BQFF Diaries: Days Two & Three – 10/3/18 & 11/3/18

4:20 PM:

Missed Portrait of Jason. The auditorium is full of heads bobbing, nodding, and laughing so I hang out at the stairs for a bit. At 5:45 there’s some room, so I squeeze in next to two women who smile as they make place for me. My toe pokes the big man’s bum in front of me but he either doesn’t care or doesn’t mind but I hug my toe and protect his bum from it for the rest of the evening.

Ladies & Gentlewomen by Malini Jeevarathnam begins, and I am not prepared for the heart fail I’m going to have in the next hour. When Joshua Muyiwa introduces it, he says the director intended the documentary to be watched by Indian parents.

The first couple of scenes show a woman with a mic asking random strangers in Chennai if they know what a lesbian is. ‘Ayaaayoo venda pa, no comments’, says a woman who giggles and walks away. ‘Yenna ma, dustbin ah?’ says an uncle on his scooter. The audience erupts in a little volcanoes of laugh. Next to me the woman says what’s wrong with these people why are they laughing?

As the documentary takes us through activists, lesbian couples, and bisexual men – there’s a parallel story of a mythological couple – an upper caste woman and a lower caste woman both in love with each other. They are found out, separated, and ostracised. When they can no longer bear it, they run away and meet each other. They spend some time together before setting themselves on fire and jumping into the well.

I am saddened by their suicide but I cannot stop thinking about how these women held each other – eyes full of love, hands full of trust.

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Image Credits: silverscreen.in

Lesbian relationships are just meant to be. That’s all. It’s the only way that women’s bodies can learn to trust again. But that’s not all. It’s fulfilling in a way that nothing is. Maybe this is my fascination with Ferrante. There’s so much secrecy and violence but there’s also so much love between Lenu-Lila.

I long to walk the streets of Bangalore with a woman in my arms, or I in hers. How will I do it in Basavanagudi? I can. The cows don’t mind as long as there are enough roads for them to plod on. And my suspicion is that all the ajjis here are closeted lesbians anyway. So we are basically full of lesbians and cows – just like the rest of the world.

A woman in a yellow kurta smiles into the camera as she says that there’s no space for a man in a lesbian relationship and that’s the best thing about it.

Smiles. Hearts. Giggles. A lot of women nod loudly.

The other couples in the documentary inspire similar feelings and by the end of the documentary – I am full of joy but am unable to understand why I’m also a little sad.

A middle-aged bisexual man says – ‘Just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I’ll say yes to sex to whoever asks me. See, this is the misconception. Queer people aren’t with each other only for sex. Like heterosexual relationships, they are also about eating, sleeping, walking, and doing other things together.’

The first thing that Malini Jeevarathnam says when she takes stage amidst the roar of cheers and applause – is ‘I don’t know English’

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The applause grows louder and some people from behind me scream ‘It’s okayyy’

“I am happy and full of tears”, she says. And the audience says – ‘us too’

It’s the only way to feel after you’ve watched this documentary. So much so that my stomach craved love so I went up to the café, drank wine and stuffed my face with potatoes.

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Sounds – On screen – the crackling of fire as the many couples jump to their deaths, the sound of waves as lovers walk hand-in-hand by the sea.

Off Screen – applause, hoots, cheers from the audience. The sound of my heart breaking into millions of pieces. The tch tches I imagine my father would produce if he were in the auditorium.

***

Ein Weg (Paths) – German, Directed by Chris Miera

The mattresses are mostly empty so I plonk my bum right in between – head is dizzy with wine.

I begin watching and am surprised by my focus on the faces of the two men on screen – Andreas and Martin. I watch as they scratch their noses, and hold their chins when they skype with each other. I am soon obsessed with the closed windows of the house. I see that it opens just the one time in the film – when they both fight and one of them leaves and the other puts his head out the window and begs him to come back. I am familiar with the sounds of the house now. The sounds it makes when they fight and stomp feet, when they make love and their bedsheets ruffle, and when they make tea, and when they clean.

So strange no? That when you watch a film, you too begin to live in the same house as them.

Sounds – House, Baltic Sea, crickets, and trees.

***

Day Three

Today, I see the festival itself, not the films. I am sitting in the projector room with the organisers. I watch as the tension, and the anxiety of running festivals unfolds before me. Delays, Subtitles not working heart attacks, people queuing up to watch films – line growing and growing.

