Kashish 2019: From MMKND to The Booth, the best short films at the LGBTQ+ film festival

Anupam Kant Verma

Jun 19, 2019 11:11:49 IST

The tenth edition of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival featured six films competing in the category of Indian Narrative Shorts. The eclectic line-up included dramas, comedies, dramedies and an animation short. Three films in particular left an impression: Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh (MMKND), U Ushacha and The Booth. Set inside an urban apartment, a village, and a shopping mall, all three explored lesbian relationships striving to blossom within their environments.

The films distinguished themselves in their attempts to navigate, negotiate with and create physical and mental spaces for their characters to exist and express their desires together. Whether they be the wide and unceasingly flat vistas of a village, the boxlike confines of a modern apartment or a seemingly makeshift frisking booth inside an imposing shopping mall, the young directors planted saplings of love and desire in them. And there they grew, under the stern eye of a society coming to terms with the fundamental universality of love, painfully slowly, but gradually.

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MMKND is a 25-minute film that confidently grapples with multiple ideas during its short runtime, and is edified by its ambition. Moreover, it employs a light touch, gently assembling its thoughts while garnishing them with a healthy dose of situational humour. The able and earnest acting performances certainly help in realising directors Mujeer Pasha and Veena Kulkarni’s cheeky story.

Featuring just three characters, MMKND begins with a young man showing up at his ex-wife’s door a few months after their divorce. She left him when she fell in love with his best friend. Only, the friend is a woman and he can’t seem to move on from the girl whom he considers the love of his life. He wishes to celebrate his birthday with her. The occasion presents them with an opportunity to re-think the dynamics of their strange situation and meditate upon a variety of ideas and societal mores that bind and constrict them.

Kashish 2019: From MMKND to The Booth, the best short films at the LGBTQ+ film festival

Still from the Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh trailer.

MMKND strives to question the established ideas about singledom, relationships, love and the happiness that society assures will follow from sticking to its rules. It boldly ventures into these spheres, bolstered by fine performances that communicate the dilemmas plaguing three people caught in the vortex of an unavoidable situation. It stumbles more than once, especially in the end, where the meditation upon being single fail to grow organically out of the narrative. However, MMKND which never lapses into sermons, thereby avoiding the trap of becoming those whom they set out to criticise, and helped by the genuinely comic moments, remains a worthy watch.

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The piercing illuminations arising from tiny details distinguishes Rohan Parashuram Kanawade’s U Ushacha. It is the story of Usha, a single mother who works as a farm labourer at a village in Maharashtra. The day she spots the young woman who’s just moved to teach English at the primary school, a seed of desire is planted inside her. Usha finds an opportunity to come closer to her by taking English tuitions from the teacher. Thus a romance is born.

Kanawade spends time acquainting us with the highs and lows of the life of a single mother in a village before offering her release in the form of desire. He’s also mindful about showing the way their relationship empowers her at her place of work. The intimate moments are handled with care and imagination, using fine details to communicate the growing desire.

Still from the U Ushacha trailer.

Still from the U Ushacha trailer.

U Ushacha works wonderfully in patches, but falls short of being a wholesome experience, largely owing to the occasional bout of contrived filmmaking. There are moments that seem designed to elicit a certain emotion, often at the expense of being organic. That they arrive during the more crucial junctures further aggravates their detrimental impact. But the simplicity and efficacy of the performances make up for the missteps. So does the streamlined flow of ideas and Kanawade’s overall assured direction, which give his film a warm, readily accessible exterior that should afford wider viewing.

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Rohin Ravindran Nair’s The Booth is a beautifully told and deceptively simple tale of a forbidden romance that utilises words and silences with equal aplomb. Girl meets frisking lady inside the booth at a shopping mall and sparks fly. The hectic nature of her job leaves the woman with little time to spend with the girl who, meanwhile, whiles away her day wandering inside the mall, waiting for an opportunity to get frisked again. Nair shows a day in their life, full of lonesomeness and boredom that only an oppressive structure like a mall can engender.

Still from The Booth. Photo credit: Facebook @theboothshortfilm

Still from The Booth. Photo credit: Facebook @theboothshortfilm

The film employs a narrower, box-like aspect ratio to bring to relief the boxed-in nature of the characters’ lives. There is the boxlike booth with the woman trapped inside it, which is encased inside a bigger box, the mall, where the girl waits fretfully to fulfil her desire, both of them now confined inside the box of the film image, beyond which lies society and real life, anxious to shut the lid. Nair’s able direction is supported by Swapnil Sonawane’s clever management of space to create a suffocating world where the momentary realisation of their desire comes like a big gasp at the end of an oppressive day. One can well-nigh tell the time by witnessing the day grow longer on the woman’s increasingly weary face. It is an accomplished performance, firmly complimenting the great craft and care that’s gone into creating a tiny gem of a film.

Updated Date: Jun 21, 2019 10:00:05 IST