In conversation with Festival Director Sridhar Rangayan on the challenges in organizing a LGBT film festival – South Asia’s largest – in India and the half-a-decade journey of the festival.
Five years of KASHISH- how does it feel?
When you begin something challenging, especially in difficult circumstances, you never know where it will lead to or will it ever sustain. Founding KASHISH in 2010 as a mainstream LGBT film festival, and organizing it on an international scale was a daunting task. But, support came from various quarters – from filmmakers and distributors, to the Indian film industry, to development sector organizations, cultural institutions & corporate, and of course a large turnout of not just LGBT audiences, but mainstream audiences.
Over the past four years, KASHSIH has grown in scale to become South Asia’s biggest queer film festival. Everyone in Mumbai and across the world now believes KASHISH is here to stay.
What was the idea behind starting KASHISH?
The idea was to mainstream queer visibility - removing myths and misconceptions about Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender lives by showing their real aspirations, struggles, feelings, and highlighting that LGBT people are human beings with the same need for love and acceptance as anyone else. KASHISH connects these dots through the medium of cinema. We also wanted to create a space where everyone could watch queer films in a mainstream space, without any fear, stigma or discrimination. We wanted to bring queer films out of the shadows and place it on the big screen!
What has been the experience of organising the festival?
KASHISH has not only become a space for celebration and community building for the LGBT community, but also a window to LGBT lives for a large mainstream audience.
KASHISH attracts close to 30% non-LGBT audience who are mainly film buffs, academics, activists, friends, colleagues and families of LGBT people. Many a times, general audience who walk into the multiplex for another film get interested when they see KASHISH, and register to see films at our festival. We conduct the festival on an international scale with all due permissions in place, including clearance from the Information & Broadcasting Ministry of India. Having India’s most eminent filmmaker Mr. Shyam Benegal (Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, multiple National Awards, Golden Palm at Cannes, Golden Bear at Berlinale) as our Festival Patron is a great guiding force. Over the years. A number of Bollywood celebrities – Juhi Chawla, Rahul Bose, Manisha Koirala, Anupam Kher, Kabir Bedi, Moushami Chatterjee, Zeenat Aman, Sanjay Suri, Purab Kohli, Renuka Shahane, Sarita Joshi, Sai Paranjpye, Kalpana Lajmi, Resul Pookutty, Celina Jaitley - have attended the festival and stressed its importance and relevance.
What are the challenges this year?
Now going into its 5th year, it feels now like KASHISH is here to stay. While the challenges are always aplenty – from raising finances to getting a great team together without pay to getting large number of celebrities to walk the KASHISH red Carpet – every year these sound like an impossible dream. But somehow as the festival moves towards it opening, every year, magically all the elements come together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – to create a fabulous festival portrait. This year too we are sure we will have a rocking festival! What can we expect this year? The theme this year is ‘Dare To Dream’. The theme is a salute to the undying spirit and synergy of our Indian queer community whose decades-long struggle for equality and dignity has been setback by the recent Supreme Court verdict regarding Sec 377. Disheartened, but not willing to give up, the Indian queer community fights back with hope for a non-discriminatory world. KASHISH 2014 reflects this spirit mirroring similar struggles in other parts of the world – some successful and some poignant. This year we have received over 270 submissions. KASHISH 2014 will bring the best programming of International and Indian LGBT films.
A highly qualified 10 member festival preview team and Director of Programming Saagar Gupta have been unflinching in their commitment to screen only the best of best to the festival. While inclusion and diversity are key to every festival, films at the 5th edition will be qualitatively top notch and pushing the envelope in terms of content. There will be more Narrative and Documentary Features this year and as ever a huge bouquet of short films that form the spine of our programming. The panel discussions will focus on current burning issues and challenges the LGBT community faces in India, combined with a deep focus on cinematic trends in LGBT cinema across the world.
Has KASHISH been able to bridge the gap that exists between the mainstream Indian film industry and those who make films on queer themes?
Over the past four years KASHISH has emerged as a unique platform for Indian filmmakers who make films on LGBT themes.
Because of the mainstream film industry hegemony, a large number of shorts, documentaries and independent films made in India on this theme are often invisible. By programming these films at KASHISH it provides a means to the filmmakers to reach audiences. KASHISH also has a network of partner LGBT festivals across the world and we facilitate programming Indian queer shorts at these festivals. Winner of the Best Indian Short at KASHISH gets to directly compete at the Iris Prize Festival for the highest LGBT film cash award in the world of GBP25,000. KASHISH also every year compiles the best Indian short films and distributes it through Amazon and Queer Ink.
What is the secret behind KASHISH’s success?
KASHISH success over the years can be attributed to its multi layered outreach – as an event that combines advocacy and entertainment, as a space for community building, as a window to underline and highlight LGBT lives, and above all as a four day cinematic experience extravaganza.