Irattajeevitham – Malayalam, Suresh Narayanan

Favourite scene in the film is when Sainu and Amina take off someone’s boat out into the sea. Sainu is shit scared and tells Amina let’s go back. Amina is thrilled because she can’t believe they are floating in the middle of the sea and can’t stop squealing. As they row back to the shore, a crowd has gathered to wait to see if they’ll return alive. Because not one of the boys in the town has had the balls to take a boat out like that with no experience.

Sounds – Sea, Kerala, Trees, Birds, waves, crickets.

The Ice-cream killer – Ukraine, Anna Wasswerwoman

The second half of the day, I sit demurely, in the back. It’s noisier here. Because I understand that people are full of opinions here.

This is my favourite film of the day. The film is five minutes long and shows a woman devouring an entire ice cream for five minutes. It’s a thick cone with Vanilla ice cream. The melted bits fall on the street and the camera zooms in on that for a while.

How often do you see this?

I love watching women eat. Die if you don’t.

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Behind me two men loudly bemoan the choice of films. They haven’t liked a single film since morning, they want to talk to the selection committee, and they leave in a huff. I want to scream after them –you forgot your male privilege here boys, you’ll need it – take your opinions with you please, they are stinking up the whole place here.

Behind me, a woman tells her friend in Kannada to sit chakkla mukkla to ease her cramps. I think back to when the last time I listened to that phrase was. Very long.

All my love to the organisers of #BQFF2018. Keep doing what you guys are doing. Because it makes men leave in a huff.

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BQFF Diaries, Day One – 9/3/18

As always, the darkness in the auditorium at Max Mueller was inviting, not too cold; and my first glimpse of whatever was on screen was the bluish glow from the white mattresses on the floor, and the various bodies sprawled on it.

When one is in the auditorium for the first hour of BQFF, one is a body – in that, you are conscious – the mattresses take about an hour to make you feel at home so you won’t put your feet in people’s faces, you won’t even put it back, out of respect for the body behind you, you worry that your feet smell, that you are taking too much space, but within an hour – the bodies become shapes and you become a shape too. Slowly, you begin picking on the cracks of your heels, the corns on your toes, your hands go back, your body feels lighter and then you are slouching too.

The people seated demurely on chairs behind you are very much there but you only acknowledge them when you exit.

I spent the first five minutes adjusting bum, and a few minutes after that – looking for familiar shapes. Found a couple but one can never be too sure so I stayed put and didn’t grope them like I usually do (with consent, of course)

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The first film I watched was the Bengali & English – Aabar Jadi Ichchha Karo (If You Dare Desire) by Debalina. Two women who go by many names – Swapna & Sucheta; Aparna & Kajali; Moyna & Bandana leave home to be with each other. In Kolkata, they find family after family but not the space they need to simply be left alone with each other. Even so, they puncture the city with charming moments. Standing under a tree on a rainy Kolkata day – they both hold each other even as another woman offers them her umbrella.

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They get in. A herd of goats pass by and they both move back quietly, shivering. They seem more afraid of the umbrella woman than of the goats. Here they hold each other warmly, their arms entwined. This is a moment I teach myself to look for in all of the following films. Focus on hands, faces, chins, and stolen smiles.

Sounds – Kolkata rain, crickets, and early morning birds.

***

Ektara Collective’s Turup (Checkmate) was the highlight. It reinstated a long-standing belief I’ve had. That only old women can pull off the best dialogues in films. The star of the film is the 60 something Monika Mausi who works as a maid in a family that I feel like I know very well. Husband – booming industrialist who gives money to right-wing mofos. Wife has quit her career in journalism because husband wants baby.

She asks Monika one day – Tumhari shaadi nahi hui na? (You didn’t get married no?)

Monika snaps – Shaadi nahi hui nahi. Maine Shaadi nahi kiya (It’s not that I didn’t get married. I did not marry)

Monika   Image Credits: Scroll
                                                  Monika                                     Image Credits: Scroll

Monika is actually a cat who can’t stand cats. She lives alone, walks alone, reads, plays chess, tears down Hindutva cow posters, and drinks chai standing up – thinking, planning, and living. A fab moment was watching her play chess in one scene. A cat walks by and Monika brushes it away, like a cat would, nonchalantly.

