PVR's Pride Film Festival Shines The Light On Queer Voices In Cinema; Filmmaker Onir Shares Insights

PVR’s first Pride Film Festival is bringing marginalised voices and queer narratives to the mainstream through various screening with engaging sessions. Filmmaker Onir shares his view in an exclusive interview with Outlook Traveller at the event
A pride flag with a film clapperboard and 3D glasses
A pride flag with a film clapperboard and 3D glassesShutterstock

In view of Pride Month, which lasts the whole of June, PVR Inox Limited, the largest cinema exhibitor in India, launched its very first Pride Film Festival. Among its list of other film festivals, such as the Oscar Film Festival and the Summer Film Festival, PVR Inox's latest empowering addition of the Pride Film Festival seeks to visibilise and give platform to otherwise underrated queer voices, the works of whom remain obscenely glossed over and gathering dust on the unreachable racks of cinema. The festival aims to celebrate LGBTQ+ stories and voices through a curated selection of films that highlight diverse experiences and struggles within the community. By showcasing these films, PVR Inox not only promotes inclusivity and awareness but also creates a space for dialogue and understanding among audiences.

The Dynamic Lineup

The list of the films for Pride Film Festival
The list of the films for Pride Film FestivalPVR

The weeklong festival by PVR Inox aimed to feature a diverse lineup of LGBTQ+ films across 13 cities. Highlights include acclaimed movies like “Moonlight,” “Love Lies Bleeding,” “Badhaai Ho,” “All of Us Strangers,” “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan,” “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga,” “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui,” and “Kaathal - The Core,” showcasing a range of narratives and insights into LGBTQ+ communities. Partnering with the Kashish Pride Film Festival, known for engaging mainstream audiences with LGBTQ+ issues through cinema, the event also brings exceptional films to the foreground, such as “Antaram,” “Dvandua,” “Evening Shadow,” and “Ek Jagah Apni,” spanning languages like Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, and Hindi.

Two Cents by the Founders

Speaking about the matter of a first for PVR Inox, which is the Pride Film Festival, Mr. Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, the Executive Director of PVR INOX Limited expressed his “pride in curating this array of very special films that go beyond the ordinary and deliver a special message of diversity and inclusion.” He concluded with the hope to keep his audiences entertained with unique cinematic experiences through the fabulous films that celebrate love indiscriminately in all forms.

Nayana Bijlee at the Pride Film Festival in Delhi
Nayana Bijlee at the Pride Film Festival in DelhiPVR

Furthermore, Nayana Bijli, the Lead of Distribution and Licensing at PVR Inox stated that the Pride Film Festival is “a testament to our dedication to fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for everyone.” She reiterated her firm faith in “the power of storytelling to bridge gaps and bring communities together.” On the initiative of the queer film festival at large, the young Bijli said that with the “range of engaging initiatives and themed offerings, we aim to create a memorable and impactful experience that celebrates love, diversity, and the vibrant spirit of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The Colours of the Festival

Edibles at the Pride Film Festival
Edibles at the Pride Film FestivalPVR

To add more appeal to the festival, PVR Inox enhanced its event experience with several engaging initiatives, including a unique logo innovation that integrates the pride theme. Before each screening, audiences were set to enjoy a special video mashup of all featured films, alongside limited-edition pride-themed gift cards.

Coloured popcorns at the Pride Film Festival
Coloured popcorns at the Pride Film FestivalPVR

Staff members would wear rainbow-coloured badges to show solidarity with LGBTQ+ rights, while themed concessions will offer rainbow-coloured popcorn tubs, rainbow shakes or ice cream with sprinkles, and treats like Gems and Skittles. Some cinemas would feature message boards for patrons to express love for the LGBTQ+ community, and select venues were set to host a tattoo bar offering temporary pride-themed tattoos.

