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A Celebration Outside the Box: KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival

by Meghana Injeti

If you’ve passed by Liberty Cinema or Metro Inox Cinema theatres usually around the month of May-June, you would have noticed the colorful banner reading 'KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival (MIQFF)', the colorful rainbow celebrations and its stunning guest appearances.

The People Place Project interviewed Sridhar Rangayan, a filmmaker and the festival director for KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Festival. KASHISH MIQFF is South-Asia’s and India’s biggest LGBT film festival, held every year for over 5 days in Mumbai’s two mainstream cinema theaters.

KASHISH MIQFF was founded in the year 2010 and strongly believes in films and art as powerful mediums of awareness and social change. The platform encourages greater exposure to the national and international queer cinema to speak for itself and help foster an understanding between the diverse audiences who come to attend the festival. Every year they hold a world-wide art competition encouraging people to send in their art for a chance for it to be featured on their poster and banner design.

The LGBTQ+ community is an important part of Mumbai’s fabric but their visibilities has always been a problem, but thanks to agencies like Kashish and MIQFF have helped in this process by offering safe spaces for dialogue, awareness, expression, thoughts, desires and social interactions.

Team of 2019

1. What’s the focus of your agency and, how does it create a socio-economic, political, or cultural impact in society?

KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival is South Asia's & India’s first and the biggest LGBTQ film festival, to be held in a mainstream theatre. It is the first Indian LGBTQ festival to be held with approval by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, Government of India.

The festival has been voted as one of the Top 5 LGBTQ Film Festivals in the world, features in the list of top 10 important film festivals in India and is considered as an important annual event in Mumbai’s cultural calendar.

KASHISH believes that art and films are powerful mediums to bring about social change. The festival uses the reach and spread that KASHISH has already established, as one of Mumbai’s important film festivals, to rally public opinion towards equality and dignity for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. KASHISH uses local, national and international platforms to advocate and sensitize the larger public about LGBTQ issues.

2. What issue(s) is your agency addressing and could you tell us what compelled the agency to begin in the first place?

In 2009, The Delhi High Court read down Section 377 thereby effectively decriminalizing homosexuality for the first time in India. That’s when a group of us felt it was important to hold a LGBTQ film festival out in the open, in a mainstream theatre. That’s how KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival was founded in 2010 and became the first-ever LGBTQ film festival to be held in a mainstream multiplex theatre.

Over the past 10 years, the festival has grown in numbers and strength, attracting a wide cross-section of the population who attend the festival to watch hundreds of films and also to interact and mingle. They also have a huge take back from the panel discussions that are organized as part of the festival.

The festival has been fulfilling its mission of mainstreaming LGBTQ visibility, and its success can be measured not only by the increasing number of people who attend the event but also by the wide media publicity the festival attracts, making the reach of the festival far and wide – both in India and across the world.

3. Who benefits from your projects, can you give us examples?

The festival is meant as a celebration for the LGBTQ community who are able to mingle with each other in a safe space and can be open about their identity. They are also able to take pride in watching on the big screen LGBTQ films from around the world, that mirror their own lives, struggles and aspirations.

KASHISH’s another key audience segment is the mainstream population, the non-LGBTQ folks– be it friends, families, colleagues or just film aficionados who come to KASHISH to learn more about the community or more importantly to unlearn the myths and misconceptions they carry about the community – through viewing films and also by interacting with the LGBTQ community.

KASHISH also attracts a large population of students who come to attend the festival with no prejudice, just like they would attend any other cultural event in the city.

Audience at KASHISH 2019

4. What's the key project taking place in your agency right now that you would like to discuss with us?

The 11th edition of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival was scheduled to be held in May as every year, but due to the crisis precipitated by the pandemic, this year the festival will be held virtually. KASHISH 2020 Virtual will take place from July 22-July 30th 2020 on an international online platform and will screen over 100 LGBTQ films, hold a panel discussion, have opening & closing night with performances – but everything virtually, to maintain safety and well-being of its audiences and its team.

This makes KASHISH the first major film festival in India to go online completely with a full-festival lineup. This time the festival will also be open to international audiences making the experience truly global.

The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Moving Forward, Together!’ celebrating the diversity within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and also find synergies with Allies to ensure equality & dignity for everyone.

5. What would a quintessential or prototypical world be from your agency's lens? Could you explain that via an anecdote or with references/comparison with the world scenarios?

The ideal world to live in would be a world that is free of marginalization and discrimination of the LGBTQ community. While with the striking down of Section 377 in September 2018, the LGBTQ community found its freedom, it is still not liberated from the shackles of societal prejudices. Transgender persons who don’t get jobs and have to beg on the streets, lesbian women who are forced to marry men against their wishes, gay men not able to be out at their workplace – there are countless stories of social victimization. This needs to change. And that can only happen by spreading awareness to change attitudes among families, colleges, workplaces and the powers-that-be.

KASHISH uses cinema as a means to spread awareness about LGBTQ lives through its annual film festival, through its KASHISH Forward screenings at colleges and its Best of KASHISH screenings in different cities and at different community organizations.

We have to together fight for greater equality for LGBTQ persons – we need to get same-sex marriage rights, adoption & inheritance laws changed to include LGBTQ community’s needs. There is still a long way to go and KASHISH is enabling this movement towards an equitable society.

6. What is your point of view of the term ‘place making’? How do you practice it and why do think it's important to have that kind of an approach?

KASHISH as is a staunch believer of ‘place making’, we strongly believe that we can bring about change in the way public spaces are used by certain communities. That is where KASHISH started – to occupy a mainstream space (a mainstream theatre) for the LGBTQ community to get together and celebrate cinema. Starting from a 123 seater hall in 2010 to a 1200 seater theatre like Liberty Cinema, KASHISH has been enabling these public spaces to be more inclusive of LGBTQ community. The people around these spaces have formed respect for the LGBTQ community and have a greater understanding of their issues. We feel KASHISH has successfully transformed not only the public space it occupies but more importantly the cultural space it occupies in Mumbai, India and the world. KASHISH has been instrumental in nurturing good cinema and developing an ecosystem of producing, exhibiting and distributing LGBTQ content. KASHISH will in future continue to champion for greater inclusion at households, colleges, workplaces, public spaces and the larger civil society in general. KASHISH will continue to keep flying the rainbow flag high.

If you ever decide to visit the festival, they will give you the warmest hug and tell you, "We're here, we're queer and we'd like to say hello!"

Festival Website:

#changemakers in place-making series

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