Journalist wife asks her one day – Don’t you ever get lonely?

Yes. But it comes and goes.

Don’t you want to have a family of your own?

Why? We can choose our families no? That’s also possible.

The audience sighed, clapped, cheered, hooted, and whistled. Two tear drops came for me.

Sounds – A Koel cooing gently every time Journalist wife sits in her bedroom, wondering what she’s doing with her life.

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Image Credits: Gaysi

***

Malila: The Farewell Flower (Thailand, Thai, Anucha Boonyawatana)

I learn that doing what one loves to do is the surest way of happiness – alone, with little joy, in sickness and in health.

Pich makes Baisri (an ornamental decoration made with leaves and flower petals) and this helps him survive cancer. He loves making them even if they wither and die soon. The most difficult thing about making this, he says, is that you must hold the leaves gently but fold them tightly.

Image Credits: Kino pavasaris
Image Credits: Kino pavasaris

Once he’s done, he lets it float away in the river and feels complete only after he lets go. Too many truths, too many moments. Many sighs. I liked watching him alone doing his Baisris than with his lover, Shane – who I wanted to kill. Pich died doing what he loved. In one scene, he tells Shane that he believes he gets better and his cancer goes away when he makes a Bai Sri. ‘It’s all in your head’, Shane tells him. Shane is just a husband through the whole film. Dabba fellow.

Sounds – Rain, forests, crickets, frogs, hills.

***

Snapshot (USA, English, Shine Houston)

Obnoxiously loud North Indian women howl and scream and laugh when a woman on screen is having orgasms for the first time in her life. Sounds of orgasms are far more desirable than the loud, raspy, insect laugh of people in gangs. Wankers.

Sounds – The camera’s kachaks, clothes ruffling, and women moaning. Off Screen sounds – disgust.

Image Credits: Twitter
Image Credits: Twitter

Meta Diaries – Days Three, Four, Five and Six

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Day Three

The film review contest had 20 participants. Some lizards wanted to know the name of the film so they could watch it aaram se at home. Some Dengue mosquitoes decided to participate only if the name of the film sounded interesting.

So what did we screen? Let’s just say that when I closed the door before leaving the AV Room, I was mercilessly giggling to myself.

We are screening this film again at 12:00 PM on Monday in case you want to swing by.

Today my Meta began when I walked into a class, determined to inflict on students – stories from the wasteland that was my youth. I do this often because I am repairing something I lost as a young adult – time. On AM’s blog long ago, I’d read his tribute to Mulky – where he says that the most important thing he learnt from Mulky was to never be a passive receiver of information, that to be invested in your own learning is the most reliable way of rescuing yourself from inner demons. I was 24 when I read that and needless to say, my life changed.

If I were a student, I wouldn’t be a volunteer at Meta, I’d be a lizard sitting in on all the sessions and watching them aaram se, with the head space to live in the moment and not worry about organising.

I craved for that head space at Venkat Srinivasan’s brilliant session on Archiving. I’d never thought science capable of having memory. I was convinced that any archiving to do with science must be boring. On the contrary – Srinivasan told us about a bunch of physicists who celebrated the success of experiments conducted by buying a bottle of wine. This collection grew until a point where they didn’t need to refer to any documents to find out about experiments. They just had to look at the bottle and all details would naturally come to them.

This is also archiving because it tells a story. I liked the session because it gave professional validity to my sentimental need to collect things. We are all archivists without meaning to be.

Archives could be playful — sometimes a more reliable way of remembering history. And what’s history without stories. We need archives because they are a definite way of releasing stories from the boredom of textbooks. As Naveen Tejaswi’s Rohingya session showed us. The story of a Bangla man’s love for Mallu films is a moment worth remembering and going back to.

Editor Deepika S’s session ‘A Story I Chased’ brought to light the many dilemmas a young journalist has to deal with. Her story was about uncovering the custodial torture of Bam Bahadur, a Nepali watchman whose case is still unsolved. As she narrated his story and the challenges of getting details from policemen, especially if you are a female reporter, three girls in the audience shook their heads involuntarily, their eyes widening with shock.

