EXCLUSIVE – Sridhar Rangayan on KASHISH Festival: These films have changed perceptions

Image-EXCLUSIVE_ Sridhar Rangayan, Founder & Festival Director - KASHISH; Heartening how these films have changed perceptions-MediaBrief (1).jpg

2020 has a been a year of many upheavals, while the world struggle with hard times and a deadly pandemic a team of dedicated few brings us a rainbow of hope  and celebration with the 11 edition of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival.

KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival is an annual LGBT event that has been held in Mumbai, since 2010. The film festival screens LGBTQI+ films from India and around the world. It has been  voted as one of the top 5 LGBT film festivals in the world. The film festival provides a platform to audience, the films and their makers to create social change.

In its debut year, Founder and  Festival Director Sridhar Rangayan said he hoped that the film festival would encourage greater visibility of queer cinema and bring it into the mainstream discourse. He has said that the festival showcases the films to both queer and mainstream audiences, in order to make them aware of queer thought, desires and expressions.

Now with more than a decade since KASHISH’s debut, Riyaan Shaikh connected with Sridhar Rangayan, about the legacy KASHISH has created, this year’s 11th Edition, how KASHISH has been helping change peoples perception about the LGBTQI+ community  and much more.

Riyaan Shaikh: 2020 marks the eleventh year of KASHISH, How do you think things have changed from when this festival was first started almost a decade ago?

Sridhar Rangayan: When the Delhi high court read down Sec 377 in 2009, myself and some of our close friends got together to start KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival in 2010 at a mainstream theatre – PVR cinema in Juhu, Mumbai.

At that point it was something new and unheard of: organizing a mainstream LGBTQ films festival, getting permission from the government and involving mainstream Indian filmmaking community.

From then on KASHISH has become this huge celebration of the LGBTQ community through art and films, and also allowed for a safe space where the mainstream audiences could intermingle with LGBQ community.

The festival got voted as one of the top 5 coolest LGBTQ film festival in the world and has become an important event not only for the LGBTQ community but an important event in Mumbai’s social calendar.

The festival started in a small 123-seater screen at PVR Juhu, from a mere hundred to close to 2000 in 2019 the audiences have grown… 


KASHISH 2020 Virtual from July 22-30, 2020.

The festival will screen 157 LGBTQIA+ films from 42 countries over 9 days along with panel discussions, filmmaker Q&As and more..
People in India can buy Full-Festival passes via Instamojo which gives the options of net banking and more! Buy them here   Or visit here to know more!


How has KASHISH grown in the past decade? 

The festival started in a small 123 seater screen at PVR Juhu in 2010 and then went onto expand to a 230 seater screen at Cinemax Versova in 2011 and later in 2014 to the iconic Liberty Cinema with around 1200 seats, which is filled up on most of the shows! The audiences have grown too, from a mere hundreds to close to 2000 in 2019, out of which around 70% are from the LGBTQ community whereas 30% are mainstream audiences.

KASHISH has been instrumental in transforming so many lives and created a more accepting environment.

In what ways have KASHISH as a platform changed people’s perspective towards the LGBTQI+ community?

The mission of KASHISH is twofold – one to serve as a mainstream safe-space for the LGBTQIA+ community to come together to celebrate art & cinema that mirror their lives; and the second to create awareness among the mainstream society regarding LGBTQIA+ lives and their aspirations.

Image-Sridhar_Rangayan-MediaBrief.jpg

So many young LGBTQIA+ individuals have had the courage to come out after being at KASHISH, and so many non-LGBTQIA+ audience members have been able to formulate a better understanding of LGBTQIA+ lives after watching the films, participating in panel discussions and more so mingling with the community in a non-judgmental space.

KASHISH has been instrumental in transforming so many lives and created a more accepting environment.

We have come this far, How much longer do you think it would take for LGBTQI+ centered movies to become mainstream in India?

I’m already seeing changes, with more films dealing with LGBTQ lives in the mainstream coming out and also released commercially.

They are indeed few and far between – I Am, Margarita With A Straw, Kapoor and Sons, Evening Shadows, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh… and Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhaan, having being released in theaters and also Made in Heaven and Few More Shots 1 & 2 – but all these have been successful attempts at portraying LGBTQIA+ characters sensitively in the mainstream space.

But KASHISH places more importance on the numerous independent films, documentaries and short films that unfortunately do not find a commercial release.

But these are the best films, more realistic and more nuanced in their portrayal of the community. Every year at KASHISH we receive close to 60 Indian LGBTQIA+ films and we program 50% of them.

But most of these films are self-funded or crowdsourced and hence are very low budget films. Because of this, though the content is superb, the films fall short of technical finesse. But a great story well told will always touch the hearts, and that’s the reason we encourage these films by offering an international platform, cash awards and even a film production grant to make their next film.

