It was my first time attending the Kashish Film Festival hailed as South Asia’s Biggest Queer Film Festival. It was the 10th year of this festival and the theme was “over the rainbow’. Being the cinephile that I am, I was really excited to watch queer films from all over the world. 160 films from 43 countries were screened across a span of five days starting from 12th June to 16th June. Although I could attend only the last three days, I had a blast at Kashish and also learnt a lot.
I reached Liberty cinema in the early afternoon after a tiring train journey. Liberty reminded me of theatres in my country, Thailand – a standalone theatre with seats so small they cannot support your back even if they try, was similar to the ones we have in Thailand. On my first day, I watched 8 films out of which I absolutely loved ‘Rafiki’ and ‘The Room to Grow’.
Rafiki was about two Kenyan girls who fell in love with each other but kept their love under covers because same-sex love is legally banned in Kenya. When the two girls faced violence from their community, it made me cry and angry to see how rigid the hold of patriarchy is that not only men but also women become its perpetrators. Rafiki reminded me of my friend’s love story who fell in love with a Nigerian woman but had to hide it because of the fear of being ostracised and violated. The second one was a documentary film which talked about how the parents of young LGBT people try to support their children and how queer children struggle with their community to gain acceptance and love. In one of the scenes where a teenage girl read her statement about being bisexual aloud in the church, one of the male authorities interrupted her and asked her to sit back down. I then thought how important it is for members of the LGBTQ community to not only be accepted by their family but also the community. How do we live in a patriarchal community where we are constantly seen as sinners?
My second day began at 11am and went up till the night. The last day’s absence of women was met with an increased female audience on Saturday. A lot of LBT films were screened and my favorites from the second day package were ‘Kattumaran’ – two women fall in love with each other under the looming threat of tsunami and a patriarchal uncle, ‘Our Dance of Revolution’ – a documentary about the black queer community in Toronto, and ‘Call her Ganda’ – a documentary about a Filipino transwoman who was murdered by a US Navy soldier. Like the first day, I was unable to extend my time at Liberty beyond 8pm – being a woman comes with its own set of vulnerabilities, I was reminded.
Kashish’s final day got all my emotions on the fore. My morning began with a package of animated films curated from Canada and France. Animated films talking about LGBTQ issues are a rarity , but the films at Kashish not only explored the spectrum but were also diverse in their mediums of animation – 3D, clay, cartoons, the film types were as varied as the colours of the rainbow. From the Q Toons set, my favorites were ‘Reach the Sky’ – a stop motion short about a journey of three queer people on the road, and ‘Two of Every Kind’- story of a peacock couple trying to get into the Noah ark.
There was another animation short from India which was in the Indian Masala Mix set. ‘A little more blue’ directed by Sugandha Bansal was about a girl trapped inside the body of a boy. The parents were so supportive of their child’s orientation that I thought how nice it would be if this animation is shown to every parent who is struggling to accept their trans children.
‘The Booth’, ‘U Ushacha’, and ‘Shaadi Ke Kapde’ are my picks from the Indian Masala Mix set. The Booth is a love story between two women that happens inside the frisking booth of a shopping mall. I loved the film for showing the nuance of a same-sex relationship which is in the closet, in a booth. U Ushacha brilliantly details how sometimes women have to keep their desires towards other women a secret. Lastly, Shaadi Ke Kapde was a story of a trans man who had to deal with family to select their attire for a wedding party by their own choice.
The set of Stories They Tell is the one that I really loved. My favorites were ‘Luca M/W/X’ – the story of Luca who felt like they were neither a man nor a woman, and ‘Double Lucky’ – a documentary short about the children of queer parents which touched me deeply as I too have been a queer parent. I also loved, ‘An Iraqi Belly Dancer’ from this set which was a documentary about an Iraqi LGBT refugee who is also a belly dancer and had to escape from their country for being gay.
The last film before the closing ceremony was ‘Boy Erased’ – the true story of the son of a Baptist Pastor in a small American town who has to go through a conversion programme because his father refused to accept his sexual orientation.
I ended up with 18 films on Sunday. And although I would have loved to be present at both the venues, I realised my human limits. Apart from watching, Kashish also had great panel discussions. One was ‘Digital Rainbow’ which talked about having a platform for queer film streaming such as Revery in USA and GAGAOOLALA in Taiwan. Another panel was ‘Main streaming LGBTQ narratives’ which talked about how the need and ways of having more queer narratives in mainstream cinema.
The closing ceremony was an hour late from the scheduled time. My 2 hour wait outside Liberty culminated into a happy feeling when my favorite film, The Booth, got an award for the best Indian narrative short. And the performances at the ceremony were so good!
While I was walking back to my hostel I kept replaying some thoughts I had during the festival. Like I was unable to wrap my head around audience laughter when there was a grave turn in a lesbian films, and many films in fact. For example, in one of the films when the uncle was looking for a groom for his niece but she was in love with a woman, the audience cracked up laughing. I wondered why. I wondered about the origins of this laughter and its consequences.
During the Girl Shorts package, I found many men express their disinterest through excessive bodily movements, checking their phones, talking to each other. Also, very few women attended the festival. I would have loved to see more lesbian women or transpeople come to watch the amazing film collection but do we really have a space for women? Lastly, I was sad to hear comments and jokes that circulated within the theatre shaming dresses and bodies of trans people present at the venue. As much as I understand the patriarchal grip the community too is held by, I thought about how safe spaces can be created in future for everyone to experience a community festival of this magnitude.
However, I would love to attend this film festival again if I get a chance. I watched 36 films and as I write this, I am thinking of all the films I couldn’t watch. Kashish is a very good place for people who want to understand LGBTQ issues from around the world irrespective of whether they belong to the community or not. Learning from watching films is the best way, according to me, to understand the nuances and diversity of the community, and a festival like Kashish enhances this experience as we watch our films with our people.