At the Pride Film Festival

A shot from the film "My Brother Nikhil"
A shot from the film "My Brother Nikhil"@gaydelhi/x

The film festival's main attraction was a special showcase featuring acclaimed filmmaker Onir and his notable 2005 film "My Brother Nikhil," known for its sensitive story and outstanding performances. The film will be screened at PVR INOX cinemas in Infinity Mall in Andheri, Mumbai, and Basant Lok in New Delhi. As a resident of Delhi, I had the opportunity to watch the film and had a brief chat with the director, Onir.

The film is based on the life of Dominic d'Souza, an Indian AIDS activist. It portrays the tragic life of Nikhil (played by Sanjay Suri) from 1987 to 1994, when AIDS awareness in India was obscenely low. "My Brother Nikhil" was one of the first Indian films to depict a gay storyline. It tackles the taboos and myths surrounding AIDS, promoting awareness and empathy. Set in Goa, the film artfully portrays the early struggles of people with AIDS, societal hardships, and the constant discrimination faced by the gay community.

After the film ended, I had the opportunity to sit down and pose some questions regarding his experience with making the film and the inspiration behind its story to its director, Onir. He shared insights about the challenges faced during production, the creative process, and the themes he aimed to explore. Our conversation delved into his personal connection to the narrative, the importance of representation in cinema, and his hopes for how audiences would resonate with the film's message.


How did the film come about?


The film accidentally became my first film because initially I was trying to do some other stories. Most of the stories I was trying to do were considered too bold. During that time, I had edited a documentary on Dominic d'Souza, the first known HIV patient in Goa and it had stayed with me. So later, inspired by his life, I decided to make it into a film. I felt a need to tell that story; consciously or subconsciously, my whole identity became a part of wanting to make this film because I have grown up in a society where my identity was invisible in public spaces, be it cinema or literature or anything. For me, it was a way of trying to tell our stories and give visibility to the community.


The film works very well as a story based in Goa. Are you originally from there?


No, I was born and brought up in Bhutan. But I've spent a lot of time in Goa; I like to spend a lot of time in a place before I shoot so that the films seem organic and not just have a setting. I did try to get the essence of the place for it plays such big a role in being a part of the narrator. We shot one half, which is the happy bit, in summer, and then when the monsoon came we shot the next part, which also adds to the fact that suddenly things are not the same.


How do you think the film has fared through the years?


I believe that despite some progress, the reality is that while "My Brother Nikhil" received a U-certificate in 2005 and "I Am" was released in 2011, during the time when same-sex relationships were still considered illegal, it took a year to obtain a U/A certificate. However, when I attempted to create a film based on a true story about a soldier falling in love with a civilian in Kashmir in 2022, the Ministry of Defence blocked it. This situation shows that even when we are not criminalised, we still do not receive the recognition we deserve. It's important to remember the impact of "Fire" in 1997, and recognize that our narratives are often restricted to a heteronormative perspective. I feel that I have already addressed acceptance in my 2004 film, so now I want to focus on stories that go beyond that. Our lives are not solely defined by heterosexual acceptance. Additionally, as the world's largest filmmaking industry, we represent one percent of the population; yet less than 1 percent of our films explore queer narratives.


As a person who has been in the industry long, what would you say is the point where Bollywood is lacking?


One of the major places where Bollywood is lacking can be witnessed if you look at Oscars. Every year, there would be an effort to empower films that are queer stories, colour stories, and marginalised stories in general. You don't find that in Bollywood. I was telling my friends how it could be started in Bollywood, for instance, alongside having a Best Actor Male and Best Actor Female, why not also have a category for the third gender. There is this lack of mainstream acceptance and our films are celebrated in spaces like queer film festivals. I really wonder what is taking mainstream so long.

A shot from the film "Happy Together"
A shot from the film "Happy Together"hs_journey/instagram

What are the top few films that you’d like to recommend to our readers?


There are a lot of films but one I'd like to recommend is "Pain and Glory" (2019) by Pedro Almodovar. Another would be "Weekend" (2011) by Andrew Haigh, a beautiful queer film. Another film which people should really watch whenever they have the chance is "Funny Boy" (2020) by Deepa Mehta. And towards the end, if we go to classics, I think "Happy Together" (1997) by Wong Kar-wai is another gem.

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