Queer aint't Queer Anymore

-Harish Iyer

Whoever said gay films don’t have an audience had to eat their words. The Mumbai International Queer Film Festival stands testimony to the fact that queer is just a word and it means nothing close to what Oxford or Cambridge defines it as. Though I was sure that India has woken up, awakened and truly shining in her spirit and all her glory, what I saw at Kashish shocked me (pleasantly, that is).

Onir, Purab Kohli, Rahul Bose & Manisha Koirala at Kashish Opening Ceremony

Firstly, let me be shamelessly and brutally honest about my presumptions. When Sridhar Rangayan – one of the karta dharta’s of Kashish, was speaking about “looking at 2 venues” of which one was probably a theater, I thought Sridhar was either drunk or just too ambitious. How could a “queer” festival find supporters and an audience? Why would anyone give their venue to a “queer” film festival at all? I thought this event will be nice, and is the need of the hour, but was certain that it wouldn’t cause the flutters that Sridhar thinks it would. Sridhar kept throwing numbers like 20 countries, 100+ films, 2 venues, so many languages etc and I belittled them in my little mind.

Sridhar had invited me to the launch party and I couldn’t make it as I was stuck at work overnight. An avid cinema lover, I wanted to attend the fest nonetheless. I went to the website of Kashish, and saw a registration form but was too lazy to fill it. I thought it to be just a formality, as no one would be attending it and I would be comfortably seated.
I didn’t register online. Luckily though, since I featured in one of the documentaries – Speak Up! It’s Not Your Fault- the director had taken 2 extra passes. A colleague of mine and I were the lucky two to avail of them. I had thought the theater would be empty. But as I moved in, I couldn’t find a single empty seat and had to sit down. Was I complaining – NO. Was I excited – YES! I interacted with the audience, where I spoke about child sexual abuse and homosexuality. It was a spirited session with a wonderful audience. I wanted to leave, I had to go back to office, but I just couldn’t leave. The high spirits at Kashish were just impossible to selfishly leave after watching the film featuring me. I stayed back and am glad I did. For the films that followed were just fantastic, especially the musical called Fruit Fly – a unique way of film making and perfect in every way be it cinematography, editing, acting etc. Ultimately, I stayed back till 9 pm.

I was so wrong. I made a mistake. These were not just numbers that were achieved. It was sheer passion and compassion and the collective energies of the entire team of Humsafar Trust and Sridhar that made this dream a reality. Now venues, sponsors and brands have no reason to shy away from a Queer Film Screening by saying “niche” audience. Well honey, if this is niche, then niche means a crowd.

I revisited the event for the closing ceremony, Sridhar insisted that I leave my office offsite celebrations mid-way and join him, and I did just that. I had surprise in store for me. A documentary featuring me as a gay survivor of child sex abuse won the Best Student Award. It felt nice, though a bit odd.
Let me end by being brutally truthful. – I envy every one of those who got to see even one movie more than me. Kashish, isn’t a koshish, it is an achieved dream. And I was a part of it.