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India's most mainstream queer film fest is back in Mumbai

Gay Star News interviews Pallav Patankar, co-director of Kashish Mumbai International Film Festival

India's most mainstream queer film fest is back in Mumbai

The third Kashish Mumbai International Film Festival hits India’s cultural capital from 23rd to 27th May.

Gay Star News interviews Pallav Patankar, one of the co-directors, about what’s different for this year, embracing censorship and which Bollywood celebrities will turn up.

What’s different for Kashish 2012?

This year Kashish is for everyone and the focus is to get mainstream and involve mainstream society into Kashish 2012. We will have panel discussions, an art exhibition, interaction with filmmakers. We will also be involving the community and giving them space to showcase LGBT businesses.

Also, we have started a crowd-funding format that we hope will contribute money to Kashish… we are very encouraged to see in the last three days we’ve raised $1,000 US dollars and we are hoping to raise more to cover our costs. 

Where did you get the idea for the crowd-funding? Why did you decide to do it?

Kashish cannot survive just on grants and sponsorships, it’s a festival that allows the community to view queer movies for free.

There are several people who in the past have asked us how they could contribute to sustain Kashish, however operationalising such contributions is always an issue. We felt that we could use the good will of the queer community to sustain efforts such as Kashish.

We mobilize the community through social internet media and hence we thought we could use it for fundraising. Of course this is an experiment for us and we are yet looking at how much we can fund raise through this route.ӬӬ

What will the money go towards?

The money will go towards meeting some of our operational costs. We incur costs for renting the venue , stage set-ups, delegate registration, promotional material printing… the list is endless.

Where else does the funding come from?

We’ve started to get more corporate sponsors. It’s often difficult to work with corporate sponsors because they are more demanding and particular but I think the only way that this film festival is going to succeed is if we tap into the corporate sector and learn to self sustain.

We already have DKT [Indian contraceptive manufacturer] and they’ve been our title sponsor since last year.

The others I’m not at liberty to say because we are under a confidentiality agreement. I think a lot of them have queer communities within their organisations and the sponsorship is about showing support for these communities. So it’s more of an internal promotion rather than an external promotion.

And because of the situation in India they don’t want to go all out, which we are ok with because I feel it is better to engage them first and then get into something more mainstream later, everyone has their comfort levels and we have to respect that.”¨”¨

Do you have more Indian-made this year?

We have a lot of queer content coming from inside the country, in regional languages not necessarily English, and that will be interesting because earlier in India we were not generating that much queer based content. And it’s encouraging to see that people are coming up with local stories with local languages instead of Hindi or English. We have a film in Marathi, we have a film in Kannada and we have a film in Punjabi which is going to be quite new for us.

What’s the percentage of films from India?

Interestingly India features second on the list with highest number of films behind USA. Usually it is 20% of overall programming and that is pretty sizeable. Most of them are shorts, documentaries or student films, for whom Kashish is the only platform to show the films in India. There is surely an encouraging trend with younger filmmakers to tackles queer issues. Kashish recognizes this and has instituted special cash award to encourage them.

I know India has very strict laws about what can and can’t be shown in commercial movie theatres, how does that affect Kashish?

Because in India we are of a different sensibility, we have to chose films that Indian audiences can take. So we go through a process of self-censorship where we have preview committees which actually see all the films that have come in and then we recommend which films are good and which cannot be shown.

The preview committee is made up of professionals from various spheres like film, art, healthcare, media, etc and not limited to only LGBT persons. And then once that entire list is made we need to get Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry clearance.

What are the advantages of self-censorship and engaging with the censors?

The advantages of self censorship is that we come up with quality content, and we are assured that our audiences as well as our jury are presented with the best films in terms of content and quality.

We also present the process to the censor board and all the preview committee members are signatories to the document that goes to the I&B Ministry for censor clearances. The I&B Ministry sees that as queer citizens of the country we are responsible in conducting such events.

This is a mandatory process for all mainstream film festivals and it allows Kashish to screen films at premium mainstream locations such as Cinemax theatres which would have been impossible without I&B Ministry clearance.ӬӬ

What are the disadvantages?

The process is long arduous and our festival programmer has to work for a very long time, scheduling previews, obtaining consents and recording discussions and disagreements.”¨”¨

Have you ever found you couldn’t include a culturally significant film because of the censorship?

Yes in the past we have had films which show excessive nudity or adolescent sexuality, we have a strict policy against it. We also had some films which showed HIV positive people and married gay men in poor light which could only further alienate these niche groups. The preview team decided against such themes that cause further divisions within the queer community.

Who comes to see the films at Kashish?

We are trying to get as many Bollywood personalities as possible involved in Kashish because this year the tagline is ‘for everyone’. We do a post Kashish festival to find out what everyone thought of it and we figured that in the last two years about 30% of the crowd are non-queer, which is wonderful because that’s what we want.

We don’t want a festival that’s just for the queer community. A lot of people bring their parents, their best friends, colleagues to the film festival so queer people can tell them about their lives.

We also get a lot of filmmakers and film students coming. We have lot of actors who come to the festival and people in the industry who see that there is an audience for queer-themed movies in India.

Usually what happens is that any queer-themed movie tends to not get into the theatres at all because they think that there is no market. And Kashish is slowly changing that because you come to the film festival and see that we have about 5,000 people walking in over a five day period. 

So are filmmakers in india catching on to the pink rupee? I know Onir’s I Am did well last year.

Filmmakers are definitely capturing queer themes in Hindi movies in a more sensitive and humane way. We are no longer just the laugh track of the film and no more depicted in stereotypical ways.

People are more politically correct in their depictions. We did have Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun which was advertised as the first Indian gay film, it was premiered at Kashish in 2010. Onir’s film was also shown in Kashish last year and went on to win the Jury Award for the best film. Yes I feel filmmakers are catching onto the theme but yet to understand the pink rupee.

Which celebrities have coming along to the festival in previous years?

We have had a long list: Zeeanat Aman, Manisha Koirala, Pooja Bhatt, Juhi Chawla, Celina Jaitley,  Samir Soni, Rajit Kapoor, Neelam, Manabano Mody Kotwal,  Sanjay Suri, Purab Kohli, Rahul Bose, Mona Ambegaonkar, have graced the film festival. Well known directors such as Shyam Benegal, Sai Paranjpye, Khalid Mohammed, Onir, Mahesh Dattani, have been involved  with the film festival. Celina Jaitly has been our festival ambassador in the previous two years.

Kashish Mumbai International Film Festival runs from 23 to 27 May. The film schedule, featuring 120 films from 29 countries, will be announced around 15 May.


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