"Bodies of Desire was originally conceived as a sketch-poetry book, as a sketch-poetry series on Instagram (pen name - @fromtheafterglow), but as I kept adding to the series, it transformed into something that went a little deeper and evolved into a means for me to tell stories of endearment and passion, the kind that delves into themes of identity, desire, curiosity, discovery, sensuality and intimacy; and looking at it outside the context of sex and letting it become an expression and exploration of rediscovering yourself, through your desires, and through intimacy. It was the same with the film. I wanted to create a portrait of intimacy, of longing, of desire, of embrace, and capture moments amongst lovers where only they exist, and the rest of the world becomes background noise. So when Kaushal (cinematographer and colorist) and I decided to adapt Bodies of Desire into a film, we wanted to capture that very essence through a lens that was free of bias and prejudice, and yet create an emotive work that would combine a variety of disciplines from visual poetry, spoken word, the movement to fashion film. I wanted it to have a spontaneous and romantic quality, like scattered pages of a diary, where the characters felt natural and uninhibited through the lens, and Kaushal’s cinematic approach was to capture that very essence, or as he puts it - “a togetherness in form and ethos.
The decision to shoot in 4:3 was also a conscious choice. I have personally always been enamored by the 4:3 aspect ratio. Perhaps, because some of my favorite films were shot on 35mm film 4:3, or simply the fact that this aspect ratio allows unique framing choices, especially for faces and bodies. It allows the audience to connect with characters more intimately and it looks aesthetically more natural, at least to me. Since Bodies of Desire was about exploring intimacy, I had always imagined it in 4:3, and after discussion with Kaushal Shah, it felt like the obvious choice. It helped highlight the subtleties of the performances, the performers, the bodies, and the intimacy between them. It felt more poetic and went against the grain of the popular. Seemed apt for a film trying to break out of the dominant cis-hetronormative structure of the Indian film industry. Moreover, 4:3 lends a certain nostalgia one cannot deny. ”
“Indian society is highly segregated by conservative notions of gender and sexuality based on binary and heteronormative norms, which have been detrimental for everyone, especially for those who fall outside the male/female dichotomy and have different sexual orientations. There is also a lot of shame that people here still associate with sexuality and desire, and that ‘shame; has been with us for far too long. We wanted to break that notion and create an imagination of what queer urban India looks like, only to an extent, because it is such a broad and ever-evolving spectrum. In fact, section 377 of the Indian Constitution that criminalized queer relationships was recently removed in 2018, and there are still groups from the LGBTQIA+ community that is fighting for their right to exist and more. Queer representation in India is almost always, stereotyped and presented as tropes, or completely excluded from popular narratives, or only comes up briefly during the pride month.
As a queer artist, I believe there is an almost tangible validation in seeing people who love as you do on screen, and I really wanted to portray the kind of love that I could relate to, the kind of couples I knew and was craving to see in films for a long time. Most importantly, we wanted to see it represented from our own perspective, inspired by our lived experiences and vision, and not as it appears to an outsider. To captures them through a lens free from bias and prejudice, and create a presence that is more fluid and nuanced. I think it is time to create a ‘new normal, one that includes a wide spectrum of identities, sexualities in different colors and forms. I read somewhere, “It’s hard to be and understand what you can’t see.” And while the visibility of diverse characters and people in the media is slowly emerging in India, it is important to remember that only a limited range of stories are being told, and we know that that is not enough. When you see yourself depicted and represented, it shows the world and you, that you are not abnormal, and makes sexuality and gender, less of a target for bullying. That sort of visibility gives you a sense of connection and hope, and that is what the world needs now, more than ever.”
Intimacy amongst lovers, hold immense political power and as filmmakers, we wanted to use it as a means to resist the bias and stereotypes that continue to segregate our society. In the lover’s embrace, the labels that make us look at others through the lens of identity retreat into the background, giving way to a presence that is more prismatic, nuanced, and fluid., and that is the visual image we wanted to create in hopes that people see it as universal as we do."