KN Balraj’s Cartooning workshop was a hit. It is fascinating to watch a cartoonist at work. As Shalom Sanjay observed, ‘It was a fast process, his nimble fingers barely paused’

At the quiz today, I discovered another joy. It is watching teammates cussing and abusing each other for getting an answer wrong, or worse – coming very close to the correct answer. Many noticed with glee as Bhargav Bsr’s amusing reactions went from furiously throwing pens down to standing up, walking in circles and sitting back again.

Philip Victor and Miracline Kiruba’s rendition of regional romantic songs pulled students from outside to inside where Coconut naans and chai were consumed deliriously even as Bibith Joy was seen walking out in a huff muttering things under his breath. (‘I am going to kill her’) – who? Apparently someone on the hospitality committee who refused him naan because they wanted to wait until after the performance. But then Bibith Joy saw an entire posse walk in with naans in their hands. In the end, he got his naan.

 

Days Four, Five, and Six

Had the pleasure of sitting in on quizzes conducted by four incredible young women. Donna Eva and Archita Raghu conducted part of Guesstalt, the general quiz on Day three. Sandra Jiju and Nikhita Thomas conducted part of Bookends, the book quiz on Day Five.

I think about the energy and time these students have invested in setting questions, editing, and doing research. I think about whether they were nervous before taking stage. I think about the many distractions and the number of things they could be doing on a weekend but they decide to come do this. And for this – I am grateful.

Often times, people too full of privilege wonder why we make a big deal out of Meta, because they ‘feel’ it is too overrated. First of all who told you to feel? If you have too many feelings then go act in Bhansali’s next film. Second of all, feelings are overrated. Third of all, you are overrated.

I like Meta because I get the opportunity to watch women claim spaces. Also because it’s always more desirable to learn from students invested in themselves than sit and have too many feelings about the world.

As Vasu from Pushpavalli says, if you have any more ratings/suggestions/feelings please put it in your BumSandra.

***
Day Six was exciting only and only because Praveen Kumar G and Manjunayak T Chellur read from their work. In both their stories there are memorable women. One pokes her sleeping husband, and thrusts a weeping baby in his arms and another spits rainbows from her mouth.

Stomach felt warm at various points yesterday. It’s delightful that young men are imagining women and writing women’s stories. Had the opportunity to interview both these men for Open Dosa. A piece coming up soon.

The only disappointing thing was students feeling too cool to listen to Kannada. But as Praveen Kumar G said – abuse them in Kannada, then they’ll learn the language to find out what you said. So – ನಾಯಿ ನನ್ ಮಕ್ಳು ನೆಗ್ಗಿದ್ ಬಿದ್ದು ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕಾಯಿ ಆಗಿ .

 

Meta Diaries – Days One and Two

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Day One

Like every year, we wondered if we have the energy to run Meta. And like every year we decided we don’t have the energy – that we need to shrink Meta down to a manageable size, and like every year, we did it anyway.

Today was the inaugural of the sixth edition of Meta. We began with the Fan-fiction contest which saw 11 participants. Not too great, but some of the students were from other colleges so not too bad as well.

The inaugural was ceremoniously marked by the absentee lamp- happily replaced by letting 90 yellow balloons in the air.

JAM has always been a highlight and this year we had a solid participation by 20 students. Let’s just say that interesting things happen on stage when students from different states contest with one another.

The rains teased us for a bit and then decided to just break down and it poured and poured. Ever noticed how the Banyan tree silently rebels? Especially when it rains.

Volunteers were seen performing risky acrobatics to get the art back drop down safely. JAM was shifted to the Staff Seminar Hall which proved to be a better venue. The participants began objecting very intimately – as if they were pillow fighting with cousins. By the final round, they knew each other well enough to imitate each other.

And that’s how we know we had a good day. As someone famous once said, ‘Imitation breeds good feels’

 

***

Day Two

When I was in the 8th std, I stared at windows a little too much. One afternoon, simply gazing outside, I found the courage to take part in an essay contest. A girl I really admired had been winning debate competitions and I felt like I should do something too.

The topic of the essay was Swami Vivekananda and I had no idea what to write,how to write. So I spent one afternoon in the library looking for a book about him and mugged up a couple of things. I then proceeded with full gusto to repeat whatever I could remember. I assumed the more I could remember, the more my chances of winning were. The rest of the class was out on a field trip to planetarium. I told myself I was doing the right thing by not going.

