Lessons from a Queer Festival: Tanuja Chandra on why it may be more fun to be gay!
While returning from the recently-concluded KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, my friend Jerry Johnson said, “No offence to you Tanuja, but the straight world is so boring compared to the queer one.”
I could hardly have taken offence, reasonably at least, having just experienced a joyous conclave that burst at the seams with fabulousness, vitality, colour and splendour, where corsets and lace cavorted with fluorescent chiffons and metallic shoulder pads, where in just two events, the opening and closing shows, I’d seen men preen in stunning Kantha and Banarasi saris, feather stoles and lavish neck-pieces; I’d watched them strut onto stage in elaborate wigs, gold shorts, and shimmering gowns as women displaying brightly-tinted wings pirouetted and lifted each other under a billowing rainbow flag; hell, I’d have to feel offended by the throb of life itself to dismiss what he said.
The familiar and the flamboyant
For how could I dismiss the notion that parts of culture that harden into ‘the establishment’ and become a long accepted code to live by, are also somewhat dead? How could I reject the belief that our social foundations built over centuries, while dependable, solid and snug, stop growing because we become too well settled in them? The familiar feels safe, but it lacks in the spirit that one saw in abundance in a queer festival, where for a few days a community of people gathered who exist with a profound sense of uncertainty, people whom the law only recently freed of criminality, who even the most liberal of us often perceive as ‘different.’
Well, they threw ‘appropriate’ dressing and language out the window, they let their imagination soar, let their genders be pliable, allowed free access to the hectic multiplicity of the world, and embraced each other, even if only each other. And quite a party it was.
We should seem boring to us as well.
The road less travelled:
To say that a touch of this unfettered spirit could do the world a lot of good, will sound simplistic, so let me speak only of that which I know – storytelling. I’ve been aware that all creative endeavours must seek to be unique and yet, while mining stories and writing scripts, I have to constantly remind myself to resist being shy of the odd, the untried, the idiosyncratic, the audacious, the tender, the fresh. I have to advise myself to weave stories that steer away from pronouncements of everlasting anything, and instead, celebrate the transience of everything; the helplessness, the blemishes we live with, our rising and falling hearts that know so well that perfection is unreachable and striving is everything – all the things that were so sumptuously present in the LGBTQ festival crowd. Things that are the very mark of what it is to be human, yet things we evade in popular culture.
I’m also aware the road less travelled is filled with trouble. When only a handful of people share your faith in something, you will be plagued with regular tremors of the heart and your funders will have plentiful acid reflux. And sure enough, somewhere along the way, your freely frolicking idea will undergo some taming and have its edges blunted, it will have a happy ending rather than a truthful one.
Tell with panache
But I daresay, to have begun with unbridled flamboyance, a gold-and-sequins bravado, the damage would be done. Even if the project were to meet with failure, there’d be no turning back. Once you’ve had the nerve to troop fiercely onto that stage under a rainbowed canopy, there’s a piquant taste in your mouth you can’t quite forget. Because before long, a filmmaker realises that telling stories is a privilege and beyond the statistics and the figures noted in yearly, financial ledger-books by trade offices, a tale of our faulty hearts will live long after us and to tell it with panache is everything.
Tanuja is an author as well as a filmmaker. She is known for movies like Dushman, Sur, Sangharsh and the Irrfan Khan-starrer Qarib Qarib Singlle.
From HT Brunch, July 14, 2019
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