The topics the films deal with are very diverse, and we see a shift from showing urban stories to showing stories set in small towns or villages. This is a huge welcome change.

Each year KASHISH comes up with a theme that make’s one ruminate about the life of the LGBTQI+ people, what is this year’s theme and the reasoning behind choosing this theme?

It is the 11th edition of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival which comes close to two years after reading down of Sec 377.

Image-KASHISH_MediaBrief-e1594729746855.jpg

The theme of KASHISH 2020 Virtual is ‘Moving Forward, Together’, encompassing the entire spectrum of LGBTQIA+ lives and the allies, making a call for everyone to come together with love and compassion to ensure a world that is equal and just.

The festival has ensured that all sexualities and genders are represented in the films we program, and the panel discussions are an inclusive space too.

While the physical event brings together communities to gather together at the festival, a virtual event has a wider reach, beyond the confines of the city, across India, across the world.

This year marks the first time when KASHISH is going virtual, what should we expect form this new digital edition?

Going virtual this year was a tough decision for the team, but one which had to be taken since there was no way we could do an on-ground event under the lockdown situation. While the physical event brings together communities to gather together at the festival, a virtual event has a wider reach, beyond the confines of the city, across India, across the world.

So most of the 157 films form 42 countries that are being shown at KASHISH 2020 Virtual will be able to be viewed across the world, except for a few which are geo-blocked to play only in India, due to restrictions by the producers/distributors.

An online festival also enables us involve a wider number of filmmakers with whom we can do virtual Q&As easily, and also involve international panelists in our panel discussion.

The virtual edition will have even more to offer than the on-ground festival!

Although a major part KASHISH is the movie screenings and award ceremony it is much more extensive than that, so what other activities will be hosted digitally in this year’s edition?

The festival will open with an opening ceremony on July 22nd with amazing performances, hosted by the wonderful Rohini Ramnathan, RJ Nasha, and there will also be a closing ceremony on July 30th again with rocking performances and a virtual award ceremony. These will be live streamed on our festival’s social media handles.

There are also several insightful panel discussions, almost 8 of them, as well as filmmaker Q&As. The virtual edition will have even more to offer than the on-ground festival!

Although digital has lots of advantages it carries with it a few challenges too, what are the challenges faced by you to get the films digitally screened?

Our program of around 160 films was locked in February and we were ready to go with it, but then the pandemic stopped us in our tracks.

But thankfully almost 98% of the filmmakers have stood with us, and have consented to their film being part of the virtual edition. This shows the trust and faith the filmmakers have in KASHISH and we are glad to be screening their film to the entire world.

I realized there was no space for LGBTQIA+ stories, in a hetero-normative dominated television industry

Movies can change people’s perspective in life altering ways what was the key point in your life when you decided that you are going to use this medium to make an impact and bring a change?

I was doing regular television series back in 1999-2000 when I realized there was no space for our stories, I mean LGBTQIA+ stories, in a hetero-normative dominated television industry. So myself and Saagar Gupta quit television and formed a production company Solaris Pictures in 2001, to create films about our community.

Since then, for the past two decades, we have been consistently making LGBTQIA+ focused films – shorts, documentaries and feature films.

Our films Gulabi Aaina (The Pink Mirror), Yours Emotionally! (2006), 68 Pages (2007), Purple Skies (2014), Breaking Free (2015) and Evening Shadows (2018) have won numerous awards and screened at numerous film festivals across the world.

But apart from the awards and critical acclaim, the real pat on our back has been the message we receive constantly about how these films changed perceptions, or helped people come out, or how it helped people accept one another.

I would like to advice filmmakers, irrespective of their gender or sexuality, when they want to approach a LGBTQIA+ topic, approach it with sensitivity, try to create stories rooted in real life

What advice would you like to give to young minds who would like to venture out as film makers in the LGBTQI+ space

I would like to advice filmmakers, irrespective of their gender or sexuality, when they want to approach a LGBTQIA+ topic, to approach it with sensitivity, try to create stories rooted in real life. For that it is important for you to go and find and meet LGBTQIA+ persons.

Do not base your story on one person who you may have met or come across. Meet more people so you form a universal understanding of the subject. This will make your film stronger and more impactful.

Finding resources to make LGBTQIA+ stories is definitely challenging, but do not lose heart. Talk to your friends to support you financially, speak to cast & crew members with passion and bring them on board. And KASHISH is always there to help you.

Look out for the KASHISH QDrishti Film Grant which offers Rs.2,00,000 to a filmmaker to make a LGBTQIA+ short film. This grant supported by Lotus Visual (UK) offers a beacon of hope to all young filmmakers and hope we get to see more stories unfold.

To attend and know more about the festival: http://mumbaiqueerfest.com/

Your thoughts, please