Coming from a marginalised community myself, I know the value of the right kind of representation and visibility, in films and popular media. My work on Bodies of Desire was collaborative and I think that is the direction in which where we should be heading. We need stories that are multi-cultural and multi-dimensional. I hope that through this film we can start a dialogue about gender, identity, the need for the right kind of representation and visibility in films, not just in the casting but also in the hiring of the crew that is diverse and inclusive. My takeaway from this film was the importance of acceptance and tolerance and the urgent need for us as creators to break away from the patriarchal nature of filmmaking, and to evolve in our gaze and perspective, through which we view and represent the world. It is time to let more voices and narratives be heard.“
it had to feel like we were in their environment, one where they could express and feel free. Hence, the handheld. Hence, the sort of moody lit environment where our attention is calculated and put to detail, and hence the extreme -wide use of lensing which is still very close to them. When it came to styling and the look for the cast, we wanted to keep it natural and real, by maintaining the authenticity of the various skin tones we had, I wanted it to look raw and brown in all its glory. The idea of the 4:3 ratio also comes from this very idea, of boxing our mentality, our perception and understanding of the thing, and how once you allow it to, within that box you can still explore, evolve, rediscover and create a space, an environment, which has such magic, such emotion, such delight. As a visual artist, it is important to develop a gaze that is fluid and free from any bias and prejudices that allows you to look at the subject in hand in a sort of raw and awe-inspiring manner. And that is what makes an image authentic and powerful.”
“Bodies of Desire to me was all about tenderness and sensuality. The cinematographic approach was to capture this very essence. The cinematographic approach was to capture this very essence - togetherness in its form and ethos. Hence, the camera was in their space and was a part of them. In terms of tone and texture,
“The moment I saw the raw footage I knew this was going to be a good film. The footage I got spoke for itself. The text was powerful and evocative, so while editing, all I did was amplify those emotions - of desire, of love, of togetherness - that were already there. It was an absolute thrill working on this project and I hope the audience is driven by those feelings from the start to the end.”
“Working on such an interesting and forward-thinking project was inspiring as well as demanding. I avoided following a specific and predetermined recipe for my composition. Instead, I let myself become seduced and draw inspiration from the diverse expressions of desire celebrated in the video and their unique elements. The result is a fluid rhythmic part that together with the harmonic structure and sound design can work as one, pulsing with the emotions of the lyrical and visual narration. My goal was to enhance the effortless sensuality of the depicted moments of bodily pleasure, but also to create multiple connections between them. I have to say that the result also depends on the freedom of creative expression one is allowed to have. In this case, I was lucky enough to be able to fully express my thoughts and exchange valuable insight with everyone involved. One thing is certain; we need more initiatives and collaborations like this.”
“Bodies of Desire germinated as a need to celebrate and attribute sensuality to bodies of all shapes, sizes and colours. Varsha and Saad were definite about not searching for 'unconventional beauty', instead they were intent on seeking the beauty that brims under the skin of all people, bodies like mine and yours, bodies that are not always chiseled or waxed. Bodies with scars, hair, marks. Bodies with a past. I reached out to very specific people on Instagram such as Omkar, Vaishakh, Doel, Mehaka, Shreya and Suruj. I had been following them for a few months and none of them are professional actors. Sushant and Smriti were new discoveries, both artists and professional working people but not actors. The only trained actor on set was Sachin and Shreya. The willingness of the cast we finalized to simulate intimacy on screen, provided it was depicted aesthetically, made the fact that they are not trained actors even more incredible. It is tough to discuss kinks and sexual preferences with people you have only spoken to online but in their auditions, once they were assured by Asawari that they were in a safe space, there was no stopping them. Stories and recollections poured out of them and we knew we could begin work on the choreography of the film.
