Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival 2017: The Director Talks About This Year’s Event

[Editor’s Note: Registration are now open]

Kashish to offer diverse bouquet of cultural experiences, film screenings and beyond

Several years ago; with an aim to provide a world-class pride event for the LGBTQ community in India, Rajat Kamal National Award winner filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan initiated the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. Since 2010, Kashish has offered seven successful film festivals and this year will be its 8th edition of an assorted mix of LGBTQ-themed movies from across the globe.

The festival starts on 24th May 2017 and will screen 147 LGBTQ-themed films from 45 countries. It seems broad enough to accommodate numerous film categories: silent films to musical/dance films; drama to biographical films; romance to science fiction; animation to experimental. We imagine it would be a unique experience to sit through these films and subsequently engage in meaningful comparisons and judgements on stories, imaginations, film-making techniques, and the evolution of queer cinema in the world!

According to Rangayan, the festival has evolved over the years in its size, types of films and audiences’ viewpoints to today’s world cinema.

“In the first couple of years, there was an eagerness to see feel-good romantic comedies and buff bodies and beautiful people. But now the audience wants good cinema, period. That’s what keeps urging us to continue bringing the festival back despite the many challenges we face. It would, of course, make it easier if the legal and social climate changes to become more conducive in accepting LGBTQ rights; this will definitely help change mind-sets of sponsors to support the festival, and more general audiences being encouraged to attend the festival. It is an uphill climb, but we definitely are reaching somewhere! Let’s hoist the rainbow flag on top,” expressed Rangayan.

Last week, Gaysi Family had a conversation with Sridhar Rangayan, Festival Director, to know the exciting bits of the upcoming 8th edition and the journey so far.

Gaysi: How are film festivals supporting the LGBTQ community?

Sridhar: Film festivals and other LGBT initiatives offer a safe space for the LGBT community to come together and celebrate their identity. At a film festival, watching their own or similar lives mirrored in stories around the world can be very empowering. Kashish, over its 7 years since its founding, has become one of the most important pride events in India, offering for the community to come together to not only watch films and participate in discussions, but to just be who they want to be without any stigma and discrimination.

Since Kashish is a mainstream event, attracting more than 30 per cent of non-LGBTQ audience, it offers a great intermingling of the LGBTQ community and allies, families, colleagues, film buffs and culture aficionados. Kashish, through the film it screens and the huge media exposure it garners, helps in shaping public attitudes towards LGBTQ identity and same-sex relationships.

Gaysi: How many entries did you receive this year? What were the selection criteria?

Sridhar: This year we received more than 1200 submissions and it was a Herculean work for the preview team, and director of programming, Saagar Gupta, to make a final selection of 147 films from 45 countries! The idea was to look at both the narrative strength, but also keep in mind the environment from which the film comes from. Like films from Kosovo, Cuba, Aruba, Serbia, Ukraine, Mynmar resonate more with the struggles of the social milieu in which the LGBTQ community struggles to find their voice. The team has also kept in mind the theme this year of diversity, with a good representation of L-G-B-T-Q-A as well as a focus on people who are disabled and queer.

The main selection criterion, of course, what will the audience want to see, what will they appreciate, what will they take back from the event. What is good is in India we don’t sell tickets for every show, so we don’t have to worry about box office returns, we just have to ensure good quality of films that connect and touch a chord.

Still from Film White Nights

Gaysi: What would be the new offerings this year at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival?

Sridhar: This year, audiences coming to Kashish can enjoy a diverse bouquet of cultural experience – film-screenings, dance, music performances, panel discussions, film launches, theatrical performance, photo exhibition, and perhaps even an acting workshop. We are also trying to facilitate participation of as many Indian and International filmmakers and activists so that the audience can meet, learn share and exchange views. Kashish 2017 will offer an all-round cultural experience.

Being South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ film festival, this year there is a concerted attempt to bring more films from South Asia and Asia-Pacific to the festival. We will be screening a program of Asia Pacific Queer short films from Myanmar, China, Taiwan and Australia.

Also, this year Kashish offers the highest cash awards at a South Asian LGBTQ film festival, with Rs.2, 20,000 handed out in 7 categories thanks to our regular and new award partners. So the bar has been raised for the films in competition, with very top-of-line films having their Mumbai premiere competing for the honours.

Still from film Chronicles Of Hari

Gaysi: What is the major attraction this year? Is there any specific theme?

Sridhar: This year we are showing more feature films, many of them having their Indian or Asian premier at our festival. We are really proud of some of the Indian features: White Nights (Velutha Rathrikal), by Razi Muhammed, a Malayalam film about a woman torn between her love for a woman and man. I don’t want to say ‘bisexual’ because it defies tags. The film so sensitively and beautifully captures the emotional turmoil of the woman in a tribal village.

The centrepiece narrative feature ‘Chronicles of Hari’ (Harikatha Prasanga), a Kannada film directed by Ananya Kasaravalli, is a beautiful unraveling of the story of an actor who played women’s parts, and his/her struggles with social stigma.

Gaysi: When you started Kashish back in 2010, what challenges did you face in approaching investors and sponsors? What is the situation now?

Sridhar: In 2010 there was fear and anxiety since it was the very first year a LGBTQ film festival was being held in a mainstream theatre with full media glare. There were very few companies who were willing to come on board, so we had to rely on embassies as well as development sector agencies like UNDP, UNAIDS, and condom manufacturers like DKT.

Over the years, with the success of the festival, and also the positive impact it seems to have on the community and larger population, many more companies have come forward to support the festival. They do see it as a valuable arm of their CSR and outreach activity. We have had companies like Barclays, Nomura and Mac support us in the past, and companies like IBM and Godrej have been steadfast in their support every year. Canada consulate, Anupam Kher’s Actor Prepares and Whistling Woods International have supported KASHISH every year. Last year Wishberry, the crowd funding platform, were the festival’s Title Partner and that was a big boost in the arm.

Two challenges remain – one is to create awareness among established brands that the community is a niche market that they need to reach out to. This is important for LGBTQ ventures in the country like Kashish that are looking for corporate support to build a self-sustaining model. The other is to bring together the travel and hospitality industries in India to support the festival.

This year we are very happy that Godrej with its BBlunt brand and VIP Industries with their Skybags brand are making a visible brand promotion at the festival as part of their marketing activities. This is a good step ahead and hope forebodes better times for Kashish We need consistent support for the festival’s sustainability.

Gaysi: With each passing year, the Indian censor board is getting stricter. Please share your thoughts and does it impact the festival?  

Sridhar: The Indian censor board needs an overhaul of its rules and regulations. Instead of blaming the board members or certifying committee, it is important to take a look at the antiquated rules that are set down. Only if those changes can the certifying committee take more progressive decisions. All of us filmmakers are hoping that the recommendations by the Shyam Benegal committee are implemented at the earliest.

However I am always reminded by what Mr.Benegal once told me in a chat. He said that many of the laws and government rule-books are a reflection of the society, and only when the society’s mindset changes will the rule books change. We are not talking about the liberals and elites in urban spaces, but a larger dominant social mindset. We need to work towards changing it. And yes that can be shaped by films and art that transcend set notions. So it is a chicken and egg story.

Thankfully all film festivals in India are exempt from censorship by obtaining a clearance from the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, which Kashish does every year. Kashish was the first LGBTQ film festival in India to obtain this and has done it consistently for past 7 years.

The festival will continue till May 28. 

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Raghvendra Shikhrani is a journalist by profession and dog lover by passion. Hail from blue blood of a small village in Rajasthan. Family is the priority and community is the responsibility, thus smartly managing the balance between both.

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