The perfectly compatible pair of the Netflix TV series Sacred Games – Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Kubra Sait – were two of the immediately recognised faces at the opening ceremony of the six-day 10th Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, said to be South Asia’s biggest queer event of its kind, which concluded last night (Sunday, 16 June).
Singer Rekha Bharadwaj rendered songs on the stage of the grand old Liberty cinema. Among the regulars seen at the fest over the decade were filmmakers Chitra Palekar and Aruna Raje. Director Ritesh Batra and Sanya Malhotra, the leading lady of his film Photograph, were in attendance.
Actor Kittu Gidwani, who was part of the jury, also mingled with the crowds thronging the lobby of the single-screen art deco cinema, which has somehow survived the onslaught of redevelopment and multiplexes. The other venue for the unspooling of as many as 160 films from 43 countries was an auditorium at the close by Metro Inox multiplex. Of the sidebar events, an open house was conducted with parents of LGBTQ children.
Seamlessly organised – a few delayed screenings are excusable –here’s a film festival which was remarkable especially for its volunteer squad of ushers, technical experts and the tenacity of its major domo, Sridhar Rangayan and his lieutenant Saagar Gupta. The medium-cost festival has survived, thanks to contributions from sponsors and the continued patronage of a diverse crowd, with a taste for LGBTQIA-themed films, which has evolved as a genre by itself globally, particularly during the last decade.
Post the scrapping of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court last September, a house full crowd was expected. However, the monsoon cloudbursts and the telecast of the World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan, were responsible for the leaner turn-outs on weekdays. Also, the fact that both the screening venues were in South Mumbai, proved to be a dampener for the festival-goers from the suburbs, who in earlier years formed serpentine queues at the PVR multiplex in Andheri.
One of the side-shows, as it happened, was the display of uninhibited fashion and swag. Even as pedestrians outside the Liberty gawked in disbelief, the gay community revelled in sporting bespoke ensembles. If a French-bearded person in an inventive costume of a sari draped over a ghagra, enhanced by silver jewellery accessories, was spotted, they were surrounded by autograph seekers.
Going by the selection of feature and short films, I could catch at the festival, the dominant concern continues to be that of acceptance – either from parents, at the workplace, public spaces and within housing colonies. Another concern is that of safe sex, with some of the films particularly from Europe, emphasising that protection is a must and indiscriminate hook-ups could lead to fatal results.
Over then to six of the films which were as impactful cinematically while dwelling on subjects which carry a statutory warning as it were:
Until Porn Do Us Part
(Director Jorge Pelicano, Portugal)
A 65-year-old woman’s unconditional love for her foster son is put through a stringent test as she surfs the Internet to reconnect with him. In his quest to become a porn star, the young man has moved to Germany and is about to return home to participate in a sex show at the annual Portuguese erotic fair. Shocked by the clips she has watched of her son on websites, she ventures out to the fair to shame him in public. A spoiler alert prevents me from revealing the end, which keeps you guessing throughout the film’s running time of 75 minutes.
(Director Ella Lemhagen, Sweden)
A Swedish gay couple are about to adopt an orphan whose age on official records is recorded as 1,5. Looking forward to carrying an infant home, the couple come face to face with a 15-year-old homophobic boy with a criminal record. Turns out there was a clerical error: 1,5 instead of 15. Funny and yet emotionally harrowing, again here’s a humane story with a zinger of a resolution.
(Director Jamie Di Spirito, UK)
Breaking myths about the forms of HIV, the 17-minute short watches a quickie hook-up between two men, one of whom regards it as a fling, while the other craves a long-term relationship. In the course of a conversation, they disclose their secrets, and it is suggested by the director, that there’s a long road ahead for the two men, but one that they can attempt to tackle together. Excellently photographed, edited and acted, the short film on the beginning of a bond-in-distress leaves a lasting impact.
(Director Swarnavel Eswaran, India)
The 73-minute Tamil feature film, which was feted at the New York Indian film festival and the Toronto Inside Out LGBT film festival, focuses on a tsunami-affected fisherman. Anxious to find a husband for his orphaned niece, he discovers that she is in love with a woman, catalysing his empathy for the township’s barber, a transgender. Simplistic, yes, but the director adds touches of complexity, while opening up the age-old prejudices of his community. Is this little big film accessible on any OTT streaming service? If not, it should be.
(Director Camille Vidal-Naquet, France)
This is a bittersweet account of a free-spirited male sex worker who cruises the streets of Strasbourg. Hopelessly looking for love, he’s attracted to a bisexual sex-worker who haunts the street opposite the one he does, every night. Winner of the Critics’ Week section at the Cannes film festival last year, director Vidal-Naquet’s exposition of the love story is graphically frank. And in its running time of 99 minutes concludes that romance is just another word in a dictionary.
(Poonam Brah, UK)
A British Asian Muslim girl looks with mixed feeling at a wedding sari. Her mother, who has recently passed away, would have ideally wanted her to marry and settle down. Ridden by guilt, she breaks off with her steady girlfriend. Next, she is told by her brother that their mother always knew about her same-gender relationship but had never spoken about it. It was no big deal. Quite succinctly stated with performances that define subtlety.
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