Pankaj, an adolescent boy, sneaks up to the terrace of his house, and with his sister, he admires an older bare-chested boy who is doing push-ups. This is a scene from National Award-winning The Threshold (Daaravtha), a Marathi film about a boy discovering his sexuality while having gender norms thrust on him by society. It successfully made a fan of every person who attended its screening. A perfect throwback to the days of school when boys would be dressed up as girls for dance functions, the film had it all – mehndi, sarees and make-up.
Daaravtha was one of the 182 films screened at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival that was held from May 25-29. All of 53 countries were represented and 800 submissions were considered. Mumbai’s Liberty Cinema, along with Alliance Française and Max Mueller Bhavan, were the venues chosen for a festival that called for a new inclusion.
KASHISH, now in its 7th year, had invited actor and gay rights activist Sir Ian McKellen to helm its opening ceremony. The crowd got on their feet and hooted together as the avuncular ‘Gandalf’ proceeded to take off his blazer and reveal his red t-shirt. It read “Some people are gay. Get over it.” Other attendees included actors Sonam Kapoor and Kunal Kapoor. Singer Sona Mohapatra performed a short set with her band. If societal consent were to be measured, Liberty Cinema may have been the perfect place to start.
Koti, another Marathi film about a young transgender in a rural village, had about 50 people in attendance as the opening credits rolled, but by the time the film was over, the audience had swelled to around 300. All of them stood up and vociferously cheered director Suhas Bhosale who took the stage with a few members of his cast and crew. Bhosale, overwhelmed by the reaction his film had received, said at the Q&A, “The questions we’ve raised, for them to reach the common man, that’s our only wish.”
The vibe at KASHISH’s venues could best be described as electric. There were cheers, ovations and wild applause. In the National Award-winning I Am Not He, She…, Vidya, a hijra, dressed in a saree, goes through the compartments of a train, begging for money. A passenger condescendingly tells her to get an education and start working for a living. She then explains to him that she, in fact, has an MA, but due to employers denying her every job she applies for, she has been forced to begging for her livelihood. The resultant applause in the room was deafening. Vidya was preaching to the choir. Here was a community whose stories had seldom been told extensively or accurately by films and filmmakers.
Interestingly, the five-day festival encouraged a sense of fraternity. After the screening of films, people would gather to socialise in the foyer. They’d share numbers and add each other on Facebook. Film buffs rubbed shoulders with members of the LGBT community, and the audience was also international. Brianna, a US-born Canadian resident, made sure she and her girlfriend were able to be in Mumbai for the entire length of the festival. “I was travelling to India to visit the North, but I just couldn’t miss this.” Men walked by in high heels. Nobody needed to hide. Anuraag, 23, travelled from Rajasthan to be part of KASHISH this year. The last time he’d journeyed to the city was in February for Mumbai’s Pride March.
With inevitable references to Section 377, a few films proved cathartic. In Any Other Day, a film by Srikant Ananthkrishnan and Vikrant Dhota (who went on to win the award for Best Emerging Indian Filmmakers), two police officers harass a boy after discovering his sexuality when looking through his private possessions. The anger in the auditorium was palpable. Thankfully, the protagonist’s mother saved the day.
In the end, it was Rutwij, a mass media student, who put it best, “My first year at KASHISH was not just about films, of which some were eye-opening and others delightfully refreshing. It was also about the people and their wonderful community. Despite the injustices, they only offer love.”
LIST OF WINNERS
Best International Narrative Short
Special Mention: Trade Queen and Technical Difficulties
WINNER : San Cristóbal directed by Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo
Best Documentary Short
WINNER : Transindia directed by Meera Darji
Best Documentary Feature
WINNER : ‘Pansy’ directed by Jean-Baptiste Erreca
Rihad Wadia Award for Best Emerging Indian Filmmaker
WINNER : Vikrant Dhote and Srikant Ananthkrishnan for Any Other Day
Best Performance in a Leading Role
Special Mention: Brian Sheppard in Beautiful Something
Special Mention: Antonio Altamirano in San Cristóbal
WINNER : Ingkarat Damrongsakkul in How To Win At Checkers (Every Time)
Best Indian Narrative Short
WINNER : The Threshold (Daaravatha), directed by Nikant Roy Bombarde
QDrishti Film Grant
WINNER : V Ramanathan for Normalcy
Best Narrative Feature
WINNER: How To Win At Checkers (Every Time) directed by Josh Kim
Rainbow Warrior Award
WINNER : Ruth Vanita, Saleem Kidwal