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Shridhar Rangayan talks about the journey of Kashish Film Festival – South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ film festival

Rangayan talks about the salient aspects of the festival to Senior Journalist JYOTHI VENKATESH in an exclusive interview with Cine Blitz.



Sridhar Rangayan | Photo: Punit Reddy

With Pride month around the corner, this year marks the 14th Edition of the renowned Kashish film festival. The four-day long festival will screen some great LGBTQ-themed movies by filmmakers across the world between 7 to 11 June 2023 at Liberty Cinemas, Mumbai. Founder-Festival Director of South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ film festival KASHISH film festival talks about the salient aspects of the festival to Senior Journalist JYOTHI VENKATESH in an exclusive interview with Cine Blitz.

How has the festival evolved over a period of years?

KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival was started in 2010 after the reading down of Sec 377 by the Delhi High Court on one screen at PVR Cinema of 125 seats, and the crowds we witnessed queuing up for the shows were humungous. Then we shifted to Cinemax theatre with a 235-seater capacity before finding our true home at Liberty Cinema with around 1200 seats and we pretty much fill it up choc-a-block on the opening, closing, and many prime shows. Imagine the thrill of watching an LGBTQ+-themed film on the big screen among 1200 people cheering and clapping for it. KASHISH over the years has grown to become South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ+ film festival and one of the most important film festivals in India which people look forward to every year.

With 30% of audience members being non-LGBTQ+ members who are either family members, friends, allies, or just film buffs, KAHSISH has been instrumental in advocating for equal rights, sensitizing the society at large regarding LGBTQ+ issues, and creating an environment for nurturing LGBTQ+ filmmaking in India.

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The films being shown at KASHISH, which correlates to audience expectations, have also changed from rom-com and entertainment focused films to more nuanced and aesthetic films which offer a world view.

Also, we are seeing an increase in Indian LGBTQ+ film submissions (from 22 in the first year to 90 this year!), and the quality of the films have also improved drastically – the narratives have shifted from angst-ridden, who-am-I, what-am-I kind of films to deal with realities of LGBTQ+ persons lives in the everyday situation – like life at the workplace, life with family members, life with loved ones; also the narratives have shifted from urban-centric topics to rural and semi-urban environments, and also to include not just stories of gay & transgender persons as in the past, to highlight stories of lesbian & bisexual women, transmen, non-binary persons, etc.

The theme of KASHISH 2023 is ‘BE FLUID, BE YOU!’, giving wings to the aspirations of the contemporary generation that is fluid in their thoughts, actions, and sexualities; which is expressed through films, art, and poetry that is universal in its appeal.

Why have movies and cinema become crucial mediums of communication?

Cinema touches the hearts and opens people’s minds. This has been the case since the very advent of cinema – the idea is not only to entertain but also to communicate much larger issues through the audio-visual medium. When the films are well made, not just used for propaganda, they can convey subliminal messages about various issues.

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What are your thoughts on how LGBTQ themes are slowly getting into mainstream cinema?

Over the past decade or two, mainstream Indian cinema has been much more sensitive in handling LGBTQ+ characters and narratives. Some of the recent films like Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhaan, Evening Shadows, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Badhaai Do and Maja Ma have focussed on LGBTQ+ characters at the center of the narrative and offered poignant portrayals that are positive and affirmative. They also reflect the change in societal attitude post the reading down of Sec 377 in 2018. The OTT platforms have taken the LGBTQ+ portrayals by storm and almost every web series has a LGBTQ+ character.  Some are for just being woke and tick boxes, but some have dealt with the characters with empathy.

What we need are films and web series that place the LGBTQ+ narratives at their core and offer diverse insights into LGBTQ+ lives. We also need more LGBTQ+ actors, directors, screenwriters, and other professionals helming these projects. We need space at the table and we want to be stakeholders in telling our stories truthfully.

What’s new in Kashish this year?

The 14th edition of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ+ film festival will be held June 7 – 11, 2023 at Liberty Cinema, and June 8 – 10, 2023 at Alliance Française de Bombay; and also online from June 16 – 25, 2023. The festival will screen 110 LGBTQ+ Films from 41 Counties at the on-ground event along with Panel Discussions & Interactive Q&A sessions with filmmakers, Red Carpet celebrity events, and scintillating Dance & Music Performances on the opening & closing nights by LGBTQ+ community members and Allies.

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Some of the film highlights are the Indian films Pine Cone, Maja Ma, Satya The Truth, Ek Jagah Apni, and Lailaa Manju along with an array of dazzling short films.

Being introduced this year, the Ismat Chugtai Award for Best Indian Woman Filmmaker has been instituted in memory of eminent Indian Urdu novelist, short story writer, liberal humanist, and filmmaker Ismat Chughtai – this award is an attempt to acknowledge and encourage Indian women filmmakers to tell path-breaking narratives infused with progressive, positive viewpoints. The award is supported by Ismat Chughtai’s grandson and filmmaker Ashish Sawhney.

FIVE Indian women filmmakers have been nominated in the debut year of this award. Their films definitely push the narratives beyond patriarchy and gender. This year will also see the highest number of participating filmmakers and cast & crew members from not only India but also from Singapore, Macau, Japan, Nepal, Lebanon, the UK, Italy, Israel & Greece!