★★★★★ | Blood Brother

This is one of those real life stories that you come across now and again that re-affirm your faith in the goodness of (some) human beings. Rocky Braat’s story is especially moving and relates how one very ordinary and regular young American man, who is exceptionally unselfish and wonderfully generous, made a real difference to the lives of many children that society would like to forget.

Rocky grew up in Pittsburgh with a drug addict mother who had a whole string of abusive boyfriends and as he struggled academically at school they put him in special ed classes. He is however far from stupid and graduated from design college, and got a good job on a magazine. After a while he got the travel bug and quit his job and went off to see the world and ‘find himself’.

His chosen destination was India, and one day on a whim he went to see an AIDS orphanage in Chennai. He thought that the visit would be tough seeing the kids suffering, and it was indeed and he found himself crying a lot, but he still felt compelled to stay there for one whole month. When he resumed his journey he couldn’t get the kids out of his mind, because despite all their troubles, they found such joy in living, so he immediately turned around and went back.

He stayed the rest of the summer, and when it was time to go back to the US, he promised the kids he would return in one year, and he did.

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This movie, shot by Steve Hoover, Rocky’s childhood friend tells of the next few years of how this remarkable man with no real qualifications at all, and with no official paid position lives there in the orphanage and became an amateur dentist, teacher, clown, carer, friend and father to all these abandoned children who absolutely adored him. He lives in a rat infested hovel, exists on a daily diet of rice, and has to keep leaving the country because of visa problems.

It is a highly emotional story (there wasn’t a dry eye in the house even with the cynical Sundance audience I watched it with) as we live through all the many traumas the kids and Rocky endure. Kids get very sick and some die as they can only have access to the very basic of AIDS drugs, and Rocky Anna (as the kids call him) is there every inch of the way. What is so endearing that Rocky, unlike a professional AIDS worker, is never ever detached from any of the happenings and gets totally distraught and frustrated at times and often cries.

The fact that he is there and chosen to remain with the kids is simply explained as that’s what he wants to do. There are no lofty claims that he is doing God’s calling (or anyone else’s for that matter) or for any religious conviction or any other profound reason. This is where he wants to be, and he certainly is making an enormous difference to all these children’s lives.

I am totally in awe of the man, and it was interesting too that as Steve Hoover witnessed and filmed Rocky insitu over the years he grew to understand and appreciate why his friend is so committed to the kids and the country itself. However, there is a lighter note to the story too, because just as Rocky ‘finds himself’, he also finds a beautiful Indian bride to marry.