Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival : Seven shades of love at this happy utopia

-Rutwij Nakhwa

The minute you step outside of touching distance from the iconic Liberty cinema theatre, a sense of melancholic normalcy claims you back. That is how jubilantly wonderful the atmosphere and crowd at the 7th edition of this festival have been.Having  watched some rather refreshing and thought provoking films over the past four days, my first time at Kashish has been euphoric. 
Things started off with a wonderful short film from Faroe Islands, Denmark — Maria Winther Olsen’s ‘Falling Angles’. A story about forbidden love wherein a priest’s more traditional daughter falls for the newcomer to the islands, a liberated and confident Barbara. What strikes is the unique use of camera that does not fetishise the bodies of the actors while still managing to show passionate lesbian love making scenes. Next was Suhas Bhosale’s Marathi film ‘Koti’ which employs plentiful humour to make an otherwise dark and tragic tale, more accessible. Sham is the effeminate elder son of the family and thus in the pervading patriarchal rural Indian society, brings immense ridicule to his father, while inspiring an even greater love and devotion from his younger brother. He does everything in his power to thwart the father’s efforts to send Sham away. Ultimately Sham is faced with a choice between family and gender identity. Though enjoyable, the film feels slightly long as repetitive gags tend to drive focus away from the crux of the story, while Sham’s character deserves more development.

A kannada film that I watched the next day, though much grittier in tone, was thematically very similar. B S Lingadevaru’s ‘Nanu Avalnalla Avalu’ (I Am Not He, She…) feels almost like a sequel to ‘Koti’. We get to witness what might be; if a character like  Sham were to go and live among eunuchs. We follow a much older Madehsha who, born a boy, increasingly wishes to become a female as he grows up. This means, for Madhesha as well as the audience, getting acquainted with the appalling lives that the trans community in India leads, and also with their conventions. It is based on the real life of Madhesha, now Vidya, who refused to beg or sell her body and through sheer will, rose to a dignified life against that a society that would just not have her or let her be. 

The centrepiece feature on the beautiful Saturday evening of day three, was Hansal Mehta’s wonderful film, Manjoy Bajpayee starer — ‘Aligarh’. It is based on the life of Dr. S R Siras, a man already broken by the world; a bachelor living alone in a city, teaching a language that no one speaks. All he has and cares for is his dignity. And that is what he loses when Aligarh Muslim University suspends him for being homosexual. In a society that has ostracised and tortured him, only a rookie journalist can see him for what he is. The film beautifully chronicles the life a simple man, a poet, who wants nothing more than an ounce of respect and to listen to old hindi songs with a side of whiskey. We get to see him dragged through hell and back by an unkind society, leaving him faithless and without a purpose. Underlying in the film, is an intense anger for the faulty legal system and a society that has driven an innocent man to death. At its highpoint the film questions our prejudice and inequality by juxtaposing a scene — where the reporter is sneakily drinking and making out on the office terrace with his female editor, with one  — where Siras and his lover get intimate. It questions us, if  first scenario is something that we cheer and enjoy, why is the other a crime. This sense of anger could be felt at the festival as well; beneath the atmosphere of love and celebration was a searing rage towards the unjust and archaic article 377, which criminalises homosexuality. 

From one tragic life to the another,  Brazilian director Bruno Barreto’s 2013 film ‘Reaching For The Moon’ is a humanist tale inspired by a fictional novel based on American Pulitzer Prize winning poet Elizabeth Bishop’s relationship with the Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. The drama enthrals as it poignantly exposes the crests and troughs in human relationships as well an artist’s, often endless, search for inspiration. On the final day of the festival, just as proceedings culminated into the grand closing ceremony, I managed to catch two very optimistic short films made by young Indian directors; both featuring very strong mothers. In ‘Any Other Day’ the mother stands up to two cruel cops who harass her innocent and young, gay son. The film won its directors Vikrant Dhote and Srikant Ananthkrishnan the Rihad Wadia Award for Best Emerging Indian Filmmaker at the festival. The second was National Award Winner and this year’s Best Indian Narrative Short Winner at Kashish, ‘Daaravatha’ (The Threshold) directed by Nishant Roy Bombarde. In the this the mother leads a silent rebellion against the father and patriarchy itself by supporting her young adolescent son's sexual self-discovery and identification with the opposite gender. Daaravatha is as technically well-crafted and it is nuanced in its narrative about the child’s opportunity to fit his desires within the bounds of the existing cultural ethos. 

Beauty often lies in imperfection; even so, the festival did have a few hiccups. A couple of films stopped midway projection for about 15 minutes of nothingness, there were a few completely avoidable, unmentionable films like ‘Dunno Y2... Life Is a Moment’ as well as some logistical difficulties at the Max Muller Bhavan venue. But these could very well  be overlooked for what a grand celebration Kashish has been, of not just films but also of queer and all other identities. It has been a wonderful four days of watching films, making friends, being a part of the movement for equal rights and most of all feeling and spending my time amidst a bunch of extremely spirited, wonderful individuals. 

Kashish 2016 Award Winners

Best International Narrative Short: ‘San Cristóbal’ dir. Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo
Special Mention – ‘Trade Queen’ and ‘Technical Difficulties’

Best Documentary Short: ‘Transindia’ dir. Meera Darji

Best Documentary Feature: ‘Pansy’ dir. Jean-Baptiste Erreca

Rihad Wadia Award for Best Emerging Indian Filmmaker: 
Vikrant Dhote and Srikant Ananthkrishnan for ‘Any Other Day’

Best Performance in a Lead Role: Ingkarat Damrongsakkul in ‘How To Win At Checkers (Every Time)’ 
Special Mention - Brian Sheppard in ‘Beautiful Something’ and Antonio Altamirano in ‘San Cristóbal’

Best Indian Narrative Short: ‘The Threshold (Daaravatha)’ dir. Nikant Roy Bombarde

QDrishti Film Grant: V Ramanathan for ‘Normalcy’

Best Narrative Feature: ‘How To Win At Checkers (Every Time)’ dir. Josh Kim

Rainbow Warrior Award: Ruth Vanita, Saleem Kidwal

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