Bombay Showcase

Change, seven years in the making

(Clockwise from top left) Films that will be screened will include Boys in Brazil , While you weren’t looking , Those people , Anjali , and Aligarh .  

In his signature outfit, a vest, cap and long scarf (this time, it’s all blue) Sridhar Rangayan is apologetic as he flits back and forth answering questions post the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival press event. When we finally sit down to chat, he takes a long satisfying drag of a cigarette he’s nursing, then breathes a sigh of relief and prompts me to start. We’re discussing the journey of the country’s first and only queer film festival.

Rangayan’s brainchild is now in its seventh year and while the team doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel every edition – by Rangayan’s own admission – there’s a long, long way to go. His excitement and anxiety is palpable. It takes a few questions to get the filmmaker’s rapt attention but we start anyway.

“It started in 2003 where my film [ The Pink Mirror ] showed at the Turin International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and since then I’ve travelled a lot,” says Rangayan, answering the one question he was always asked. Why didn’t India have any dedicated event for queer cinema? The response was always linked to a certain archaic law preventing anything queer from being presented in public domain. “We’ve had film festivals in India in colleges and community centres,” he says, “But the idea was very different and I just felt it was important to do something.”

The turning point arrived in the form of the Delhi High Court judgment in July 2009: where Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, dating back to 1860, was officially decriminalised. It essentially meant that sexual activities between two consenting adults, no matter their gender, would no longer be illegal. A chance application to Movies That Matter, an arm of Amnesty International, resulted in the acquisition of a €5,000 grant. “We didn’t think it would happen,” he says. “We’ve got this grant and we have to do something. And suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do.”

And the first edition of the festival came to be where everything was chaotic, especially because of Rangayan’s ambitious plan of partnering with a multiplex. For six months, the team negotiated and cajoled and convinced corporates to give them a chance, and finally, the association with PVR happened. At this point in 2009, the only other queer film to hit theatres had been Fire!, and what an incendiary time it was. Determinedly, albeit apprehensively, the first edition was live in a 123-seater screen at PVR Juhu. “But we had to turn away 30 to 35 per cent of the audience. It was crazy,” says Rangayan. “It’s not fair when you’re putting this much effort to bring these films and when people are putting in the effort to come to see them.”

As Kashish grew in scale and numbers, it travelled to the 230-seat Cinemax in Andheri before finding a sweet spot at Liberty Cinema in South Mumbai in 2014. “It was a boon, it’s the biggest Art Deco theatre and it’s got an idea of liberty which is fantastic.” However, Rangayan says that the shift from a multiplex does have its drawbacks: it’s no longer an avenue for that a cross-sectionality that a mainstream theatre allows, when an SRK film can run alongside queer cinema. “Multiplexes have their own restrictions; like not single extra person can be allowed, or Jana Gana Mana has to be sung,” says Rangayan. “But we love Jana Gana Mana and will play the gay one at Liberty.” Despite the isolation, a venue like Liberty ensures that no one is turned away and like Rangayan says, “It’s home now.” This year, the festival straddles two additional venues, Alliance Française de Bombay and the Max Mueller Bhavan. “Earlier, it was a dictatorship kind of programming, and now it’s a choice.”

Every year after a successful edition, the Kashish team thinks their last is behind them. What turns the tide is the feedback from queer and non-LGBT people alike. Whether it’s the courage to accept and/or come out, or the acknowledgement of prejudices, Kashish has been slowly, steadily and even one at a time, changing perceptions using the powerful tool that is cinema. And there’s no doubt that the festival has grown, in scale, production, organisation, and even garnered attention. And Rangayan can’t help but want more. However, not at the cost of interference. “We would not want to lose the community spirit at all. It’s a festival by the community, for the community… well largely at least,” he says. “We don’t want to be driven by the glamour and it’s not a money-making exercise. Kashish continues to remain an empowering space and that’s something we will really fight to continue.”

And every year, in September, the butterflies creep in his stomach as the planning starts. This time, the selection committee has whittled a whopping 800 films from all over the world down to 183, which is still quite ambitious for any festival-going experience. Realising that catching every screened film is quite impossible, Rangayan wants to extend Kashish from the five-day festival it is now. One of the many future plans include year-round activities in inaccessible and far-flung locations to make Kashish even more inclusive. The initiative will be one of the things that can alleviate Rangayan’s perennial anxiety. “That’s the bane of any festival: have we been able to be cutting-edge, diverse, and cinematically the best we can be?” he asks, mentioning the other issues plaguing his mind. But through it all, sweat, tears and hopefully no blood, the Kashish team has ploughed on for seven years working with no financial return. “We haven’t gotten paid for six years,” he says, eager that the next year will be different. “We need resources and not to be apologetic about it. [Right now] I’m begging: whether it’s a film or a camera or sound equipment, saying 20 per cent discount de do , LGBT festival hai .”

On a personal level, Rangayan is even more anxious about himself. “Am I doing enough?” he asks. “I feel there’s so much more within me and I’m being non-humble, but I feel extremely limited as a gay man and filmmaker about making films. I don’t see any venues apart from what I’m doing and I can’t seem to break that barrier. The filmmaker has never taken the straight road (his own words), will continue to remain a worry-wart and look forward to the next curve that comes his way. “I studied to be an engineer then I went on to be a graphic designer. It’s not even an iota of the dream I’ve had and already so much has happened.” Then there’s the desire to write fiction, poetry and even paint, which have all remained on the backburner. However, the aim is to integrate it all and only then, will Rangayan, the filmmaker, festival director and proud gay man, be at peace with himself.

Kashish launches today at 6 pm at Liberty Cinema. For more details on the schedule and other venues see

‘Kashish continues to remain an empowering space and that’s something we will really fight to continue’

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 11:25:57 AM |

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