Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

A poster for the silent short film Mehroon which won the filmmaking grant at the KASHISH Film Festival.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Kolkata

The short film Mehroon has bagged two laurels at the KASHISH International Film Festival in Mumbai. Director Abu Sohel Khondekar (she/they), a transwoman and a queer filmmaker, won the KASHISH QDrishti Film Grant 2023 to make the film. After the screening of the film on May 19, 2024, at Liberty Cinema, Mumbai, she also won the Special Jury Mention for Riyad Wadia Award for Best Emerging Indian Filmmaker. 

KASHISH is the biggest queer film festival in South Asia which saw hundreds of queer directors, film industry workers, and actors join in from across the globe to screen and celebrate the stories from and of the community. Among them, Kolkata-based 34-year-old Khondekar managed to get the ₹2.5 lakh grant for her first short film. 

According to Khondekar, the thought to title the film Mehroon came from Mehroon Nissa, the wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, oft described as the real force running his empire. The titular character in the movie chooses the name Mehroon, as a symbolic break from Brahminical conservatism to reshape herself in a completely new identity. 

The film is about Mehroon, identified as Anirban Mandal at birth and her tough relationship with her father. Her father’s dying will stipulates a share in his properties only if Mehroon presents herself as his “son” and returns to the name assigned to her at birth. Her journey is traced through the silent yet impactful frames of the movie. 

Khondekar said, “The story of the film was born out of the necessity to create something with the bare minimum. I believe we as the trans community can’t wait for the larger Indian mass to accept us and then come out.”

She also mentioned that a platform like KASHISH has helped many filmmakers like herself from various countries to come together and find a space to “accept ourselves first for the world to accept us”. 

Bagging this grant and reaching the KASHISH film festival with her film gave Khondekar hope but she also realised how underrepresented the queer community is in the film industry. She said, “I saw incredible feature films, documentaries, movies, and shorts at the KASHISH film festival. If not for this film festival I would have never seen them before. Queer films never get picked for mainstream festivals. There is immense potential in queer cinema. But where is the audience?”

Khondekar came to make this film because she herself never had any queer icon to look up to or learn from when she was growing up. She never saw representative characters like herself or people from the community in the movies other than an occasional film by Rituporno Ghosh in Bengal.

She said, “There was a complete dearth of queer personas in the public sphere. So there was a lot of curiosity and a lot of personal questions that needed answering. That was made possible through my making this film.”

Mehroon was highly appreciated by the audience at the screening and got a round of applause. The filmmaker remained in anticipation that a lot of the movie would fall through the cracks as there was no narration and the audience had to figure out the story on their own without verbal cues. However, the movie received a great response from the audience and the jury at the festival. With all the praises pouring in, the director said, “It was a dream to see my own film on 35mm and have an audience appreciate it and clap to it.”

Mehroon went on to win the Special Jury Mention for Riyad Wadia Award for Best Emerging Indian Filmmaker. 

After the success at KASHISH, Mehroon has been nominated to the Chennai International Queer Film Festival where it will be screened in a month or two.

By admin

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