Why Kashish isn't another run-of-the-mill film festival

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May 22, 2013 12:21:58 IST

by Vikram Phukan

Unlike a standard-issue film festival that concerns itself with routine things like world premieres, red carpet photo calls, bums on seats, ticket pricing and a top-notch itinerary, Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival has to also bear the onerous burden of being representative of the hopes and aspirations of one of India’s largest minorities, a diverse collection of people who share the experience of being ‘invisibilized’ for decades, particularly in the cinema of the mainstream. Kashish is a festival not just about the moving image on celluloid, but about advocacy, empowerment and pride; something that over three previous editions, it has worn rather unapologetically on its sleeve.

Thanks to the internet boom of the past decade, audiences in India are no strangers to queer cinema, but the festival, which opens its fourth edition today with a red-carpet gala at the friendly neighborhood Cinemax, took this genre of films out of the shadowy world of private screenings, hidden folders and pirated DVDs, and placed it in popular multiplexes.

 Why Kashish isnt another run-of-the-mill film festival

A still from Performance Anxiety to be screened at the Kashish Film Festival. Image courtesy: Facebook.

Here, alongside the pride parades that also came into vogue at about the same time, the city’s thriving queer population (and its straight supporters) could finally be seen for what it was: alive, outspoken, disarmingly ordinary and possibly still carrying a chip on its shoulder for being repressed for so long, but somehow beating the odds in the same sense as is usually ascribed to the city of Mumbai itself.

Like any international selection, the films being screened at Kashish this year reflect a sometimes uncomfortable but always beguiling mix of sensibilities. It's a melting pot of not just cultures, but of the diverse identities and orientations that come under the queer umbrella and also, a look at the signposts of acceptance (and expression) that are placed at different points in different countries.

Affirmative agendas aside, even under the constraints of poor funding and a lack of resources, queer cinema the world over appears to have grown by leaps and bounds, but India still remains woefully behind with amateur efforts passing muster in a selection that values representation as much as it does cinematic excellence, which is why Kashish continues to be a mixed bag of delight and drudgery.

Queer festivals always have a dedicated shorts program, a nod to filmmakers working on queer themes who still find it very difficult to get  full-length features green-lighted and so end up making shorts that can only be showcased in festivals such as these. Look out for little gems like Performance Anxiety, in which two straight actors hired to shoot a gay love-making scene conjure up all kinds of speculative scenarios to prepare themselves for impending intimacy, and What You Looking At?, in which a drag queen and a woman in a burqa get stuck in a lift and are persuaded to try on each other’s ‘getups’. There's also an award for narrative short films (both international and Indian) and the winner will be chosen by a jury that includes novelist Jerry Pinto, filmmaker Aruna Raje and theatre director Quasar Thakore Padamsee.

There are a few films to look out for in the Indian selection, the first being Debalina’s And The Unclaimed, a "docu-melodrama" about a lesbian suicide in West Bengal’s Nandigram, which brings together some powerfully compelling (to the point of almost coming across as scripted) spoken testimonials of all interested parties to weave a narrative of stifling repression and resurgent hope. It's reminiscent of the moving cadences of The Laramie Project, a similar exercise at soul-searching at the site of America’s most widely-known homosexual lynching.

The other is Rohan Kanawade’s Marathi short film, Ektya Bhinti (Lonely Walls), in which a gay man comes out to his father to unexpected consequences. It’s an unsettling film that evoked divided opinions in earlier screenings. Ektya Bhinti deserves applause for its bravery, even if its broad-brush portrayal of coerced sex is somewhat suspect.

The closing film at the festival is Rituparno Ghosh's Chitrangada, which can be considered part of a trilogy of Bengali films (the others are Arekti Prem Golpo and Memories in March, by other directors) in which Ghosh has sympathetically delineated a gay man without appearing to camouflage his characters in the constructs of masculinity that some gay men embrace to be better able to integrate into a world where gender lines are sharply drawn. Of course, whether he plays his characters effeminately or not isn't the point of the films—each of which are richly textured tales with their own persuasions—but Chitrangada situates itself tantalisingly in these liminal spaces.

There is something liberating about an isolated screen in an usually straight-laced multiplex — with its family-friendly popcorn tills and celeb-studded walls — suddenly bursting forth with an unexpurgated stream of sex, lies and videotape. It puts in perspective the whole hue and cry about a gay kiss in a release like Bombay Talkies, which is almost like small change, really. Of course, in a way that film queered the pitch with its segments on transgender expression and homosexual repression, and set the ball rolling for this month’s Kashish. Such mainstream fare remain outside the purview of such a niche enterprise, but Kashish is still a perfectly interesting way to end Indian cinema's centenary month.

The 4th edition of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival takes place from May 22-26th at Cinemax,  Versova, and the Alliance Francaise, Mumbai. Check www.mumbaiqueerfest.com for exact show timings.

Vikram Phukan is a playwright and runs the theatre appreciation website, Stage Impressions.

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Updated Date: May 22, 2013 12:24:33 IST