This word ‘safe space’ is something we hear more often these days because there is a serious scarcity of such a place to exist, especially in India. Having worked in films for the past ten years, as a queer individual, I have realised the importance of a ‘safe space’. It is not easy working in environments that normalise harassment, bullying, discrimination and abuse, especially for marginalised communities and genders. The antidote to such workspaces is to create an alternative culture that is free from any racism, femme phobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination - a space that has rules and potentially a strict no-tolerance policy that protects the essence of the space from becoming diluted and turning toxic. Only after that, can each and every person on a film set be authentic to themselves, devoid of being judged or harassed. I am working towards creating such functional environments where ideas and perspectives are given more importance than how you look, or which class you belong to or who your father is.
Having said that, I feel there is a huge disparity in the works that are being created in India. Female filmmakers and stories are still not at equal power as stories made by their male counterparts. Queer or marginalised filmmakers and their stories are often boxed in what we call the ‘niche’. I feel there is a dire need to educate and unlearn the patriarchal narratives that have been fed to us while growing up. To move away from the conforms of heteronormative life is the way forward, so more identities could be discovered and accepted. I think humans have so much more that we are unable to uncover, either because of external or at times even internal struggles. I think the remedy lies in the power of imagination, to reach a place close to a utopia where you are surrounded by all kinds of people in their multidimensional personalities. Bodies of Desire is an effort towards such a realm - to queer the image of masculinity and femininity. It’s also about the reinvention of what desire is. So far we have been fed the definition of ‘desire’ by overtly sexualising mostly, female bodies. For us, it was about delving into the deep reaches of our psyche to unravel a genderless, consensual and tender imagery of what desire could be. Bodies of Desire, I think breaks boundaries on how beauty is perceived, it sort of reinforces you to fall in love with the skin tone and body that is unique to you - the power that lies in owning the fluidity and the diversity of it. This film is a mere conversation starter for such work to be commissioned on a more, mainstream level, by keeping its audience global and yet maintaining the authenticity of such narratives.
However, such work cannot and will not be made in a toxic, hierarchical or male-dominated system. We need to honestly and truthfully working towards having gender-balanced - intersectional cast and crews, sensitising them and embrace representation not only in front of the camera but also behind it, as it is said in an ancient text “I can see myself in all things and all people around me”.
(in the order of appearance)
Shreya Sarkar (Kate)
Omkar Sharma (Adam)
Suruj Rajkhowa (Lovegood)
Vaishakh Sudhakaran (Olly)
Meheka CL (Electra)
Doel Rakshit (Aleya)
Sachin Das Gupta (Varun)
Sushant Khomane (Su)
Smriti Tiwari (Maya)
Poetry, Screenplay & Voice : Varsha Panikar
Directors : Varsha Panikar / Saad Nawab
Cinematographer & Colourist : Kaushal Shah
Producer(s): Asawari Jagushte / Neha Vyas
Co-Producer(s): Kaushal Shah / Varsha Panikar / Saad Nawab
Editor : Cornelia Nicolăeasa
Composition and Mixing : Mark Spanoudakis
Executive Producer : Virender Singh
Styling : Omkar Sharma
Make-up & Hair : Sandeep Patil / Yogita Sheth
Production : Eshita Chandna / Dhruvin Doshi / Shataakshi Verma
Assistant to Cinematographer: Siddharth Dutta
Focus Puller: Rahul Gaikwad
Grading Studio : Nube Cirrus
Behind The Scenes : Siddhi Jagani
Teaser Editor : Leo Vuppuluri
Legal Team: Maria Natalia Baskaran & Radhika Nair
In Association with : Anat
Geeta Panikar, Gazala Nawab, Aparna Sud, Prateek Chakravorty, Sampat Singh Rathore, Almass Badat, Nowness Asia, Campbell X, Nihaarika Negi, Vandita Morarka & One Future Collective, Ajay Govind, Stuti Guha & Sophie Roy.
