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Kaushik Ray’s short film tells story of an immigrant mother of a queer child

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KAUSHIK RAY has been drawn to creativity from a young age, a passion he finally pursued last year by quitting a full-time job as a lawyer to focus on filmmaking. This bold step led him to direct the short film, The Lime Green Shirt, which is being screened as part of this year’s BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival.

He described the impactful film, made in English and Bengali, as his own origin story, drawing predominantly from lived experiences. The fictionalised narrative, inspired by a true event from the writer-director’s life, tells the story of a Bengali immigrant mother, played by acclaimed actress Lillete Dubey, grappling with the unintended consequences of her strict parenting, as she tries to reconnect with her estranged son, Akash.

“For his part, Akash wanted to be a singer from a young age, but that dream, alongside his queerness, was quashed by his strict mother. The film is from the point of view of the mother, a woman in her late 60s,” explained Ray.

“I felt that we’ve seen Asian gay male comingout stories and Bengali immigrant narratives (such as The Namesake) in both independent and commercial film and television. But have we seen films that centre on the immigrant mother of a queer child? How does the upbringing of an immigrant Asian woman affect her parenting in a foreign land? My film explores acceptance in an immigrant household and what that means.”

The film’s interesting title was inspired by a lime green shirt Ray bought from River Island as a teenager with his pocket money. He had worn the shirt to a singing competition at school, paired with spiky hair and silver-rimmed sunglasses.

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“For a kid in a school where 99 per cent of the other pupils were white, it was quite a look, but I’m glad to say that my performance brought the house down. I was so excited after the school singing competition, I wanted to share that happiness with my family. When I got home from school, I was met with anger and ridicule at the sight of me in the satin lime green shirt. I was told to throw it away and wash the crap out of my hair. So, for me as an adult looking back, that incident really epitomised the denial of the queerness and joy I had been expressing. The lime green shirt in my film fulfils the same role as a metaphor for queerness.”

This links to a key message the filmmaker wants to convey. He said, “For those who had their queerness quashed, I would love them to try to understand where the fear and shame of the parents come from. Scratching beneath the surface of those fears can be therapeutic. Equally, I have a message for parents of queer kids, which is to be careful not to clip the wings and free-spiritedness of your child. I would love people to consider the complexities and dualities of their characters.”

The Lime Green Shirt still 05
Lillete Dubey in The Lime Green Shirt

Ray is confident that some viewers will sympathise with the son in the story, who has his titular shirt destroyed and thereby his own queerness, and that others will understand the widowed single immigrant mother’s perspective.

The London-based filmmaker is thrilled to be part of BFI Flare and sees it as a homecoming. He had previously co-produced the short film Muhafiz, which also premiered at the festival.

Apart from understanding storytelling and the technical aspects of filmmaking, Ray learned to believe in himself while working on his thoughtprovoking directorial debut.

“I have learned that I need to have faith in myself and my vision and trust my creative instincts. That comes naturally to some people, but I’ve had to learn it,” he said.

Looking ahead, Ray is working on his debut feature film, A Life A Rose, and revealed he is helped by the experience he gained from working on The Lime Green Shirt.

“The film is a love story set between late 1960s Kolkata and modern day Paris. It speaks to love lost and found, all wrapped up in poetry and original music that I have written,” he said.

The filmmakers he admires include Ang Lee, Mira Nair, Mike Leigh, Satyajit Ray and Pedro Almodóvar. His favourite movies include The Namesake and Brokeback Mountain. “If I can combine the magic of both of those films, I’d consider myself a huge success,” said Ray.

Ray loves all art forms and sees cinema as a democratic medium that is accessible to all and can be a personal experience.

He said, “I think we all need stories to help us get through the day-to-day [grind]. Films convey a message through dialogue and compelling visual language. I think only cinema can deliver that combination of art, design, drama and hope quite so effectively.”

The 38th BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival runs from Wednesday (13) until next Sunday (24) at BFI Southbank and on BFI Player. Catch The Lime Green Shirt next Saturday (23). www.bfi.org.uk/flare

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