It ends with a hug

It ends with a hug

On day one, there was enough room to solely occupy one of the many mattresses in front of the screen. (On day three, when the line outside has wound its way up three flights of stairs and people are looking at the sea of shoes as though it were cushioned seating, I will remember this freedom with nostalgia).

 The festival's features opened with Ektara Collective's 'Turup' (Checkmate). If you're familiar with Satyajit Ray's 1977 'Shatranj Ke Khilari' (The Chess Players), it is impossible not to think of 'Turup' as a belated but welcome rewriting. In 'Turup''s Chakki Chauraha, the invisible women of Ray's Awadh are reborn with arsenals of sass. Monika is an elderly lady who spends her free time ripping Hindutva posters from walls, playing chess by herself, and generally displaying a gumption that would put DDLJ's Miss Rajeshwari Singh to shame.

Day one closed with Shine Louise Houston's 'Snapshots'. On its official website, Houston describes the film as an erotic thriller. "With a killer hot on her trail – and a new relationship developing – will Charlie find love… or her own demise?" it asks.

Do not be fooled. The one-hour six-minute film was a one-hour erotica, five-minute conversation, one-minute mystery. The killer is not hot on anyone's trail. When he finally makes an appearance, he looks as confused as we do. To cut the awkwardness of the long scenes, a friend decides that one of the actors is Beyoncé in disguise. "Silly Beyoncé, your career was doing just fine," she says, as a woman makes a particularly guttural orgasmic sound.

There was an elderly man seated in front of me on day two. After each film, he made little notes on his programme. Near Mujeer Pasha's Amar Prem, he writes, 'Reality'; by Faraz Ansari's Sisak, 'Visual only.' A middle-aged man had been watching him and strikes up a conversation. During the break, he took a notebook from his bag. He scribbled a mobile number and a few unintelligible words onto a piece of paper and hands it to the older man. At the front of the room, a volunteer was urging the audience to turn their phones off.

"I know you want to check your Grindr [a gay dating app] but at least put your phones on silent," he requests. The elderly man smiles and tucks the slip of paper into his shirt pocket.

Malini Jeevarathnam's Tamizh/English documentary, 'Ladies and Gentlewomen' receives one of the warmest receptions of the festival. In conversation with Jeevarathnam after the screening, she says, "I am happy and full of tears. The best outcome is that the film is going to be screened for government school teachers." The documentary ends with a lesbian anthem composed by Justin Prabhakaran. Jeevarathnam dedicates the anthem to her ex and for a second I don't realise that she's being sincere.

Day three is full of cheeky schoolkids sprouting wisdom. In 'Min Homosyster' (My Gay Sister), 10-year-old Chloe declares, "I might love a Kevin if a Kevin existed, but he doesn't, so I love Sadira."

Behind me, a woman claps. "Queen ban gayi," she says. The festival closes with Daviel Shy's 'The Ladies Almanack' based on Djuna Barnes' iconic novel of the same name. It is 10 pm on a Sunday night and almost everyone has left. A character from the almanac pronounces, "The lesbian is found to be real. Persistent, if unpopular." Tired laughs pepper the room. Outside, while waiting for a cab, we notice two young men hugging for what seems like forever. "I think they've fallen asleep," my friend says. I take it in. It will be a rare sight soon enough.

 

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