India gay film fest eyes homosexuality debate

Thu Apr 22, 2010 2:15am EDT
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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - A gay-and-lesbian themed film festival, said to be the biggest of its kind in India, opens on Thursday in an attempt to improve the image of gays in a nation where homosexuality still carries a heavy social stigma.

Organizers say they hope the four-day "Kashish" festival in Mumbai will create more open dialogue on gay and lesbian issues in the mostly conservative country that just less than a year ago scrapped a law criminalizing gay sex.

"Our main purpose of the festival is that queer issues should be mainstreamed," said festival director Sridhar Rangayan.

The festival comes less than a year after the Delhi High Court ruled that homosexual sex among consenting adults was not a crime, boosting an increasingly vocal pro-gay lobby in India that says the British-era law was a violation of human rights and an impediment to fighting HIV/AIDS in a country blighted by it.

But the change in the law appears to have done little to alter society's dominant anti-gay views.

In a country where hugging and kissing in public even among heterosexuals often triggers lewd remarks and the occasional beating, gay sex has been a taboo subject for filmmakers in the world's most prolific movie industry.

Bollywood has generally shied away from openly gay themes, preferring to occasionally use homosexuality as a comic tool, and even then at the risk of inviting the wrath of right-wing fundamentalists.

"Our main aim is to entertain and start a debate," said Vivek Anand, CEO of Humsafar Trust, an NGO which deals with homosexual rights and is one of the Organizers of the festival.   Continued...