By the fourth sentence in the essay contest, I had emptied whatever little I was able to gather about the damn man. I had nothing to say about him. I handed over my entry and walked out feeling disgusted with myself. There were some 15 people still writing ferociously.

I should have just gone to the planetarium – I continued to tell myself. But I’m glad I stayed back and tasted disgust that day because today it has taught me to appreciate imagination whenever and wherever I see it.

The Children’s fiction contest today saw ten participants. This was the starter –

“The short girl just stood there with her hair falling over her eyes. Her mother shifted from foot to foot as the teacher told story after story—late-coming, homework not done, and failed test papers. In the middle of all this thunder and lightning, she saw something that made her smile. She fought it valiantly, and because she fought it, it grew into a determined little cloud and it burst forth from her lips in little giggly bursts. Things went from bad to worse, but what could she do?”

When I see the possibility of what a student is able to do when you challenge her with the gift of her own imagination, I want to say screw Vivekananda.
***
The Spelling Bee had 30 participants today. I sat in for one round and felt victorious when I realized that I had spelled Mulligatawny correct. Out of 6 questions, this was the only word I was able to guess, so – bonus. Even if I was only able to guess because of the hint provided (you will get this in Koshy’s) – it’s still a win.

But what blew my mind away was learning that Kedgeree comes from Khichdi (!)
***
Our homemade event BollyGood has always received maximum voyeurism. This is nice but also sorrowful. If everyone comes to watch, who will do?

***
Naveen Tejaswi‘s Interactive Photo Essay session on the Rohingya refugee camps began with the usual tech-related glitches but he won it over with his stories. He brought us tales of chain-smoking men he was too afraid to say anything to. And of Bangladeshi people who were crazy about Malayalam films.
***
The excellent Janet Orlene conducted a Poetry Slam workshop. Participants were taken through solid metaphor exercises and stage-fright relieving techniques.

I am producing here the poem of one Miss Aishwarya Bhaskar who returned from the workshop saying, ‘I didn’t know I could write poems’

I am a banana peel
I am yellow in color
I am not judging cows for eating me
I am liked by flies and other insects
I am friends with plastic covers
Because we go into the trash together.
***
When I see all this, I remember dabba Vivekananda and my heart sighs. Then I wonder if students today prefer Avivekananda and my heart sighs louder.

Chitra Santhe 2015

It was my first art event. I was drawn into it very easily, by the clothes that people wore at first and then by the paintings. I noticed that people brought kids to art events. I was more surprised that photography was allowed in some stalls and prohibited in one, maybe two. I gasped at the first painting I saw there. It was a painting of  a galli.

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The boxes on the cement floor were uneven but looked compact, like a completed jigsaw puzzle. Two men were on their cycles, riding. They have very little face so I cannot say what they look like. There is water on the ground, it looks washed because there are blotchy reflections of white all over. There is no sun but the light is fading into the corners of the canvas. Above their heads, there are bits of cloth and paper strung together with ropes.They are yellow and white. The sidewalls in the shop are lined with packets of chips. There are men who are walking down the galli. Some are standing in a group at the far end of the painting. One half of a black tawa is visible in the corner of the painting. It looks very much at peace, like a man whose one ear goes missing in a photograph. Tin roofs jut out their tongues all along the street. Beyond this, there is a white building and this is where the painting ends.

I found this to be rather interesting. I realized that I was more drawn into paintings like these where there is nothing on the canvas beyond a point, unlike most other landscape paintings which stretch into the unknown. A road, the sky, a curve. It leads you further into its depths. I found myself dismissing these. I turned to look at other paintings that have no beyond, that are still, like the canvas.

Like this one. I liked how the light yawns into the courtyard and then cuts off.

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When I wasn’t salivating on my clothes, I was listening to people. A couple was fighting because he wanted the painting with the cupboard full of books to go into the kitchen and she wanted it to go on the drawing room wall. I was ashamed of how many times I caught myself debating the same issues in my head. I didn’t care about where the money to buy either a flat or these paintings would come from. I was busy deciding where I would put each. The painting of the woman smoking and showing her back would go above my writing desk, you know for inspiration. The painting of the galli had to be shown off as though I painted it so that would go above the sofa.

Also, who wears white chiffon sarees to art events? I wouldn’t know. But some people do. And I love-hated them.