Moving Forward, Together: A Look Back at KASHISH 2020 Virtual
South Asia’s biggest LGBTQIA+ film festival, the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival has long been credited with shining a much-deserved light on the LGBTQIA+ filmmaking community. Driving social change through the medium of artistic expression, the 11th edition of KASHISH just wrapped up its first-ever virtual edition, showcasing a whopping 157 films from 42 countries.
Founded in the year 2010 following the partial striking down of certain portions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that were deemed unconstitutional with respect to the LGBTQIA+ community, the story of KASHISH began in the darkened halls of PVR Cinema’s 123-seater theatre.
“One of the reasons KASHISH was set up in 2010 was to celebrate LGBTQIA+ lives through cinema in a mainstream space, wherein people could go into a theatre and watch LGBTQIA+ films on the big screen until then, there was no space like that,” explains Sridhar Rangayan, Founder-Festival Director of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, “The joy of watching these films on the big screen was huge for the community, and it’s not just them coming over the years- they have brought their parents, their colleagues, their friends- It’s a big celebration for the community, like a big pride event!”
A non-profit initiative operated by a team of passionate and dedicated volunteers, the festival grew from a sold-out 123-seater event to one that has inspired and changed countless lives all across the globe, finally breaking into the digital space with their latest edition.
With LGBTQIA+ representation in mainstream media lacking in both originality and authenticity, being skewered towards an external, impersonal gaze, KASHISH has become a platform for audiences to become exposed to the wealth of internal narratives that have been long-ignored by mainstream cinema.
“LGBTQIA+ representation in the mainstream cinema space, there’s hardly one or two films every year, which are big-budget, star-cast films, released in theatres.” Sridhar explains, “But there are at least 60 LGBTQIA+ films coming out of India every year- These are short films, documentaries, and independent films which do not get a theatrical release at all!”
With a host of community-forward films showcasing a more layered, sensitive and holistic approach to a range of diverse topics that strike a more realistic tone when compared to the staccato portrayals of mainstream cinema, KASHISH aims to nurture, propagate and make LGBTQIA+ narratives more accessible both in our nation and across the globe.
°Moving Forward, Together!
With the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus transforming large-format events the likes of film festivals and screenings into somewhat of a distant memory, the good folks behind KASHISH knew that their host of fresh, new voices from the Indian and international LGBTQIA+ communities deserved their day in the limelight. Partnering with Xerb, the festival as a whole took to the internet-space, replicating the format of the on-ground event as closely as possible, with the added benefit of a wider, global audience.
With this year’s theme of Moving Forward, Together, the film festival aimed to highlight the marginalised communities within the larger LGBTQIA+ community. With a large emphasis on narratives surrounding gay, lesbian and trans persons in the film community, this year’s event aimed to uplift the lesser-known narratives surrounding trans men, queer, non-binary, asexual, and intersex persons.
“I think it’s high time we start talking about the sub-communities within the community, it’s time to create safe spaces for all the voices which are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, that was our focus this year,” Sridhar says, “I think it was definitely seen as a plus by audiences, which was very rewarding for us. We were reasonably successful in creating a safe space for a dialogue about the more marginalised communities within the larger community,”
“Art is something that influences human minds very strongly. Thereby, filmmakers, the artists should contribute towards the betterment of the LGBTQ community” says Abhhigyan Mukherjee, the filmmaker behind the emotional, heart-warming documentary short Secrets of Seenagers, a celebration of the lives of the gay, bisexual and asexual men of the Mumbai collective, Seenagers Gupshup Group, a support group for men above the age of 50. “I feel that a film is incredibly democratic and accessible. Thereby, it’s an opportunity for filmmakers who can actually change the world, not redecorate it,”
°A Vehicle for Change
The year 2018 sent a ripple of positive change through Indian society with the striking down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. An archaic remnant of the British Raj, the law criminalised all sexual acts it deemed “against the order of nature” and was historically used as a tool to prosecute members of the LGBTQIA+ community for their gender and sexual orientations. While the ruling was a major success for the KASHISH team and the community at large, Sridhar explains that acceptance is still the biggest threat to LGBTQIA+ lives across the nation.
“Section 377 being struck down in 2018 has definitely changed perceptions about the community, but I don’t think it’s translated into complete acceptance.” Sridhar says, “You can see more acceptance in metro cities, but in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, it’s more complicated for LGBTQIA+ people to negotiate their identities and sexual orientations within the social framework, that is something we hope will change very soon.”
While Indian society may well be built on patriarchal, conservative ideals, KASHISH aims to be a vehicle for social change through its community outreach efforts, striving to enable members of the LGBTQIA+ community in non-metropolitan areas to spread their message to the wider nation.
“That’s the next step we intend to take in our journey of exhibiting and distributing LGBTQIA+ content, we’d like to help develop it,” Sridhar explains, “What we need is more films in regional languages, to encourage more regional filmmaking. It’s not just about the community members who take up the camera because they have a script and can shoot the film, but rather the ability to make good films that last, that travel wide and influence people to change their mindset.”
Working to create a series of workshops on filmmaking to hone the skill sets of the countless talented members of the community across the nation, the festival hopes to be an agency that is not only interested in developing cinema but also intervening as an agency to create an environment where better cinema can be made. As a first step, the festival has teamed up with UK-based production house Lotus Visual Production to offer a 2 lakh rupee grant to filmmakers, to enable them to kick-start their careers in the short-film industry.
“Unfortunately, only one person can receive the grant, but it’s one step at a time!” Sridhar laughs.
While the future may be uncertain, KASHISH’s unending devotion to the community has weathered the tumultuous waves of both time and tide and has emerged a victorious symbol of love and dignity.
“Our responsibility as human beings, as a species, is other human beings. There’s no need to differentiate between us based on our orientation” says director Taruna Khanagwal of the politically, socially and religiously charged short film, Un.Suitables, a chronicle of love and loss set against the backdrop of Hindu-Muslim tensions in Kashmir. “KASHISH is the most prestigious and inspiring film festival for the LGBTQIA+ community, and to have the opportunity to be amongst these intelligent and authentic people, who are all trying to say the same thing as I am, it was an incredible feeling, and an opportunity for me and my team to share our thoughts and perspective that love has no language, no religion, no restrictions, no boundaries. We need to think above that.”
Watch the Closing Night & Award Ceremony here:
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