POSTER, FILM & MAKING STILLS
- Sushant Khomane (he/him) - Poster & Artwork
FESTIVALS & AWARDS
BEST INTERNATIONAL SHORT
[ RIO FESTIVAL DE CINEMA LGBTQIA+ ]
SPECIAL FESTIVAL AWARD
BRONZE - BEST MUSIC VIDEO
[ GLOBAL INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL ]
SCREENINGS & Q&A
Selected as one of the 5 films this year, from across the world to be part of Five Films For Freedom,the world’s largest LGBTIQ+ digital campaign returns for its seventh edition in 2021, reminding audiences that Love is Still a Human Right. Screened in over 500 countries every year, in multiple languages, the programme continue to take films to even those countries where rights are limited and queerness, still punishable by law.
FiveFilmsForFreedom (previously FiveFilms4Freedom) is a free, online, 10-day LGBTQ+ film programme from the British Council and the British Film Institute originally supported by the UN Free & Equal campaign.
A global, online short film programme in support of LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer) rights, in partnership with BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival.
BRITISH COUNCIL ARTS &
Five Films For Freedom 2021: In conversation with Saad Nawab & Varsha Panikar. Directors Saad Nawab & Varsha Panikar tell us about their film 'Body of Desire', a sensual visual poem celebrating gender-less love and desire. Five Films for Freedom, the world's first global, digital LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) short-film programme is brought to you by the British Council and the British Film Institute (BFI), enabling people from all over the world to watch five films from the festival for free online.
WATCH the interview HERE.
An all-encompassing selection of unique audio-visual work, in this 3-day online short-film festival, a the film counterpart of Artdemic, in collaboration with The Gujral Foundation and Harkat Studios.
Embodying the intimate yet collective nature of a slam book, this programme is bound together like a diverse group of friends. They have distinct personalities — some are loud, some shy, others envelope you in a warm embrace the moment you see them. Slam Book is a hybrid selection of experimental happenings, flowing into narrative bodies of work. These are audio-visual journeys navigating identity, politics and self. The programme in its entirety is a filmic flip-through of personal histories.
Screening of #FivefilmsofFreedom followed by a panel discussion with the team behind Bodies Of Desire along with Bonita Rajpurohit. Panel Members included Varsha Panikar, Saad Nawab, Asawari Jagushte, Doel Rakshit, Bonita Rajpurohit, Omkar Sharma.
BI COLLECTIVE DELHI
In their first episode, Suryatapa and Navdeep from the Bi Collective Delhi talk to non-binary filmmaker Varsha Panikar about their short film Bodies of Desire as part of British Council's #FiveFilmsforFreedom,
#FiveFilmsForFreedom is brought to you by British Council and British Arts, an annual program featuring five LGBTQI interest films curated by BFI Flare. In India, British Council partnered with The Queer Muslim Project. This episode was edited by Navdeep. The show art has been made by Sukh Mehak Kaur. Both are founding members of the Collective.
LISTEN to the PODCAST HERE.
EROS TANTRA & EMBODIMENT
A talk about Varsha's experience as a non-binary QPOC person, experience with collaborating and making erotica, and how this redefines, reclaims and represents an ever-changing erotica culture, especially in India, where sexuality, sex, and desire is still looked at with shame to a great extent. We'll also speak a little about safe performance practices/workshops that ensure safety and consent on set while shooting intimate scenes.
QUEERZ GET LOUD
Queerz Get Loud screening by GIRRLS GET LOUD.
In conversation with Maithilee from Nazariya QFRG regarding their film Bodies Of Desire. Discussed multi-media art, queer activism, importance of representation, and platforms like #FiveFilmsForFreedom.
#FiveFilmsForFreedom is brought to you by British Council and British Arts, an annual program featuring five LGBTQI interest films curated by BFI Flare. In India, British Council partnered with The Queer Muslim Project.
WATCH the interview HERE.
In conversation with Almass Badat on Hungama London to discuss queer representation in Indian Cinema, the challenging gaze itself & how they are shaping the future of film making with Bodies of Desire, the visual-poetry film out now on Nowness Asia.
WATCH the interview HERE.
Body Games, a special programme during the Vilnius International Short Film Festival organised by
Lithuanian Short Film Agency “Lithuanian Shorts”.
Seven short films tell of the variety of intimacy, sex, erotic and sexuality and invites to abandon prejudices and indulge in bodily games.