Kashish 2019 will feature 31 Indian LGBTQ films: Sridhar Rangayan
As Kashish Mumbai International Queer Festival (June 12 - 16) celebrates its 10th anniversary, Indulge speaks to the Festival Director, Sridhar Rangayan about the conceptualisation of the festival, its journey over the last decade, the challenges it faced and the highlights for this year. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: When did you conceptualise this festival? What was your inspiration?
Sridhar Rangayan: In 2002, I made my first gay short film Gulabi Aaina (The Pink Mirror) and travelled with it to many film festivals around the world. I was particularly struck by the joy and bonding that I saw there, which was so overwhelming and inspiring. I realised that a film festival is not just a space to watch films, but an experiential space for community building and also to build alliances with the larger mainstream. That’s how in 2010, after the Delhi High Court’s 2009 verdict of reading down Section 377, that the idea of KASHISH was born - to hold a mainstream LGBTQ film festival where not only the community but the society, in general, can participate. The first KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival was held in April 2010 with a 125-seater screen in PVR Cinemas, Juhu, Mumbai.
Q: Was it difficult to organise the first festival? Share with us the challenges you faced.
SR: It was quite difficult to convince a mainstream theatre to host an LGBTQ film festival because there was no precedence for it. It was also difficult for a theatre to imagine that it can be socially acceptable. But the response to the first edition was so positive and exuberant that it exceeded all our expectations and also belied the fears of the theatre. So was born India's first mainstream LGBTQ film festival, homegrown in Mumbai.
Q: It’s the 10th anniversary. How do you look at the festival, which is growing bigger each year?
SR: I can’t imagine that we have journeyed and built this festival for the past 10 years! Despite the ups and downs of the legal battle on Section 377, KASHISH has never wavered, it has only grown and become more vibrant. More than 30% of the audience are from mainstream society with about 25% student population. We have about 2000 individuals attending and they pretty much see films right from morning till midnight, because they never get to see these films anywhere else. There is a huge appetite for watching great films - the films at KASHISH focus on LGBTQ stories, but they are also fantastic global cinema! The expectations of the audience have grown and their tastes have evolved. They want to see sensitive, aesthetically qualitative films... films that give them a peep into the worlds unknown to them. KASHISH has grown into a community by itself, it has coalesced into a family.
Q: Also, this festival has seen the times when section 377 was very much in existence and also it’s repealing last year. How has the verdict on Section 377 impacted the festival?
SR: As I said the journey of KASHISH has run parallel with the legal movement and movement for social acceptance. Now with the law having been read down, legally we can breathe easy. But social stigma and discrimination still exist and are a barrier in LGBTQ persons living with equality and dignity. That is the focus this year of KASHISH, to speak about what lives 'Over The Rainbow'.
Q: What are the highlights of the festival this year? What should the audience look forward to the most?
SR: The audience would get to celebrate with KASHISH in a big way this year! 160 films from 43 countries to watch at two of Mumbai's iconic theatres - Liberty Carnival Cinemas and Metro INOX. There will also be awesome panel discussions, filmmaker interactions, acting and screenwriting workshops, performances and an opportunity to mingle with Mumbai's fashion set! There is a special open house with Sweekar - The Rainbow Parents, a group of parents of LGBTQ children.
Q: Over the years, how much has the Indian society - including the audience and filmmakers - evolved with respect to understanding LGBTQ and working towards an inclusive society?
SR: The Indian LGBTQ cinema space has changed dramatically. In the first year, we received 21 Indian LGBTQ films and we showed them all. Over the years not only the number of Indian LGBTQ films being made has increased, but their quality has also improved a great deal. This year we received 60 Indian LGBTQ films and we are showing 31 of them! It is the country with the highest number of films at KASHISH this year, even beating the USA and UK! The filmmakers are tackling diverse subjects - bisexuality, intersex persons' stories, same-sex love stories from rural India. The rainbow is indeed shining brightly.
Q: Do you think OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have helped to give a platform to such films? Has it also helped in empowering filmmakers since they also have alternative platforms to sell their work?
SR: OTT platforms are definitely a boon to independent filmmakers as they can now showcase their work to a larger global audience. My own film Evening Shadows that screened as the closing film last year at KASHISH is now streaming on Netflix and is one of the trending popular films. This year KASHISH is beginning a tie-up with the Taiwanese OTT platform GagaOOLala which focuses on LGBTQ films from South and South-East Asia. We will be showcasing 10 Indian LGBTQ films that have screened at KASHISH on this platform. It is a great way of nurturing and encouraging Indian LGBTQ cinema.
Q: What’s your long-term vision for Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival?
SR: KASHISH will continue its engagement with cinema and the performing arts focussed on LGBTQ lives. It will aim to bring the best of global LGBTQ cinema to Mumbai and India, as well as take Indian LGBTQ films across the world with our KASHISH Global initiative (where we have already screened at more than 40 international film festivals). We will continue to do year-round activities not only in Mumbai but also in other cities and towns of India, particularly colleges, with our KASHISH Forward initiative (we have already screened at more than 30 colleges). We will not only exhibit but also produce new LGBTQ content - the KASHISH QDrishti Film Grant in association with Lotus Visual, that offers Rs 2 lakh to a filmmaker to make his/her next film is a great step in that direction. We will keep the Indian LGBTQ Cinema banner flying high, in all its rainbow glory!
The four-day festival begins on June 12. Registrations can be made at bookmyshow.com