

The emotions in the movie are just played to the right part, with not being overdone at any moment. You love the movie just from the onset with the Bruce Sprinsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”.  The casualness with which Andy says “I have got AIDS” is amazing. Andy’s family, friends and Antonio Banderas as Miguel, Andy’s homosexual partner play their small but significance part well.

 Miller’s withdrawal from Andy after knowing his medical condition speaks about the mental disposition of the general public towards AIDS, so does the librarians insistence to Andy for using a private research room and the Wheeler firm partners comments “Andy brought AIDS to our office and to our men’s room”. Also the public humour and humiliation that Miller faces for defending and supporting a homosexual speaks of the biased and demeaning attitude towards this subject. His courtroom outburst at homosexuality speaks for itself.

The script comes with a lot of decent punches and good quotes. You can’t help noticing Miller’s “Explain it to me like a two-year old…..”, his public image as the “TV guy”, and his strong change of opinion towards homosexuals. Andy’s “It’s exciting being part of justice being done”, his depiction of the opera and his honesty in the courtroom impresses you tremendously. So does his delivery as the wasting and dying patient. It comes as no surprise that Tom Hanks won the Oscars for “The Best Actor in Leading Role” 1994.

In today’s scenario, the movie might give the impression of being clichéd and mundane but back then it was definitely a trendsetter.  

For those of you who don’t know – The movie is inspired by the story of Geoffrey Bowers, an attorney who sued his employer “Baker and McKenzie” for his dismissal in 1987.

For Bollywood Lovers – Bollywood movie “Phir Milenge” (Starring: Salman Khan, Shilpa Shetty, Abhishek Bachchan) seems to be inspired from this movie though with a slightly different treatment. Another Bollywood movie “My brother.. Nikhil” (Starring: Sanjay Suri, Juhi Chawla) discusses AIDS and homosexuality together.