Tomorrow, Sunday December 1, is a red ribbon day. The red ribbon is a global symbol of awareness about HIV. Perhaps the most robust anti-HIV/AIDS program is going on within gay community. Gay, bisexual and other Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) are one of the most susceptible segments to HIV/AIDS.
Even though the 80s decade saw realization creeping in about HIV/AIDS and the gay community, it was marked first by ostracism, misconceptions and then paranoia. Several LGBT movies and books, are a window to those years and the work that was being done in the field in order to create awareness.
This year’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) film festival called Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival 2013, had screened two important documentaries on HIV called ‘Vito’ by Jeffrey Schwarz which was a moving documentary about Vito Russo, filmmaker and activist who spoke out vocally about the need for low cost AIDS drugs in the late 80s. Another called, ‘United In Anger’ by Jim Hubbard was a revealing documentary about the ACT UP movement where men and women across races, classes and sexualities came together to work in fighting the AIDS epidemic in USA in the 1980s.
It was this topicality, diversity and visibility coming together, which may have been a factor in Kashish making it to MovieMaker Magazine’s 2013 Top Five Coolest LGBT film festivals in the world. Kashish made its debut in 2010 and is the country’s only mainstream LGBT film festival. Sridhar Rangayan, the festival director says that KASHISH which means attraction in the Urdu language, celebrates good cinema, but more importantly highlights hopes, desires, struggles and victories of the LGBT communities around the world. “It is a way of raising the rainbow flag high above proudly.” The rainbow is symbolic of the gay community because the different colours stand for diversity.
MovieMaker, has been publishing its annual list of coolest film festivals from around the world every year. This year, it decided to expand that and add niche categories like Documentary and Horror/Sci-Fi Festivals, Short Film and Comedy Festivals and Environmental/Social Cause /Women's Film Festivals, LGBT and Ethnic/National Film Festivals. They asked their readers to nominate and vote for what they see as the ‘coolest’.
When asked specifically about how one would define coolest, Rangayan says, "The definition of coolest was seen as a combination of quality cinema, great parties, alternative venues, shoestring-budget, the opportunity to gawk at celebrities and connect with fellow movie makers --- a mix that they might not get to see anywhere else. Over four months, they received more than 15,000 votes and finalized the audiences favourites.”
Kashish did have pre-event parties where the community could connect, it was held on a budget, in fact, the organizers were looking for ‘crowd funding’ for the festival and had a slew of celebrities endorsing it. Whether it was Bollywood’s Simone Singh, who was most memorable in ‘Being Cyrus’ at the opening night or the fact that top awards at the festival were sponsored by Anupam Kher, the glitzy association means that stars who are always so careful about their image, are now unafraid of being seen at, or associated with a queer-centric film festival. When you see that there was sponsorship by a Bollywood name, one realizes that the ‘support’ they talk about is not just on the surface.
Having said that, there are still some celebrities who are wary of being seen at a mainstream LGBT event. Yet, organizers are confident that this would change in a very short time. Talking about physical spaces, Rangayan says that Kashish has been screened at mainstream places. “In 2010, it was screened at PVR Juhu and in the next three years at Cinemax Versova.” From physical spaces to mental ones, the LGBT film festival is one more in a slew of events aimed at bringing greater acceptance of the community. Like brazen placards say at LGBT events in the city these days: ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it’.