Odd cinema

Published: March 28, 2013

At the recently held Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF), I pushed and shoved and battled with strangers for space to sit. The main auditorium was jam-packed. Never mind that the aisles were already full; people streamed in anyway, and when I went outside for a break, I discovered the café tables were full, too.

Inside the auditorium, at a screening of the popular Malayalam film Ardhanaari, people hooted, screamed and cat-called. Ardhanaari is a precious oddity: a melodramatic, full-on commercial film set without apology in the hijra community. At one pivotal juncture, when the transgender protagonist Vinayan hunts down an errant male hoodlum and proceeds to beat him to a pulp, I worried that the audience would self-combust with excitement.

Now in its fifth year running, the BQFF is India’s oldest continuing queer film festival, and among the largest. Kashish, Bombay’s equivalent filmic extravaganza, is staged at a mainstream multiplex and draws slightly bigger crowds. The atmosphere was electric. Over three days, thousands of people came to watch films and performances from around the world, as well as populate the lively parties that followed in each day’s wake.

Happily enough, I was one of the four jury members this year, which meant I got to watch everything there was, sometimes more than once. Bol, Shoaib Mansoor’s excellently produced Lahore drama won the award for Best Feature, though why it didn’t appear in competition last year was unclear. The only other film from next door in competition was Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret, similarly made about a year ago.

The feature film category was weak, especially against the documentaries and short films on view, some of which were outstanding. Naturally, there were plenty of really earnest and really terrible home movies, too, most of them produced right here in Bangalore. But they were more than made up for by How to Survive a Plague, David France’s stirring archive of the early fight for AIDS treatment in the United States, or Na Sua Companhia, Brazilian director Marcelo Caetano’s deceptively light fable of fleeting encounters and lasting love, or even Lonely Walls, a shocking tale of a father-son relationship gone wrong, from the experimental Indian film maker Rohan Kanawade.

Any festival worth its name has to have at least one film that is admirably incomprehensible, and this year at BQFF, that film was Mondomanila, from the burgeoning stable of the Filipino digital savant Khavn De La Cruz. Mondomanila, or: How I Fixed My Hair After a Rather Long Journey — to call it by its name — is not for the faint-hearted. Featuring a relentless parade of rodents, deaths, dwarves, circus clowns, and a pair of Sapphic twins (who, for good measure, also happen to be dwarves), it’s the kind of film that makes your average Takashi Miike body count seem like wholesome family entertainment in comparison.

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