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BFI Flare Festival 2024: Acclaimed Indian director Onir to present ‘Pine Cone’; Merchant Ivory partnership and Indian trans modelling agency get big screen treatment…

BFI Flare Festival 2024: Acclaimed Indian director Onir to present ‘Pine Cone’; Merchant Ivory partnership and Indian trans modelling agency get big screen treatment…

The British Film Institute’s (BFI) 12-day film festival that platforms the best of LGBTQIA+ culture starts tomorrow…

BRITAIN’S biggest celebration of queer films starts tomorrow and there are some outstanding features with South Asians at the centre of them – and that are not to be missed.

One of the films attracting huge attention is the Indian made and set ‘Pine Cone’. Onir, who first made his name with the groundbreaking, ‘My Brother…Nikhil’ which was one of the first films to ever touch on the subject of AIDs in India and is based on the life of champion swimmer Dominic D’Souza and stars Sanjay Suri and Juhi Chawla.

Pine Cone

This latest film, ‘Pine Cone’ follows the life of a gay film director called Sid, as it unfolds over pivotal dates connected to personal freedoms in India. It’s believed to be a semi-autobiographical tale. Shot with panache and verve, and containing music, it’s an emotional film that is also entertaining and powerful in its depiction of a modern, diverse and sometimes contradictory India.

Merchant Ivory

James Merchant and Ismail Merchant were producers extraordinaire and their impact on British independent cinema in the 1980s and 1990s cannot be overstated. What is perhaps less widely known or advertised (certainly at the time) is that the two were also a romantic partnership. ‘Merchant Ivory is a celebration and a joyous recounting of a remarkable powerhouse couple – as told by the legion of British stars, the two helped to create with such films as ‘A Room with a View’, ‘Howards’ End’ and ‘Maurice’, often taking British classic works and reprising them for the screen in a way that both subtly and more explicitly centre staged same sex relationships – with the understanding and respect they deserved. Among those talking are in this documentary are Ivory himself – now 95, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Hugh Grant. A star list if ever there was one…Bombay-born Merchant (in 1936) passed away in London 2005. Director Stephen Soucy presents a wonderful picture of two producers whose creative vision and flair helped to revive the British film industry and encouraged marginalised communities in believing they were more visible than society allowed at the time.

India’s 1st Best Trans Model Agency

Another film that is creating quite a pre-festival stir is ‘India’s 1st Best Trans Model Agency’ – about a model agency made up of artists who traditionally were seen as ‘third gender’ or hijras. Director Ila Mehrotra follows the fortunes of Rudrani Chettri as she creates this modelling agency – with a difference – and combats prejudice, superstition and social exclusion. It is in Hindi with English subtitles. It doubles up with an Indian short film in Bengali, ‘If ’ about an arranged marriage that causes a fissure in a lesbian relationship with an understanding mother, intervening to great effect.

Two other films which enjoyed their UK premieres at London Film Festival (LFF) last year are also featured in BFI Flare.


First time writer and co-director (along with ‘The Swimmers’ Sally El Hosaini), James Krishna Floyd’s ‘Unicorns’ is a deep dive into romance across sexual, race and class lines. Loosely based on the experiences of one of the country’s best known ethnic drag queens, Asifa Lahore, the film charts the sexually explosive tension between Essex single father Luke (Ben Hardy) and Ayesha (Jason Patel) following a chance meeting. Floyd is also an actor and well-known as Dr Gabriel Verma in ITV’s prime-time ‘The Good Karma Hospital‘.

‘The Queen of My Dreams’

Fawzia Mirza’s ‘The Queen of My Dreams’ is something of an ode to old Bollywood and South Asian immigrant culture in general – but wrapped with an important gay narrative at the heart of the drama.

Canadian Pakistani Azra must return to Pakistan following the passing of her beloved father in 1999 and the film charts the tensions between mother Mariam (Nimra Bucha) and Azra (Amrit Kaur). Little known to Azra, Mariam has a past too – as a modern thinker in the Karachi of 1969.

The festival opens tomorrow with ‘Layla about a Palestinian British drag performer (Bilal Hasna) and her new uptight love interest, Max but that is just the starting point…Written and directed by Amrou Al-Kadhi.

It all ends with the final screening of the feature – ‘Studio One Forever’ next Sunday (March 24). This is about one of the pioneering US gay discos; from 1974-93, Studio One blazed a trail and was hugely popular and successful.

Among the shorts…

All the Lights Still Burning’ – Two Pakistani Bradford men with seemingly different goals collide and there is an unexpected resolution. Directed by Dominic Leclerc and written by Kamaal Kaan who helped to write ‘Ali and Ava’ this in Urdu with English subtitles. (15 minutes)

The Lime Green Shirt
Akash has something to tell his mother but is he ready to be bold. It’s directed by Kaushil Ray and in English and Bengali. (15 mins)

This Indian short has two lovers on a beach and trying to work out some uncomfortable truths over the phone. It’s directed and written by Kumar Chheda. (9 mins.)


BFI Flare London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival March 13-24

Some of these films are shown as sold out currently – but do check on the link below…

We have interviews with James Krishna Floyd (‘Unicorns’) and Fawzia Mirza (‘Queen of My Dreams’), which will drop on our Youtube channel shortly – subscribe and don’t miss…

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture