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This LGBTQ film festival is where you need to be at this week

Festival director Sridhar Rangayan picks 12 unmissable films from this year’s edition

By Neville Bhandara  May 24th, 2017

If Ashok Row Kavi is the father of the Indian LGBTQ movement, then Sridhar Rangayan is its cultural crusader. For the past seven years, he has helmed KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. “We started KASHISH to create a mainstream cultural space for LGBTQ visibility, where the community could watch films without fear, and for the non-LGBTQ community to have a window into our lives. KASHISH is above all else, a space for LGBTQ empowerment,” says Rangayan.

Sridhar Rangayan photo Puni

Sridhar Rangayan

When he first began scouting for possible locations, he was turned away. “There were no takers,” he says. “Theaters were skeptical—they feared the very real possibility of repercussions.” Eventually, PVR Juhu held the first edition back in 2010—but for the past four years, the city’s iconic art deco Liberty Cinema has been the festival’s home.

Anyone who’s grown up LGBTQ in India through the ’80s and ’90s knows that pop culture was not your friend: you’d never find books or films that you could relate to. Thankfully, that’s changing, and initiatives like KASHISH are the reason why. It’s currently the largest LGBTQ film festival in Asia, drawing in a crowd in excess of 10,000 spread out over four days (this year’s festival is from May 24- 28). And if you think it stops there, you’d be wrong. The festival also has many initiatives to nurture and promote Indian LGBTQ films. KASHISH Global facilitates the screening of Indian LGBTQ films worldwide at other festivals. KASHISH Forward is India’s first travelling LGBTQ film festival that goes from campus to campus—they’ve checked off more than 25 cities till date, including tier two towns where LGBTQ visibility is even less. Then, there’s their new initiative, QDrishti Film Grant, which offers one lakh rupees to a filmmaker to make his or her next film and have it produced by the KASHISH Arts Foundation.

This year’s edition has 145 films divided into narrative features, featured shorts and documentaries hosted at Liberty Cinema and Alliance Française de Mumbai. But since it’s practically impossible to try and catch all of them, we got Rangayan to give us his pick of unmissable films.

12 movies to catch at KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival this year

Only Men Go To The Grave

Thursday May 26, 2017 | 6:45pm | Alliance Française

Director: Abdulla Al Kaabi

80-min | UAE | Arabic (with English subtitles)

A blind mother welcomes her estranged daughters home to tell them a secret. Unfortunately, she accidentally dies while sharing it. During the funeral, the daughters try to deal with their mother’s sudden death and also work together to unveil her secret by looking for clues from visitors. Throughout the funeral, their own lives continue to unravel; buried family tensions to surface, and the children struggle to deal with their own secrets and deep-rooted guilt as they begin to question everything about their mother’s life after a particular encounter. “This is a very brave film coming from a country like the UAE. It deals with both, transgender identity and a same-sex lesbian love story. The story slowly unravels to help us understand the desires and demons within an ultra conservative milieu—and the film keeps you hooked till the end,” says Rangayan.

White Nights (Velutha Rathrikal)

Thursday May 25, 2017 | 7:35pm | Liberty Cinema

Director: Razi Muhammed

130-min | India | Malayalam (with English subtitles)

This is an independent adaptation of the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It tells the story of Manu, an artist, and Chelly, a tribal girl from a nearby settlement. Despite their diverse upbringings, Manu and Chelly grow close. Their brief but intense bonding develops into and Chelly realises her growing dilemma. “It’s one of the most amazing films from India on bisexual love,” says Rangayan. “Chelly is torn between her love and desire for a woman and a man, and finds it difficult to choose as she loves them equally.”

Signature Move

Wednesday May 24, 2017 | 9:30pm | Liberty Cinema

Director: Jennifer Reeder

82-min | USA | English

The festival’s opening film, Signature Move tells the story of Zaynab, an American Muslim lesbian (Fawzia Mirza), who hides two things from her homebound, conservative mother Parveen (Shabana Azmi): her budding relationship with a Mexican-American woman Alma (Sari Sanchez) and her growing fascination with wrestling. “So many of us can identify with the dilemmas faced by Zaynab,” says Rangayan. “This beautifully crafted film explores the concerns of a woman who finds it difficult to surmount barriers posed by her conservative South-Asian family set-up.”


Sunday May 28, 2017 | 9:30pm | Liberty Cinema

Director: Sudhanshu Saria

92-min | India | English

When hotshot Wall Street dealmaker Jai thinks of putting some pleasure into his 48-hour business trip to Mumbai, Sahil, his music-producer friend drops everything—including his reckless partner, Alex—to help him plan the perfect hiking getaway. Amidst half-attempted conversations and sudden silences, the friends discover that there is more than just time zones keeping them apart. Things take another turn when Alex shows up with his new partner, throwing up old conflicts and bringing unanswered questions to the fore.This feature will close the festival.“This is a gentle, sensitive romantic film is a festival darling that stays close to the love-triangle narrative and doesn’t stray into typical Indian family melodrama or coming-out territory. Shot and edited beautifully, it’s evocative, and touches your heart.” 

