Varsha Panikar is a writer, director, multi-disciplinary artist, and voice-over artist from Mumbai, India. They are the co-founder of Star Hopper Studios, a queer-led, cross-disciplinary collective based in Mumbai/Delhi, focusing on experimental brand videos, curation, and intersectional narratives. Varsha is also a BeFantastic C³ Fellow (2021) supported by Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai and Zentrum für Kunst und Medien ZKM, Karlsruhe, and further developed in collaboration with BeFantastic. As a trans non-binary artist unpicking prejudices and politics from their own lived experience, they create with the aim of dismantling constructs and initiating conversations around trans, queer, and other south-Asian narratives that are marginalised and under-represented.
Originally a student of linguistics, and a self taught storyteller, Varsha was introduced to the world of films and literature at a young age by their late mother, a librarian and a feminist painter. Consequently, they took up writing early on in their childhood, and over time it became the conduit through which they continue to express and interact with the world. Drawing inspiration from dreams, memories, fantasy, and evolving socio-political perspectives, their practice involves blending various mediums and formats of storytelling. They are interested in tories that help create shifts in perspectives and inject new ideas and hope, and we all need hope, now more than ever.
Bodies Of Desire, their award-winning visual poetry film premiered on Nowness Asia and has been curated by GirlsInFilm, Nowness #LoveSick series, Otherness Archive and Directors Notes. The film was included as one of the #FiveFilmsForFreedom 2021, an initiative by British Film Institute's LGBTQIA++ festival - BFI Flare and British Council, that champions five films each year in support of LGBTIQIA+ and showcases the films in over 200 countries and principalities in various languages. Bodies Of Desire won Special Jury Award for The Best International Short at RIO Festival De Cinema LGBTQIA+ 2021; received Honourable Mention at 24fps International Short Film Festival. It also won Best Music Video at Global Indian Film Festival 2021. The film has been officially selected at 42 film festivals so far, including Fringe Fest (UK), Outfest LA 2021(US), BFI Flare(UK), Berlin Commercials (Germany), Toronto Queer Film Festival, Zebra Poetry Festival (Germany), Queer Womxn Fest (London), Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (Australia) and many more. The film continues to be screened and curated at multiple events across the globe. You may visit the film's official page here.
Their latest visual poetry After So Long premiered on Nowness.Asia. The film has since been curated by GirlsInFilm(UK) and Homegrown and also nominated in 2022 for Zebra Poetry Film Festival, Balkan Can Kino, Black Cat Award International Film Festival, One Earth Awards, Festival del Cinema di Cefalù and Star Film Fest. False Promises, another spoken-word film, from their upcoming anthology The End Of The Line, which they lent their poetry and voice for received a special mention and Certificate of Excellence at the 11th Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival 2021, and was shortlisted at New York City Independent Film Festival 2021. The film has also been curated by Homegrown. The Housemaids, a short film they collaborated on as an associate producer and stylist has had its official selection at Women make Waves, Taiwan 2018, Bangalore Queer Film Festival 2019, and IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival 2019. The Housemaids is streaming on Amazon Prime (USA/UK), Disney Hotstar (India) and Pocket Films (India). Their debut music-video - Maya was listed in the top 10 Music Videos by Rolling Stones.
My Body Is A Prison, a photo-poetry zine from their ongoing series Origami Folds is available on Amazon Kindle and has also been curated by Zine Club Chicago (U.S), State University Of New York's Sojourner Truth Library (U.S), Queer Zine Library (UK), and Grrrl Zine (UK). Their work has also appeared in publications by Munich Zine, Nerve Zine, Forbidden Verses, The Rights Collective, South Asian Sisters Speak (SASS), One Future Collective, The Local Color Zine, Pinjratod, Ratio Auream Publishers. Their essay, "Labels, In a not-so-perfect world", reflecting on their experiences with labels in the discourse around gender and identity, is available on The Lipstick Politico. Their photo-poetry zine ‘Whispers To My Shadows’, was showcased at ‘Queer Futures Archives’, as a part of the ‘Burn All The Books That Call You The Unknown” exhibition 2021 Parramatta Riverside Theater, Sydney. Excerpts from ‘Bodies Of Desire’, their ongoing mixed-media anthology, were also showcased at the same exhibition. Their first anthology titled, The End of The Line, is currently in production for publication. You may read their blog here and see their other published work here.
Varsha also moonlights as a voice-over artist and loves performing Spoken-Word. Dr. Bootlegger’s Bowl of Delightful Diversions'. is an interactive workshop-based moving-image session created and curated by them and Asawari Jagushte. They also co-run UFO (Underground Film Observatory), a film society by Star Hopper Studios, with a mission to exhibit, nurture and make accessible, works by or of underrepresented and marginalised South Asian communities. Varsha spends their free time moon-walking into existential questions and uncovering hypothetical flaws in the imagined queer oasis; that they might potentially inhabit someday; in the proverbial sky.
For collaborations and inquiries, you can contact them on email@example.com.
FESTIVALS & CURATION
Five Films For Freedom | Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest | OUTFEST Los Angeles | BFI FLARE London LGBTQ+ Film Festival | BERLIN COMMERCIAL | Toronto Queer Film Festival | Fashion Film Festival Milano | Indian Film Festival Of Melbourne | Zebra Poetry Film Festival 2021 | Zebra Poetry Film Festival 2022 | Rio Festival De Cinema LGBTQIA+ | Prairie Pride Film Festival | Les Mains Gauches |Athens Fashion Film Festival | 4:3 Int'l Short Film Festival | Geelong Pride Film Festival | 9th Int'l Video Poetry Festival | Queerz Get Loud | Erotica Art & Film Festival | Reelout Queer Film Festival | Tag! Queer Shorts Festival | Balkan Can Kino | Black Cat Award International Film Festival | Lustreifen Film Festival | Global Indian Film Festival | Wench Film Festival | Pan Eros Film Festival | CLIT Film Festival | Provincetown International Film Festival | HKSF | Reel Desire Chennai International Queer Film Festival | Melanin Pride Festival | Thessaloniki Queer Arts Festival | Living Together Again | Flickfair | Last Frame Queer Womxn Fest | ICAN/HANNA International Film Festival | 10th International Video Poetry Festival | One Earth Awards | Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival | New York City Independent Film Festival | Bangalore Queer film Festival | Women Make Waves | IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival | Star Film Fest | One Earth Award | 24fps International Short Film Festival | Festival del Cinema di Cefalù | GirlsInFilm | Otherness Archive | Directors Note | Nowness Asia | Nowness
Mid-Day | Homegrown | Rolling Stones | Times Of India | Deadline | Attitude | Directors Notes | Otherness Archive | The Lipstick Politico | Gaysi | Homegrown | Mid-Day | GirlsInFilm | Nowness Asia | Nowness | Filmuforia | Outsavy | The Telegraph | Mid-Day | Diva Mag | The Hindu | British Council | Gay Men News | Berlin Commercial | The Times Of India | Daily Hunt | Cinestaan | Lesflicks | Rolling Stones | Millenium Post | Times Of India | Jio Cinema | Exchange4Media | Homegrown | The Pioneer | The News Mill | Passing Bi Podcast | Utkal Today | The Lipstick Politico | Pride Beyond The Month | Q&A EROS Festival | Girls In Film IG Live | Q&A The Rights Collective | Film Analysis White Rose Club | Q&A Nazariyaa QTRG | British Council Interview | Q&A Hungama London