May 2, 2017
Sridhar Rangayan, director of Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, speaks about the upcoming edition of KASHISH film festival in Mumbai, his efforts to bring sexual minorities in to the mainstream, his journey in the film industry and more…
All geared up for this the 8th edition of South Asia’s biggest and India’s only mainstream LGBTQ film festival to be held in Mumbai from May 24-May 28 this year, director Sridhar Rangayan, in a candid conversation, speaks about what’s in store for the audience in this year’s KASHISH, his groundbreaking films, his thoughts on world problems and much more. Excerpts from the interview…
Tell us something about the theme of KASHISH 2017.
The theme of KASHISH 2017 explores the diversity of the LGBTQ community. The diverse shades of the rainbow remind us that as people we are all different and we are all unique. In the fight for an equal society, basic human rights and against laws that criminalize and discriminate, it is our shared values that bring us together. We are strongest when we come together, when we embrace one another’s uniqueness and celebrate our differences. We are Diverse, We are One.
What made the poster designed by Benny Mathew stand out from the other several entries received from across the world?
Every year there is a great anticipation about this contest because it defines the ‘look’ of the festival. The winning design every year has been outstanding and has been appreciated the world over. We now keenly await designers globally to send us their brilliant entries. The cash award is the icing on the cake. KASHISH has been south Asia’s biggest and India’s only LGBTQ film festival. How has your journey been? And how it has served your set purpose?
Since its founding in 2010, KASHISH has grown in stature to become South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ film festival. It still remains the only LGBTQ film festival in India to be held in a mainstream theater. Over its journey of 7 years the festival has become an important annual event in Mumbai’s cultural calendar, one of the important film festivals in India, and has been voted as one of the top 5 coolest LGBTQ film festivals in the world. That speaks for itself about the magnitude and reach of the festival, which has been possible with wonderful team effort by a lot of dedicated individuals who come together – whether it is the filmmakers, sponsors, organizations, jury members, celebrities or the volunteers – each of them turn the KASHISH wheel and drives it ahead.
When we started KASHISH, we had two objectives in mind – to create a space for the LGBTQ community to watch films that resonate with their lives and celebrate; as well as for the non LGBTQ community to get a peep into the LGBTQ world for a better understanding. We wanted to break the myth that being gay, lesbian, transgender was all about sex; we wanted to highlight the fact that LGBTQ persons are human being with the same spectrum of emotions – happiness, sadness, anxiety, hope, love, care, etc – and that they can be a productive member of the society if the environment is conducive – legal and social. More than 30% of non LGBTQ audience at our festival take back a clear awareness – LGBTQ persons are ‘normal’ human beings, only their struggles are different.
How has been associating with Wendell Rodricks in KASHISH?
Wendell Rodricks is one of India’s top fashion designer. He is a Padma Shree awardee by the Government of India for his contribution to art, fashion and culture of this country. It is an honour that he has instituted the cash award for the poster design contest and juries the contest. His keen eye both for aesthetics and relevance of design to the theme ensures that every year a fabulous design is picked. The winning design every year has been appreciated worldwide for its innovative look and resonance.
As a filmmaker you are known for your groundbreaking subjects and storyline of your movies. Do you feel it still doesn’t reach a wider audience due to its tabooed content or subject?
Mainstream distribution platforms in India does not offer much space for films with different content, especially if it doesn’t have a big star cast or big production house banner backing it. Films with LGBTQ content is still marginalised unless they are ‘sanitized’ to appeal to a larger audience. Things are changing, but changing very slowly.
That’s why we started KASHISH, to offer a platform to filmmakers making films on these subjects. Not only does the festival screen these films in Mumbai during the 4 ½ days of the festival, but also nurtures the film in diverse ways – the KASHSH Global program facilitates programming of Indian LGBTQ films at festivals worldwide by partnering with other festivals. We also secure sometimes a screening fee which is at least some return to the filmmakers. KASHISH Forward is another initiative where we take LGBTQ films with a focus on youth to colleges across India. This has been extremely rewarding, to see young minds open up to a dialogue about these subjects. We also distribute Indian LGBTQ films and support revenue generation for the filmmakers. Since last year KASHISH has also launched QDrishti Film Grant which offers 1lac rupees to a filmmaker to make his/her next film.
Hopefully KASHISH is creating a new path for these films, breaking boundaries and bringing hope.
After all these years, do you think India is still far behind in time when it comes to bringing issues of sexual minorities in India into light and addressing them?
Indian film industry is still dictated largely by companies and private investors. It is still seen largely as business. There are hardly any state or central government funding or cultural agencies supporting filmmaking and distribution, like in Europe, Australia and North America. There are no arts and council funding, no theaters set up to screen independent films. And to add to the woes is an antiquated censor board that clamps down creative voices with its moral policing.
All this has to change and change fast. There is a new breed of filmmakers who are rearing to go with innovative content, but they need the backing of production finances and distribution.
I find hope in small victories – my documentary ‘Purple Skies’ on Indian lesbians, bisexuals & transmen, being shown on Doordarshan and my documentary feature about Sec 377 ‘Breaking Free’ winning a National Award – I see as signs of change. There have been several films like ‘Aligarh’, ‘Margarita With a Straw’, ‘Dear Dad’, ‘I Am Not He, She’ pushing boundaries and receiving critical acclaim.
Your work towards goodwill and recognition of the LGBTQ community in India and worldwide is truly commendable. Do you feel you have got your due for all that you have done?
You have touched upon a raw nerve. It is not about getting my due, but I am disappointed that after so many years of all of us working so hard, ground realities have not changed for the LGBTQ community – I mean, not enough. By now we should have gotten rid of Sec 377 and moved towards strengthening other areas of LGBTQ rights – partnership, inheritance, old age, disability, etc. There is not enough anger, within the community and among the general public, that this stigma and discrimination should be put to end, not just in metros, but in smaller towns across India. We need an uprising, we need a revolt.
It’s 2017 and India is still bugged with issues of human trafficking, violence against women, religious intolerance and so on. What are your thoughts on the same?
Not just India, I think the entire world is moving backward into a more conservative mindset. While the world is shrinking, I think people’s minds are shrinking too. There seems to be more violence, more fear; and that brings out more factionalism and cocooning.
In these dark times, what offers me hope is the youth power. They are more liberal and accepting of diversity. Youth seem concerned about issues and want to take a stand. But they have to move from cyber activism to grass roots activism to bring about real change in policies and mindshifts.
What different can Mumbai expect to see this year in KASHISH?
It is the 8th year and there is always a hunger for something new and different. Just like this year’s theme, ‘Diverse, One’, the programming will be very diverse with focus on the entire LGBTQ spectrum, as well as focus on other marginalized sections within the queer community – like aged, differently abled, racially disparate, etc. Being South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ film festival, this year will focus more on South Asian and Asia Pacific queer films, as well as films from countries where LGBTQ communities are still victimized. This year boasts of a very strong Indian program, and the quality of Indian films we are showing this year is astounding. Also this year we will be tell stories that have not been heard before – like gay and lesbian Inuit people from the Arctic region.