When the character of Tillotama Shome gives up the pretence of being a man in Anup Singh’s Punjabi film Qissa: The Tale Of A Lonely Ghost, she finds it hard to even wear women’s clothes. “I feel as if scorpions are slithering on my entire body," she says.

Qissa, which will be screened as part of the sixth edition of the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, is about a girl who is brought up like a son by her family. But this false gender identity disintegrates once she is married off to another girl.

Though Qissa is not strictly about same-sex love, Sridhar Rangayan, the director of the festival, chose it for the presence of patriarchal pressure that enforced the gender identity on the girl child. “Our festival is not just about the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, but also about alternative gender identities and other desiring bodies," he says.

About 180 films from 44 countries will be screened at Kashish. There were two criteria for choosing films from the 700 entries: First, the film should not be homophobic, and second, it should be sensitive to the Indian audience. “In India we are still getting comfortable with what we are seeing," says Rangayan. “So, a lot of times when you see sexual images on screen, it’s not easy...especially if there are two women or two men making love."

The festival started after a 2009 Delhi high court judgement decriminalized same-sex relationships. Even the 2013 Supreme Court verdict overturning the 2009 judgement and recriminalizing same-sex relationships did not stop Kashish. This year, the festival will be held across three venues in Mumbai—Liberty Cinema, Alliance Française and Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan.

The five-day festival, which starts on 27 May, will also include an art show, panel discussions and a book reading of Sandip Roy’s Don’t Let Him Know. One of the discussions is “The Global Gay And Deconstructing The Queer Identity", which will be chaired by Dennis Altman, an Australian gay rights activist. It will include writer Devdutt Pattanaik, who will discuss his book Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You—an account of 30 stories on queer ideas found in Hindu mythology.

The Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival will be on from 27-31 May. Click here for the complete schedule.

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