Kashish Film Festival: An Annual Celebration of LGBTQIA+ Stories From India and Abroad

The Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, an annual LGBTQIA+ event, has been held in Mumbai since 2010. The festival screens films celebrating gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer lives directed by people from India and around the globe.

The festival attempts to encourage greater visibility of both Indian and International queer cinema, among queer as well as mainstream audiences, thereby fostering a better understanding of queer thoughts, desire and expressions.

Audiences line up for the opening night. Image credit: Riya Roy.

This year saw the 10th edition of the festival, the first since the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court of India in August, 2018. The festival was celebrated in June to coincide with Pride Month.

The opening ceremony, held on June 12, was attended by LGBTQIA+ activists from Mumbai. Nawazuddin Siddiqui was one of the many eminent attendees. The event was hosted by Sacred Games star, Kubbra Sait, and Sushant Divgikar, the former Mr. Gay India. At the event, Petter Wallenberg, the Swedish artist, launched Rainbow Riots India, an album based on the community that Petter and Indian LGBTQIA+ artists have been working on for the past two years.

Rani Kohinoor and Kubbra Sait hosting the opening ceremony. Image credit: Riya Roy.

The theme this year, “Over the Rainbow”, celebrates the reading down of Section 377 of the IPC. It also acknowledges the challenges that the community and its allies still need to overcome, especially in terms of empowerment and social acceptance. To this end, the festival showcased 160 films from 43 countries at Liberty Carnival Cinemas and Metro Inox, two of the most iconic theatres in Mumbai.

Just Friends, directed by Ellen Smit from the Netherlands, was the opening film at Liberty Carnival Cinemas. It explores the romance of two young men from different cultural backgrounds, whose mothers threaten to keep them apart. The film was shown on the opening night of the Perth International Queer Film Festival. It bagged the Audience Award at the MIX Milano International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

Rohan Kanawade’s Marathi short film, U Ushacha, was also a part of the festival. Funded by Lotus Visual (Neeraj Churi), Karim Ladak, writer Devdutt Pattanaik, industrialist Radhika Piramal, and hotelier Keshav Suri, the film is rare in its subtle portrayal of sexual awakening.

Also read: Lesbian Subtext In Bollywood, as Seen Through a Queer Eye

Talking about the movie, Kanawade told LiveWire, “After three international screenings, we were really thrilled to see how Mumbai audience reacts to the film. And the response was amazing! They really cheered, whistled, and applauded at the right moments, which was satisfying. I am still receiving messages from the viewers.”

Kanawade’s movie deviates from the stereotypical depiction of people who newly identify their sexual preferences. Instead of struggling with her sexuality, the protagonist is shown accepting it and finding ways of exploring it. “I had no idea that my film and the lead character Usha will receive so much love from the Kashish audience,” said Kanawade.

Filmmaker Sonal Giani looking at the poster of her film, Shaadi Ke Kapde. Image credit: Riya Roy.

Sonal Giani, who has been involved with Kashish since 2009, as a festival volunteer first, and then as a part of the festival management team, showcased her film at Kashish this year, too. As a filmmaker, Giani feels that the fest offers a great opportunity to network and connect with distributors of different platforms.

She also adds gleefully that the fest is one of the most inclusive spaces that makes everyone feel at home. “I think it is the second most important LGBTQIA+ event after Pride in Mumbai,” Giani says. At the festival, she received a special mention in the Emerging Filmmaker category for her film, Shaadi Ke Kapde.

The festival concluded on June 16.

Awards were given on the closing night at Liberty Cinema with fashion designer Wendell Rodricks as the chief guest. Guatemalan movie, Jose, bagged top honours. The Booth, directed by Rohin Raveendran Nair, won the Best Indian Narrative Short Award. The festival handed out cash prizes worth Rs 3.95 lakh in ten film categories.

Voted as one of the top five LGBT film festivals in the world, the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival is South Asia’s biggest queer film festival. It is the only LGBT film festival in India to be held in a mainstream theatre with approval from the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, Government of India.

It is presented by KASHISH Arts Foundation and organised by Solaris Pictures. Besides the annual film festival, its other initiatives include KASHISH Forward – India’s first travelling campus LGBTQ film festival, KASHISH Global – that facilitates the screening of Indian LGBTQ films across the world, Best of KASHISH film screenings, and KASHISH Chalchitra Utsav – a festival of LGBTQ films in regional languages.

A 24-year-old postgraduate in political science, Riya Roy leads a global team of writers for iuventum. She finds comfort in poetry.

Featured image credit: Riya Roy