A Prelude to Siddharth Gautam Film Festival

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SGFFSAATHII (Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India) and Coalition of Rights Based Group (CRGB), a state level advocacy forum to advance the health and rights of sexual minorities and people living with HIV in West Bengal, announced the 6th edition of Siddharth Gautam Film Festival on 25th January in an event organized in Rotary Sadan. The film festival is organized annually to generate awareness and dialogue on gender, sexuality, HIV, sexual and reproductive health, and human rights issues. Accompanying it this year would also be the first Blue Apple Literary Festival to bring forth expressions of diverse genders and sexualities in Indian Literature. Both events would be held in Kolkata and several other venues in early March. The Orissa leg of the film festival in collaboration with Sampark, CRBG’s counterpart in Orissa, would be held in June 2010.

The festival would include screening of feature films, documentary films, music videos and other audio- video productions. It has been named as Siddharth Gautam Film Festival in memory of Sri Siddharth Gautam, a lawyer and human rights activist, who worked on a variety of issues related to discrimination against vulnerable groups of people in India.  He was one of the first persons in India to talk about sexuality and HIV/AIDS as human rights issues, and started AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan- the first Indian AIDS activist group- in New Delhi in 1989-90. He later died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 28.  The event is thus a humble contribution to remember and take forward the pioneering work done by him to promote and protect the rights of sexual minorities and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Announcing the film festival, Mr Pawan Dhall, Kolkata Office Director, SAATHII said: “This year’s festival would engage health care providers in particular to sensitize them to sexual and reproductive health concerns of sexual minorities and those infected or affected by HIV.”  Mr. Dhall explained that the film festival would be a part of larger efforts by the CRBG to tackle stigma and discrimination still prevalent against people living with HIV and sexual minorities.

The film festival would be preceded by the first Blue Apple Literary Festival. Planned in collaboration with leading bookstore Crossword, it would include reading session interspersed with musical performances and interactions with the audience. Eminent media, academic and literary personalities would be invited to read extracts from books and anthologies, poetry and other literary publications.

Other speakers on the occasion were Dr. Subhashish Bhattacharya, pediatric HIV specialist with Kolkata Medical College; Sidhu, lead singer of Bangla band Cactus; Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, filmmaker and teacher of pathology at KPC Medical College; Ms. Pampa Das, emerging HIV activist from Asansol; Ms. Mona Sen Gupta, literary aficionado, Brand Strategist and partner Orpheus Brandcom; Mrs. Keya Ghosh, Kolkata High Court advocate; and Siddharth Pansari of Crossword.

Lal Golpo (Red Umbrella)

Ms. Keya Ghosh, whose own son is gay, gave her motherly advice on how to come out to parents. “Don’t be forced into marriage. It’s better to lead a single life then to lead a life of misery,” she said. Pampa Das narrated her story of her fight for justice. After her husband died of AIDS related complications in 2006 and she too was diagnosed as HIV positive, her in-laws deserted her and disowned her. She filed a case in Bardhmann Court and the judge ruled in her favour. An appeal in the High Court by her in-laws against lower court’s verdict was also turned down. However, she is yet to receive her share of the property. Dr. Bhattacharya brought the attention towards HIV positive children and the difficulties faced in treating them, while Sidhu recalled how the music video “Pokkhiraaj” (Pegasus), released in 2005, used Blue Apple to denote alternate sexuality.

The panel discussion was followed by the screening of “Lal Chatar Golpo” (Red Umbrella), a documentary feature film directed by Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, who has to his credit earlier films like “Piku Bhalo Acchey” and “Strangers in the Rain”. “Lal Chatar Golpo” portrays a village boy’s journey to the perplexing crowd of a city where he finds many people organizing a gay pride march and the subsequent revelation of his orientation to his family.

With such a stupendous beginning, all eyes are now set on the Film and Literary festival.  Here’s wishing the organizers best of luck.