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Varsha Panikar is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, poet, and multi-disciplinary 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.

 

Drawing from their own lived realities, 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 visibility 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 Best Music Video award at the Global Indian Film Festival. They recently developed and directed micro entho-linguistic documentaries for Disney+Star's Words Of Pride initiative to bring to light the lack of LGBTQIA+ inclusive words in Indian regional languages.

 

A recipient of the Chain Unchained: Mintathon Grant (2023) by Goethe Institute, in collaboration with Be Fantastic, to empower their project "Ara Chronicles" a 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 has been featured in esteemed magazines and exhibitions internationally. Their anthology "At The End Of The Line" will be exhibited at Opn Art House, curated by Gaysi Family at Max Müller Bhavan, New Delhi this November. Their mixed media series "Origami Folds" was also exhibited at Gaysi's "Do You See Us" at 47A Design Gallery, Mumbai in September 2023. Their photo-poetry zine 'My Body Is A Prison,' part of the Origami Folds series, was praised by curators like 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, 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.

 

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 down time, Varsha does voice-overs, performs spoken-word, experiments with analog image-making and nerds out on all things horror. Varsha is currently working on a queer graphic novel for children. 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 

Press

Awards

  • Special Jury Award for The Best International Short at RIO Festival De Cinema LGBTQIA+ 2021

  • Honourable Mention at 24fps International Short Film Festival

  • Best Music Video at Global Indian Film Festival

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

  • Best One Shot Film, XIC

 

 

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

  • Department Of Germanik & Romance Studies, Delhi University

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