At the recent Delhi International Queer Theatre & Film Festival (DIQTFF, December 10 and 11) renowned theatre personality and musician Piyush Mishra flew in from Mumbai, to perform, as well as extend his solidarity with the queer community in India.
Harsh Agarwal, president of the Delhi-based support group Harmless Hugs, had introduced Mishra on stage, asking him how he felt about the LGBTQ community.
Mishra grumbling-ly adjusted his harmonium and microphone. “Koi vaise hi pyaar kar raha hai, vaise hi badmash hain, vaise hi seedhe hain. Mujhe koi farak nazar nahi. (They love just like us, are as naughty as us, or as simple as us. I don’t see them as any different)” he said. “Jo bhi unnatural hota hai, wo nature paida hi nahi karti! (Nature does not produce unnatural things!)”
Mishra was supporting the festival along with actors Kalki Koechlin and Kunal Kapoor. He is the quintessential heterosexual Indian man — gruff, self-assured, and uses his words deftly. But he had also come as an ally to the LGBTQ community, and that matters a great deal.
After he’d swayed the audience with his performance of “Husna,” I found him backstage. As someone who has worked so closely with film and storytelling, I asked him what he thought about LGBTQ representation in mainstream media today.
“Dus saal pehle yeh bhi himmat nahi thi kisi ko (10 years ago no one had the guts to make films like this),” he says, about broaching the subject of sexual orientation. “Change is always gradual. Ek dum se nahi aata hai. Ho sakta hai ki tumhare baad ki generation dekhe, lekin dekhega na? (Change doesn’t happen immediately. Maybe it will be the generation after yours that sees it, but they’ll get to see it, right?)”.
But he says that there’s no use making art films about these identities. “Bahut hi ‘classy-classy’ sa bana kar rakha hai (These films have been made too ‘classy’)”.
Bigger and commercial, that’s the game-plan Mishra is behind, saying “Raju Hirani jaisi koi colourful film banni chahiye, jisse ki message dhang se communicate ho (It should be like a Raju Hirani film, colourful films should be made, to properly communicate the message)”.
Mishra joked about how our generation didn’t know how to enjoy heartbreak, that we were all about the rebound, and there were no more “pitta aashiqs” anymore. In India there’s a wealth of sad songs and poetry about two lovers not being allowed to see each other. Of course, they’re usually heterosexual, but for many in the queer community that same sentiment is applicable to how they too aren’t allowed to love.
“Nahin karne dete, yeh taiy hai, bilkul fact hai (They’re not allowed to, it’s decided, it’s a fact)”, says Mishra. “Yeh prakriti aur samaj ka jhagda hai (This a disagreement between nature and society)”.
Indian society sure seems to be dragging its feet when it comes to accepting persons of different orientations, but that’s exactly why this film festival exists.
“We need to do stuff like this because these things make public opinions,” says Vithika Yadav of Love Matters. And for her, breaking the silence around sex plays an important role “We need to talk about sex. People generally argue that this is not a part of our culture, but well we’re also the land of Kamasutra, we have temples dedicated to alternate sexualities as well.”
Harmless Hugs president Harsh Agarwal also spoke to me about what made this festival different from last year’s, such as the full segment of student-made films. “It’s the exam season, but we still got enough entries.”
He says planning for this started this January, almost immediately after the first DIQTFF. Agarwal sees media as playing a huge role in furthering conversations around LGBTQ issues, but there are some significant roadblocks in claiming space here.
“The attitude of particularly the vernacular media is very laidback,” said Agarwal. He told me he had been in touch with a Hindi language newspaper reporter who was reluctant to cover the festival.
“There’s two reasons for it: number one, newspapers think that these issues are not important; number two, they think that there is no readership of such issues. The truth is of course, they’re being conservative, thinking what will be the repercussions if they write about it. A lot of media outlets are pro-BJP types, that’s why they don’t do it. At the same time Navbharat Times and Virat Vaibhav came forward and I was really happy.”
The two-day festival at the NCUI auditorium also featured a performance of Ismat Chughtai’s “Lihaaf” by Asmita Theatre Group and, and the launch of the Harmless Hugs anthology of short stories. It concluded on Sunday night, and the organisers hoped that people left feeling they could engage with the issue on a deeper level.
“I have a six-year-old boy,” Yadav told me. “The way I talk to him can shape his thinking about different issues. We all need to be able to do that for people in our circle, to become stronger advocates of rights movements.”
And as we’re slowly pulling into 2017, it’s time we started doing just that.