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Kashish festival lands in a controversy ahead of 11th edition; Celina Jaitly quits as brand ambassador

Pallav Patankar, the festival's long-serving marketing director, was asked to leave, allegedly because of political disagreements.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival (MIQFf) has run into a controversy just as it was set to go online with its eleventh edition later this month on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marketing director Pallav Patankar was asked to leave on Tuesday 7 July and he did so the next day. On 9 July, long-time brand ambassador Celina Jaitly also parted ways with the festival.

The festival's core committee released a cryptic statement on Wednesday saying Patankar had decided to step down 'in light of recent concerns, and since the festival is so close by'. The committee said Patankar had decided to quit to keep the festival going 'without any encumbrance' and wished him well for the future.

Patankar issued his own statement that day, seeking to set the record straight and revealing that he had been asked to leave.

In his statement, Patankar said a few members of the festival's core committee were 'sympathetic to Kris aka Urvashi Chudawala', a 22-year-old student of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who has been charged with sedition after a gay pride event in Mumbai earlier this year.

Chudawala had allegedly raised slogans at the event in support of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) scholar Sharjeel Imam, who was arrested in January on charges of making inflammatory and seditious speeches during the countrywide agitation against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and the proposed National Register of Citizenship.

In his statement, Patankar said a systematic campaign was being carried out against him by 'individuals within Kashish, their friends/fellow trolls', questioning his position as director of marketing of the festival. He also clarified that he had not resigned but had been asked to go after he refused to give an explanation about allegations made against him in connection with the pride event.

The statement suggested that those seeking his ouster were motivated by their political ideology and wanted to set a 'skewed narrative'. Patankar said he was opposed to inviting only 'friends and like-minded people' for discussions as those would not be well-rounded.

Following Patankar's ouster, Jaitly decided to dissociate from the festival with immediate effect. In a statement on Thursday 9 July, the actress said that as 'a war hero's daughter and special forces officer's sister', she did not wish to be part of an event that is facing allegations of doing something that 'directly or indirectly' impinges on the country's integrity.

However, the festival's core committee is determined to look past the controversy and is preparing for its online edition with a slate of 157 films from 42 countries. The festival has also announced awards in nine categories.

This year's edition of the queer festival, titled Kashish 2020 Virtual, is slated to be held from 22 July through 30 July.

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Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival