While they continue to be a community that celebrates life to the fullest, queer representation in India, to a large extent has always been stereotyped. Also excluded from popular narratives, or prominently seen only during pride month, one struggles to find the realistic picture of what the LGBTQIA++ community is all about. Offering cinephiles across the world a sensual celebration of their love and desires, Bodies of Desire, a visual poetry film, attempts to portray an honest representation of these very emotions, through characters that the Indian audience is not used to seeing on mainstream media. Using Varsha Panikar’s poetry series by the same name, the film, features four sets of lovers who emote intimacy, longing, discovery and desire that beautifully captures the essence of what the film aims to convey.
Co-directed by Varsha and Saad Nawab, the short film, spanning a little less than four minutes, is inspired by the poet’s own reality. With Varsha Panikar being a queer filmmaker herself, the core idea behind Bodies of Desire was to create a film that was represents her community and captures them through a lens, that is free from bias and prejudice, and establish a presence that is more fluid and nuanced, and is told through their perspective and not how it appears to an outsider.
Talking about her film, Varsha Panikar says, “While the visibility of the LGBTQIA++ community in the media is slowly emerging in India, it is important to remember that only a limited range of stories are being told. And we know that it is not enough. When you see yourself depicted and represented, it shows the world and queer people, that they are not abnormal, and it makes sexuality and gender, less of a target for bullying and abuse. That sort of visibility gives you a sense of connection and hope, and hope is what the world needs now, more than ever.”
Sharing his thoughts on the movie, Saad Nawab comments, “Coming from a marginalised community myself, I know the value of the right kind of representation and visibility, in films and popular media. My work on Bodies of Desire was collaborative and I think that the direction in which where we should be heading. We need stories that are multi-cultural and multi-dimensional. My takeaway from this film was the importance of acceptance and tolerance and the urgent need for us as creators to break away from the patriarchal nature of filmmaking. It is time to let more voices and narratives be heard.”
Having its post-production, music and grading done entirely during the lockdown, it has taken little or no time for the film to have been nominated and shortlisted at many prestigious film festivals around the world. Some of them include Berlin Commercials, Queer Womxn Fest – Last Frame (London), Melanin Pride Festival (USA), Here Kyiv Short Fest (Ukraine), Queerz Get Loud (Poland), Flickfair (USA), First Time Filmmakers Sessions, Lift Off Global Network (England), The Lift Off Sessions, Lift Off Global Network (England).
Speaking about the film, producer Asawari Jagusthe comments, “For us it was about delving in to the deep reaches of our psyche to unravel a genderless, consensual and tender imagery of what desire could be and not shy away from talking about it. On that note, I do believe that Bodies of Desire is a great conversation starter.” She further added, “The highlight for me were the intimacy workshops and how we made sure the rehearsal space and the shoot was a safe space for every individual working on it. Doing such workshops, learning consent and respecting the boundaries of co-actors is extremely important in the making of such works. Secondly, having a gender-balanced cast and crew fostered a safe working environment that saw people from different backgrounds explore physical and emotional dynamics with each other.”
Produced by Asawari Jagushte and Neha Vyas, the film stars Shreya Sarkar, Omkar Sharma, Suruj Rajkhowa, Vaishakh Sudhakaran, Meheka CL, Doel Rakshit, Sachin Das Gupta, Sushant Khomane, and Smriti Tiwari. With the post-production process being no easy feat due to the lockdown, producer Asawari Jagushte roped in technicians from all over the world like Cornelia Nicolăeasa (editor) from Romania and Mark Spanoudakis (Composition and Mixing) from Greece. Each one of them, by coming together through Bodies of Desire, has captured these raw emotions to give world something truly special.
Shedding light on what went into the making of the picture, Kaushal Shah, (cinematographer and grading) revealed, “Bodies of Desire to me was all about tenderness and sensuality. In terms of tone and texture, it had to feel like we were in their environment, one where they could express and allow themselves to be free and vulnerable. I wanted to keep the styling and the look for the cast natural and real, by maintaining the authenticity of the various skin tones that we had. As a visual artist, it is important to develop a gaze that is fluid and free from any bias and prejudices that allows you to look at the subject in hand in a sort of raw and awe-inspiring manner. And that is what makes an image authentic and powerful.”