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Varsha Panikar is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, poet, writer and interdisciplinary artist. They are also the co-founder, Artistic Director, and Creative Producer at Star Hopper, a trans-led film production company working at the intersection of film and culture to create narratives that are brown, queer and women led.

 

Their creative journey finds its roots in challenging the status quo, culminating in narratives that aim to transform and spark conversations around marginalised and underrepresented South Asian stories. Blending mediums and formats, Varsha questions the dynamics of representation, asking critical questions about narrative authorship and the inclusion of diverse voices. Their practice seeks to catalyse transformative change and healing, both individually and collectively, through artistic resistance. With over a decade of experience in Mumbai's advertising sector, Varsha leverages this extensive background to craft narratives that challenge and redefine dominant socio-political discourses. 


Varsha's film works have reached global stages, with appearances at over 60 prestigious film festivals like BFI Flare, Fringe! Queer Fest UK, Outfest LA, and Berlin Commercials. Their works have found home on platforms including Nowness Asia, Nowness, Disney+ Star, Otherness Archive, MTV, GiF, and Directors Notes. Their film "Bodies Of Desire" gained prominence through #FiveFilmsForFreedom 2021 by BFI Flare and the British Council, securing accolades such as the Best International Short Special Jury Award at RIO Festival De Cinema LGBTQIA+ 2021, and 24fps International Short Film Festival. Their recent films for Disney+Star's Words Of Pride initiative bagged a Silver and Bronze at the Spikes Asia Awards, but also stood out with a Spike Glass nomination, marking them as the sole contender from India in this category. The campaign also won a Grand Prix, 3 Golds and a Bronze at The Drum Awards 2024; the prestigious Purple Elephant (Zee Equality Award) at 2024 Kyoorius Creative Awards, and a Merit at 2024 One Show. 

 

A recipient of the Chain Unchained: Mintathon Grant (2023) by Goethe Institute, in collaboration with Be Fantastic, to empower their project "Ara Chronicles" a children's queer graphic novel series that blends ancient Indian folklore, fantasy, and magic realism to develop into NFT collectibles. The project was exhibited at the Kala Ghoda Festivals, 2024. Also a BeFantastic C³ Fellow (2021), supported by Goethe-Institu Mumbai and Zentrum für Kunst und Medien ZKM, Karlsruhe, Varsha continues to explore the intersection of technology and storytelling.

 

Varsha's artistic practice encompasses poetry, zines, photography, and performance, and their works have been featured in esteemed magazines and exhibitions internationally. Their anthology "At The End Of The Line" was recently exhibited at Opn Art House, Max Müller Bhavan, New Delhi. Their mixed media series "Origami Folds" was also exhibited at "Do You See Us" at 47A Design Gallery. Their photo-poetry zine 'My Body Is A Prison,' part of the Origami Folds series, was curated by Zine Club Chicago, State University Of New York's Sojourner Truth Library, Queer Zine Library, and Grrrl Zine. Their work has also been featured in publications like The Lipstick Politico, Munich Zine, Brown Girl Magazine, Nerve Zine, Forbidden Verses, The Rights Collective, SASS, One Future Collective, The Local Color Zine, and Pinjratod. Their photo-poetry zine ‘Whispers To My Shadows’ and selections from their mixed-media anthology ‘Bodies Of Desire’ were exhibited at the ‘Queer Futures Archives’ at Parramatta Riverside Theater, Sydney.

Varsha's work is driven by a commitment to highlighting social truths, challenging oppressive constructs, and fostering cross-cultural dialogues. Their projects are not just creative endeavors but tools for societal transformation, celebrating resilience, solidarity, and the diverse experiences of undeserved communities.

 

Additionally, Varsha curates moving-image sessions and co-runs the Underground Film Observatory (UFO) within Star Hopper, elevating works of under-represented South Asian artists. In their downtime, Varsha does voice-overs, performs spoken-word, experiments with analog image-making, and enjoys all things horror. Varsha is currently gearing up for their first feature-length film.

 

For collaborations and inquiries, you can contact them on varshapanikar@gmail.com or starhopper.in@gmail.com

Film Festivals & Programmes

 

Five Films For Freedom . Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest . OUTFEST Los Angeles . BFI FLARE London LGBTQ+ Film Festival . Berlin Commercials . 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 . 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 . Directors Note . Cinema Talks . Trans Film Festival Stockholm . Helios Sun Poetry Film Festival . Kyoorius Creative Awards . One Show . Spike Asia Awards

Press

Awards

  • Grand Prix at The Drum Awards 2024 - Words Of Pride

  • Gold (Social Purpose) at The Drum Awards 2024 - Words Of Pride

  • Gold (Charity or Not for Profit) at The Drum Awards 2024 - Words Of Pride

  • Gold (Disruption) at The Drum Awards 2024 - Words Of Pride

  • Bronze (Data/Insight) at The Drum Awards 2024 - Words Of Pride

  • Bronze and Silver at Spike Asia Awards 2024 - Words Of Pride

  • Purple Elephant Zee Equality Awards 2024 Kyoorius Creative Awards - Words Of Pride

  • Merit at 2024 One Show - Words Of Pride

  • Five Films For Freedom 2021 at BFI Flare and British Council - Bodies Of Desire

  • Best Poetry Short at Make Art Not Fear 2022- Bodies Of Desire

  • Best Poetry Short at Make Art Not Fear 2023 - After So Long

  • Best International Short (Special Jury Award) at RIO Festival De Cinema LGBTQIA+ 2021 - Bodies Of Desire

  • Honourable Mention at 24fps International Short Film Festival 2022 - Bodies Of Desire

  • Best Music Video at Global Indian Film Festival 2021 - Bodies Of Desire

  • Special Mention and Certificate of Excellence at the 11th Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival 2021 - False Promises

  • Quarter Finalist (Best International Feminist Short) at Femifilms - Bodies Of Desire

  • Best One Shot Film, XIC - Silent Killers

 

 

Grants, Residency, Fellowship, Workshop

  • Recipient of the Mintathon - Chain Unchained Grant (2023) by Goethe Institute and Be Fantastic.

  • BeFantastic C³ (2021) by Goethe-Institut(Mumbai) and Zentrum für Kunst und Medien ZKM (Karlsruhe), BeFantastic.

  • Documentary Theater with Gob Squad Collective, Göethe Institut Mumbai

  • Experimental Practices with Celluloid, Harkat

  • 16mm Contact Printing, Harkat

  • Clowning with Rupesh Tillu, The Fools School

Curation

  • UFO's Film Curation, For Dialled.In at Southbank Centre, London, U.K

  • Dr. Bootleger's Bowl Of Delightful Diversions, One Future Collective, Virtual, India

  • UFO's Film Curation, Flying Chameleon Film Festival, New-Delhi, India

Education

  • International Women's Health & Human Rights, Stanford (Ongoing)

  • Healing with the Arts, University Of Florida (Ongoing)

  • Directing Actors, Sundance Institut

  • Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace, ESSEC Business School

  • Health Across Spectrum, Stanford

  • Mental Health Fist Aid, MHFA

  • Queer Rights & Allyship, One Future Collective

  • Film & Video, Xaviers Institute Of Communications, Mumbai

  • Linguistics, Department Of Germanik & Romance Studies, Delhi University

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