All you wanted to know about Kashish: Mumbai's Queer film festival

The curtains go up on Kashish, Mumbai’s Queer film festival on May 27. This year’s edition moves beyond the screen and films, making this a festival, a celebration, an acknowledgement and much more

One of the most eagerly awaited events in the city’s (and indeed, the country’s) queer calendar is the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, which will take place from May 27, simultaneously at the capacious art deco Liberty Cinema at Marine Lines, and the cosier Alliance Francaise headquarters at Theosophy Hall, barely a stone’s throw away.

One of the performances at Kashish last year at the Liberty theatre
One of the performances at Kashish last year at the Liberty theatre

Spanning five days, the sixth edition adds the Max Mueller Bhavan in Kala Ghoda as its latest venue, in part to accommodate a ‘biggest ever’ haul of 180 films from 44 countries that fill up an expansive itinerary of films that promises to keep even the most inveterate festival-goers on their toes.

Sridhar Rangayan, festival director
Sridhar Rangayan, festival director

While cinema remains the primary focus, there will be some intriguing sidelights. For instance, the limited programme at the Max Mueller Bhavan will be flagged off with a reading (on May 29) of Don’t Let Him Know, the compelling first novel by Sandip Roy, released by Bloomsbury Publishing in January this year.

Slowly ebbing desires and the ennui of middle-class repression, of the kind readily identifiable to gay audiences themselves caught up in the grips of societal oppression, are an indelible part of the book, which has already garnered Roy much critical praise, and the event is sure to be a sell-out.

Similarly, in association with the festival, Gallery Beyond in Fort have curated an exhibition of artworks around the theme, ‘Freedom To Choose’, some of which will be exhibited at festival venues. The complete showcase can be viewed at the state-of-the-art auspices of the contemporary art gallery, for two fortnights from May 23. This is likely to provide an eclectic diversion to festival fare for those who’re looking to travel to town for a day’s outing or two.

With eateries like the 100-year-old Sassanian Bakery and Boulangerie, with its reasonably priced Parsi fare, and the Green Onion, which offers Nigerian food alongside delectable Lucknowi cuisine, all within earshot of Liberty Cinema, the cineaste needs only to come armed with an appetite for cinema and an elevated attention span.

The Country in Focus at the festival this year will be Australia, giving us a glimpse of a developed country in which Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) populations now enjoy the same freedoms as their straight counterparts. Australia has renounced its version of the ‘sodomy law’ (Section 377 in India, for those who came in late) in an incremental manner, from 1975 (when the capital territory repealed the law) to 1997 (Tasmania was the last state to legalise homosexuality).

This drawn-out process finds echoes in India’s own slow (and interminably in limbo) march towards decriminalisation. Two Australian films, widely hailed as the best examples of contemporary queer cinema, Ana Kokkinos’s 1998 film, Head On, which deals with a young repressed Greek-Cypriot man living in inner-city Melbourne, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the exuberant cult classic from 1994 featuring marquee names Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce, that galvanised a whole generation of queer folk, are welcome inclusions to the itinerary.

Through internet piracy alone, these films have captured the imagination of gay audiences worldwide, and can now finally be viewed by Indian audiences on the big screen although Priscilla’s soundtrack boasts of several heady disco numbers that have long been staples at gay parties. A big ticket feature will be the much appreciated Love is Strange, from director Ira Sachs, whose Keep The Lights On was one of the best films to ever screen at Kashish (in 2013).

This film, with John Lithgow, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei, is the story of Ben and George, a same-sex couple from Manhattan, who get married after 39 years together. Another ‘tribute to the beauty of commitment in the face of adversity’ is the Centrepiece Documentary Feature, Alex and Ali, from director Malachi Leopold in which two men, an American and an Iranian, are separated for three decades and then reunited.

“While the story is devastating, it represents the realities faced by most LGBT individuals around the world — individuals who are depending on our courage to shine a spotlight on injustice, and to continue the fight for equality,” says Leopold.

One thing Kashish has done away with is having a designated day for ladies. Although this was meant to encourage female festival-goers to come out in larger numbers, it also created a line of division in an already fractured niche. Now, the programming integrates lesbian, gay and transgender films in more balanced ways. There is always more material geared towards gay men, but this is the bane of gay film festivals worldwide.

One of the most anticipated panels will be on transgender issues, including the illusory nature of the landmark NALSA ruling, that accorded third-gender identity to transgenders. This will take place along with the screening of the Marathi film, Jayjaykar, from director Shantanu Rode (incidentally produced by gay icon Rakhi Sawant), which revolves around the relationship between a gang of four eunuchs and an army major, played by Dilip Prabhavalkar.

As has been the trend for the last several editions, the number of films in the Indian Panorama have been steadily increasing. Kashish has provided an invaluable platform for amateur directors who may not get a foot in through the door at more competitive mainstream avenues. While this can come with the tag of ‘gay filmmaker’ (that even the festival director, Sridhar Rangayan, has struggled with for years), some have made the most of it.

For example, Rohan Kanawade will open his second Kashish film, Sundar, made on a shoestring budget, in which a young boy yearns to perform at Navratri dressed in a stunning ghagra choli that he knows only he can carry off with elan. Pradipta Ray, returns with a third film, Guy Next Door, on the quixotic nature of online dating. Kanawade and Ray had both won the Riyad Wadia Award for Best emerging Filmmaker in earlier editions of Kashish, named after the queer film pioneer who had made the path-breaking Bomgay in 1996.

From more robust antecedents, comes Anup Singh’s internationally acclaimed Punjabi drama, Qissa, that has recently enjoyed a three-week run at city theatres, but will now be playing to an exclusive queer audience for the first time, as Kashish’s Centrepiece Narrative Feature. Tillotama Shome is consummate as Kanwar, a girl forcibly brought up as a boy and married off to another girl.

The theme for this year’s Kashish, on a poster designed by Niharika Rastogi
The theme for this year’s Kashish, on a poster designed by Niharika Rastogi

An electric Rasika Dugal (as the wife) and Shome give us an alternative pairing for the ages in a tale fraught with heartbreaking conflicts. “The film, like the festival, seeks to open every tale to another one, encouraging multiple points of view instead of entrapping us in just one way of looking at the world,” says Singh.

“The films are about acceptance of diversity, whether it is about ethnicity, age, gender, sex and sexual orientation — by society, families, friends and most importantly the ones we love,” says Rangayan. It is precisely because the films at Kashish casts people in such affirmative light, that makes it a grand coming out party for so many people denied their humanity elsewhere.

Schedules can be viewed on the Kashish website

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