In an exclusive interaction with Sakshipost, Neeraj Churi recount Reshmi AR on his journey so far.
1. From information science management to cinema… how did the changeover happen?
It was more of a gradual journey. Video editing has always fascinated me, and even when I was working full-time in the US, I dabbled in video art and live video mixing for events at some of New York’s biggest clubs. My interest in editing brought me into contact with some of my friends in India who were pioneers in making LGBT+ films in India. These filmmakers made me aware of the few opportunities for the community to tell their own stories, the difficulties they faced in finding actors, and the limited options to screen/distribute their films. Growing up in India, the few LGBTQ+ characters portrayed in movies were either mean or used for crude comedy. This misrepresentation in the media has motivated to support LGBT+ filmmakers in India by offering them the opportunity to make their films to help imbue the positive portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters. With each project, I became more involved in various aspects of script development, casting decisions, online production, and distribution strategies. I see film production as my way of giving back to the LGBTQ+ community.
2. Tell us about your background. Was it difficult to establish yourself in the sector?
My journey started by helping people finance their short films. Realizing that there was no formal grant for making lgbt+ films, I started one in collaboration with Kashish MQIFF – the largest lgbt+ film festival in Asia. This quickly evolved into other aspects of filmmaking such as refining the script, hiring cast and crew, managing post-production and distribution. I entered the industry because there was no point in working with the lgbtq+ community to give them a chance to tell their stories. So getting a foothold was never a problem.
3. Your comments on nepotism in the film industry?
Nepotism is present in all industries and not just in cinema. Nepotism will get you in the door, but ultimately there is pressure on the actor to work hard and the audience to like him. Nepotism is a kind of privilege, and like any privilege, it provides the opportunity to do good for others. If you entered the industry because of your connections, why not open the door to others without connections?
4. You have several critically acclaimed films under your belt. Do you think it’s hard to please the critics?
For me, the most prominent critics are the LGBTQ+ community. They need to feel that they are portrayed with authenticity and positivity on screen. We work hard with our filmmakers to ensure we do enough research on the topics and involve the right community advisors to ensure that each project reflects the reality and aspirations of the community.
Like any art form, cinema is subject to interpretation, and not everyone needs to have the same opinion about it. Room for a plurality of viewpoints makes a society prosper. We are always excited to see how those inside and outside of the LGBTQ+ community receive our films. It keeps us honest and fuels our growth.
5. What do you think of movie reviews?
Film reviews give an idea of how different sections of society received the film. This helps us gauge how effectively we got our message across. Your reviewers don’t have to be professional reviewers, but they can also be our LGBTQ+ audiences eager to see an accurate portrayal of their struggles and hopes on screen.
6. The QDrishti Fellowship he gives every year as part of the Kashish Film Festival is meant to help aspiring queer filmmakers. Elaborate on that.
Most developed countries have a formal structure of providing grants through semi-governmental bodies or trusts to disadvantaged communities to make films on uncommon subjects. We had no formal funding mechanism for lgbt+ films and lgbt+ filmmakers in India. That’s why we decided to team up with Kashish MIQFF to launch an annual grant about seven years ago. We have chosen to double the grant amount in 2020. We have also improved the format to integrate the process with other international grants.
In addition to the financial subsidy, we offer mentoring to perfect the script, subsidized equipment rental when possible; guidance and feedback at every stage, from writing to final editing; festival and distribution strategy. Our jury and mentors are made up of well-known industry professionals, actors and writers. We are delighted that the film My Mother’s Girlfriend, directed by the 2020 scholarship winner, has won the prestigious Best Short Fiction Award at the Kerala International Documentary and Short Film Festival 2021.
7. We are in the age of OTT, but you want to stay away from digital platforms?
Not at all. We want our films to be shown as far as possible in all parts of the world. We work with all possible distribution channels (digital and conventional). However, we want to strike a balance to ensure that even members of the LGBTQ+ community from disadvantaged backgrounds can access content without having to pay for it.
8. Audiences watching films at film festivals are a niche segment; don’t you think that you are preventing your film from reaching a wider audience?
The course of the festival helps to raise the profile of the film, and that of the filmmaker creates excitement and buzz around the film in India and abroad. Prizes and publicity obtained at festivals help to make films a place on the OTTs. The filmmaker’s career chart is also getting a positive boost. International film festivals also provide an opportunity to connect with global distributors who can introduce the films to a wider audience.
9. What’s next?
We are embarking on a feature film project set in India which was recently chosen as one of the top 20 global projects to pitch on the UK Film London production finance market. The same project was also selected at the NFDC Script Lab under the mentorship of award-winning filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni.
We recently launched a YouTube channel for our original content and selected LGBTQ+ films made by other filmmakers to allow future writers/directors to show their creativity. Stay tuned for an exciting ongoing project to benefit the Indian trans community.