“More Nuanced LGBTQIA+ Films Now”

Sridhar Rangayan, Festival Director, Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, talks about the evolution of LGBTQIA+ movies and the change in attitude among the corporates


Sridhar Rangayan, filmmaker, writer, activist and festival director of Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and champion of LGBTQIA+ community rights, has helped spread awareness about this minority group through the medium of cinema. In an interview to BW People, he describes how LGBTQIA+ stories and characters are now being bravely portrayed in films, the challenges that need to be tackled and the support that the community is getting, including from the corporate world. Excerpts:

How was this festival, focussing on LGBTQIA+ issues, conceptualised and how it has evolved?

I have been a filmmaker for almost 25 years now and have made a lot of non-LGBTQ films and TV series, but realised there was no space for LGBTQIA+ stories in the mainstream domain. And so, we started our own production (Solaris) and made Gulabi Aaina (The Pink Mirror) in 2002, which travelled to 18 film festivals across the world but still hasn’t got a censor certification here. But it opened the doors for me to travel across the world and screen films and engage in discussions. And that was an impetus for me to understand the cinematic and film festival space.

I wanted to bring that experience of people attending LGBTQIA+ film festival in India and that’s how we started Kashish in 2010, as a 10-member team. Theatre owners we approached were scared but we assured them that we will do it with proper protocols. From a 125-seater hall, we have shifted to 1200-seater Liberty Cinema in 2014. It is a chance for the LGBTQIA+ community to see their lives depicted on the big screen and for the non-LGBTQIA+ community, which is about 30 per cent of the audience at the festival now, to understand what their lives are about.

What have been the major transformations in your relations with hall owners, other movie makers and other groups?

Kashish is a part of a movement from invisibility to visibility. The 2018 Supreme Court verdict decriminalising homosexuality gave people the courage to come to the festival without anxiety or fear. It’s a safe space. The films have changed. Earlier films were about ‘who am I’, they were full of angst. Now there is a lot of joy and most of the films end with happy ending. We now get 70-90 LGBTQIA+ films from India for viewing. This year we are showing 33 Indian films, including three feature and many short films and documentaries. We also carry these to film festivals across the world and put these on platforms like Disney Hotstar.

What are some of the major stumbling blocks for you, especially in terms of mainstreaming the film festival?

Over the years, it’s a challenge to get sufficient money from sponsors, even though some sponsors have stood by us for the last 10 years. Also, most of the companies have come to us for HR budget, not marketing budget. We want Kashish to be a marketable place and to be a bigger festival. But we have got big support from the mainstream cinema and actors like Sonam Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Juhi Chawla have graced Kashish in the past. And the press has been really good and covered us, including Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali press.

What has been the impact of the festival?

The impact of the festival can be assessed by the changing quality of Indian cinema now – from tear-jerker and negative portrayal to more positive portrayal. And we can see more stories not just from urban but also rural India and in various languages. The films are more nuanced, more real and talk about LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Usually, mainstream films are about gay or transgender person. But these feature films and short films, for example, talk about trans men, non-binary persons or asexual persons. I have also seen changes in mainstream cinema space, especially OTT space that is much more embracing of diversity.

A lot of corporates are opening in terms of policies. What have been the major catalysts according to you, in this journey?

Kashish works with a lot of corporates. We do screenings at their offices. We have round tables where corporates talk about their own journeys in inclusion. LGBTQIA+ candidates have the same capacity. It’s just that they need more hand-holding. We have seen corporates embrace diversity. International corporates like IBM and Morgan Stanley have brought the ethos of their country of origin to India. But several Indian corporates too are proactive. At VIP Industries, Radhika Piramal is a proud champion of inclusion. Godrej, Mahindras too have taken lead. A lot of companies are hiring, not just for entry-level but high-level jobs. But a lot of other companies come only during the Pride Month and paint their logos rainbow.

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