Apricot Groves

Thursday May 25, 2017 | 12:30pm | Liberty Cinema

Director: Pouria Heidary Oureh

80-min | Armenia | Armenian (with English subtitles)

Aram, an Iranian-Armenian trans man living in the U.S. returns to Armenia to meet his girlfriend’s conservative family. Over the course of the day-long journey, Aram’s brother helps him prepare for the meeting, while also coming to terms with Aram’s transition. “Set in Armenia and Iran, two countries where gender identity and sexual orientation that are beyond the hetero-normative can cause a volatile reaction, this journey of a trans man is laudable for its simple and candid portrayal,” says Rangayan. “The underlying tension is palpable and as the film moves to a surprising ending, one’s hear is filled with love and compassion.”

Transitioning: Transgender Children

Friday May 26, 2017 | 2.00pm  | Alliance Française

Directors: Roser Oliver, Lluís Montserrat

52-min | Spain | Spanish (with English subtitles)

A poignant exploration of the process of transition told through first-hand stories by four young protagonists. Their moving statements shed light on how these people felt, both before and after making the transition, and the difficulties that parents often go through in accepting change. “This film makes you laugh and cry, as we hear young transgender children speaking about their identities,” says Rangayan. “The film sheds light on how pivotal it is to be able to connect with an identity that you believe in, not one that’s been imposed upon you by society”

Unmissable Indian short films

The list of Indian LGBTQ short films this year includes an accomplished collection that is diverse in its approach and themes. From an animated film to a silent short, to those that push the boundaries questioning sex and sexuality, these films mark the coming-of-age of Indian queer cinema.

Goddess (Devi)

Sunday, May 28 at 4:30pm at Liberty Cinema under the title Indian Masala Mix 2

13-min | 2016 | India | Bangla, English and Hindi

Director: Karishma Dube

Set in New Delhi, the story follows Tara, a feisty teenager dealing with the realities of being queer in contemporary India. When caught pursuing her feelings for her household maid, she must suddenly define who she really is amidst a severely classist and homophobic society. “This film is a powerfully told narrative with amazing acting by all three protagonists,” says Rangayan. “It really makes you think of the divisions we create among ourselves.” 


Sunday, May 28 at 4:30pm at Liberty Cinema under the title Indian Masala Mix 2

15-min | 2016 | India | Hindi, Urdu

Director: Maaria Sayed

Chudala is an intimate exploration of a father-daughter relationship in a rapidly modernising India. Based on an Indian mythological story of a woman turning into a man in order to seem significant to her family, this film tells the story of a lower middle-class Muslim girl, Rukhsana, who returns to her house as Rehan, and is haunted by the memories of her earlier life. “This nuanced film makes a bold statement for trans men and their needs,” says Rangayan.


Sunday, May 28 at 12:30pm at Liberty Cinema under the title Indian Masala Mix 1

18-min | 2017 | India | Tamil

Director: V. Ramanathan

Krithika and Shireen are friends who strive for societal recognition of their preferred and lived gender. Shireen drives a taxi to support herself and nurses a dream to be a popular theater actress while Krithika is focused in her ambition to become a police officer. Soon, both of them realize that society, and people around them, can’t think beyond the restrictive concepts of male and female. “This is the first ever film produced under the KASHISH Arts Foundation banner, and we are might proud of it,” says Rangayan. It’s about two brave transgenders who battle social stereotypes.

The Fish Curry (Maacher Jhol)

Sunday, May 28 at 12:30pm at Liberty Cinema under the title Indian Masala Mix 1

12-min | 2017 | India | Hindi | Animated short

Director: Abhishek Verma

Twenty-eight-year-old Lalit Ghosh decides to come out to his parents: he is in love with a man; his very own roommate, Ashutosh Gautam. He cooks his father’s favorite dish, the traditional fish curry (maacher jhol) with great effort. He serves it to his father and confronts his sexuality over the dinner table. “With top class animation and a cute storyline, this film will make you smile and crave for more,” says Rangayan.



Sunday, May 28 at 4:30pm at Liberty Cinema under the title Indian Masala Mix 2

15-min | 2017 | India | Silent film

Director: Faraz Arif Ansari

Set in the fast-paced environs of the usually bustling Mumbai local train system, Sisak details a romance that develops slowly and intoxicatingly—nestled in the silences and quiet comforts of the end-of-day train journeys between two men. “This silent film has already taken the international festival circuit by storm. Do not miss it.”

Book your tickets for Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival here.