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The Advocate sits down for an interview with the queer writer and director of Devi (Goddess), the Outfest award winner for Best Narrative Short Film.
Lesbian writer and director Karishma Dube's newest film, Devi (Goddess), won the award for Best Narrative Short Film at this year's Outfest and Indian Film Fest of Los Angeles; the film also won Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor in the First Look Film Festival in New York and has been nominated for Best Short at the Raindance Film Festival. Dube's powerful and timely story centers on two women from different classes who fall in love in modern-day India.
The Advocate sat down with Dube to discuss the LGBT experience in India and the inspiration behind the story and characters of Devi.
The Advocate: Was Devi based on a personal or family story or someone that you know?
Karishma Dube: I was raised with a lot of help from a woman who was essentially a stranger to the family before I was born, and today she is no less than a second mother to me. But growing up, the class lines between us were drawn very often and very suddenly. I questioned it constantly in my mind growing up, which eventually lead to this framework of this script.
The characters in Devi are versions of women I have grown up with, and my intention with this film was to put them in a room and instigate certain uncomfortable conversations.
Is there a message you would like your audience to take from the film?
I have learnt most about myself through instincts. For instance, attraction operates very strangely and often not in alignment with what is acceptable socially. Tara and Devi's relationship is not easy to define and that excited me as a writer, the fact that what is sometimes instinctual to us may not be natural to others.
For Tara and Devi, there is no reality in which their relationship can ever exist, at least in India, especially in the context of class. But the attraction is true and multifaceted. It is essentially a coming of age story, where the protagonist eventually fails to do what's right.
I can't battle or resolve the issues I've raised in my 12-minute film, but if I can hopefully instigate a conversation that is normally difficult to have, I have achieved what I intended.
What is life like in India for LGBTQ people at the present time? Is there something that you hoped to change by making the film?
Homosexuality remains criminalized under the Article 377 of our constitution. It is still vehemently suppressed, in spite of it being a part of our culture for centuries. Today India has LGBTQ communities through the country, but in my opinion, there is still an issue of visibility, voice, and acceptability. To my surprise, it's a hush-hush culture even amongst the social circles of upper- or middle-class liberals, irrespective of wealth or power.
"Devi" is both the name of one of your main characters and is a Sanskrit word that roughly translates into "goddess" and/or "the divine," and can also refer to a specific deity or deities in the Hindu faith. The character Devi is both like a mother and a lover in your film. This reminds me of the Hindu goddess Parvati, who was Shiva's consort and Ganesha's mother. Was the character Devi inspired by the Hindu goddess Parvati's story at all?
Everything in the Indian culture stems from some deep-rooted sense of divinity. Therefore, at a subconscious level the title is derived from what you mentioned in your question. It's a narrative not just akin to Hinduism, but it's also telling of what I've observed of women across India -- irrespective of class or caste as we still live in a severely patriarchal society. The patriarchy and tradition is sometimes seeped in our minds so deep that women often become their own enemies.
What does it mean for your film to have won Best Narrative Short Film at Outfest?
Outfest was such an incredible experience. I had a whole 10 days before my screening and was so completely floored by the how instantly at home I felt. It was a wonderfully strange experience to have received this award in such a queer space so far away from home. We left the festival very inspired.
As an LGBTQ filmmaker, do you have a message for our community that you hope to deliver through your films?
I wouldn't like to put myself into a compartment, but I do seek acceptability and visibility through my films. I hope my work can one day make someone feel a little less alone when they are looking for a life that exists outside of the one they know.
What's next for Devi? Do you have more festivals lined up? Do you have any plans to release the film online?
I feel very grateful that Devi is enjoying a good festival run. We screen[ed] at HollyShorts in L.A. as a part of the LGBTQ program. There are a few very exciting screenings in the U.K. that we will be announcing end of this month on our Facebook page.
We are also in the midst of talks with several online distributors; the film will be available online on various platforms at the end of the year. I am also currently developing Devi into a feature script that follows the individual pursuits of the three women, all of whom occupy divergent social spaces within Delhi.
You mentioned during your Outfest Q&A that the film you would most like to make is a lesbian Bollywood film. Are you working on this at all? If so, where are you in the process?
I feel like I have been working on this film since I was a kid -- it's been dream project for a while now -- but have always doubted its acceptability. But to be honest, I have a few scripts in mind that seem more imperative to make before this one, so it will have to wait.
To learn where you can attend screenings of Devi or watch it online, visit the film's Facebook page.