Kashish, the second annual Mumbai queer film festival, opens on May 25.
We have many common experiences,” says Ranadeep Bhattacharya, 29, of his friend and co-director Judhajit Bagchi, 30. Both are from Srirampur in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. “We bunked college to watch old Hindi films in College Street [in Kolkata]. We attended the same institute for our film studies. And we had almost the same set of friends, some straight and others of alternate sexuality. We understood the latter group well enough to make a film about it.”
Having queer friends, and understanding those friends’ perspectives on the queer as well as straight worlds, led Bhattacharya and Bagchi to make their first short film, the 22-minute Amen, last year. After debuting at the Engendered I View Film Festival in New York, Amen showed elsewhere in the USA and in New Zealand. It will now be showcased at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. The festival runs May 25-29.
In Amen, two characters meet, experience hope amidst confusion, explore truths about sexuality, the self and human life. The directors try to hammer home the idea in their film that homosexuality is not something one chooses because of one’s disillusionment with being “straight” or for any other reason. Homosexuality comes from the genes.
“Not many people know that there are two types of gays in our society,” says Bagchi in a professorial tone. “One type is in denial that he’s not gay and that his sexual deviations are just a temporary phase of seeking pleasure. This person sometimes goes on to marry a woman. The other type knows he’s gay and accepts it. Also,” he adds, “there is the misconception that if a person is sexually abused as a child then he or she grows up to have alternate sexuality.”
Amen was made with a budget of just Rs 2.5 lakh scraped together by the co-directors and their friends. More difficult than raising funds was finding two actors to play the queer couple in the film. The actors they approached, the co-directors say, first lectured them about the potential blowback on the makers of such a film, and on its cast, and then reprimanded them for a “blasphemous” script. It took three months to find their two lead actors. Homosexuality, Bhattacharya and Bagchi say, like short films, gets short shrift in India.
Another director, Ankit Pahwa, is displaying his film Udhaar at the Kashish festival. He had, he says, a kindred experience to that of Amen’s directors. To find actors for Udhaar, a queer film which also touches on the subject of plastic money, was, Pahwa says, “one big issue”. Pahwa adds that, after his film was completed, the next problem was rejection. Udhaar “was supposed to be my degree film [he studied at Pune University] but was not accepted, ultimately, for obvious reasons.”
Sridhar Rangayan, the festival director, reckons that this year’s festival is “queerer” than last year’s edition. He says that there is a gradual but sure break from the attitudes of the past. “Last year was a tough climb, but last year’s tremendous success has made this year’s path easier. We have had five multiplexes vying to collaborate with us. Last year it took us four months to convince one. We are also happy that, for the first time, a commercial sponsor like DKT India has come on board as our principal partner. We also have donors from several streams. This certainly, I hope, indicates a greater acceptance of diversity.”
Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, running May 25-29, features 124 films from 23 countries (of which 21 are Indian) and a host of film-related events. Venues are Cinemax Versova, Infinity Mall, Andheri West (May 25-29) and Alliance Francaise, Marine Lines (May 26-28). Events are scheduled from 10 am to 11 pm.
Entry is free but you must register via the website, www.mumbaiqueerfest.com, and collect delegate passes. To volunteer, you must be over 18; orientation sessions will be announced on the website. For further information email firstname.lastname@example.org