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Indian firms discover branding & marketing opportunity in LGBT events

MUMBAI: When film maker Sridhar Rangayan first launched the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, his financing was largely drawn from development agencies like UNDP andAmnesty International, which were then interested in creating greater awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) issues in India. 

Three years down the line, these agencies have withdrawn financial support and the private sector has moved in. Last year, the festival's main sponsors were two financial powerhouses, 
Barclays and Nomura. This year, Barclays has opted out due to other commitments, but Nomura remains staunch in its commitment. 

"The main objective of the Kashish festival is to mainstream the LGBT community through cinema," says Rangayan. "Getting the support of known brands like Nomura goes a long way in achieving that." 

Riding on the back of their global diversity mandates, international corporates are now at the forefront of creating a space for sexual minorities in the workplace. Nomura's sponsorship of Kashish, for example, is handled by a team at its Hong Kong office. 

Last year, the Kashish organisers were invited to the Mumbai offices of Nomura to sensitise its employees on LGBT issues. Since then, Rangayan has been in talks with several other LGBT-friendly corporates like 
IBM, Cisco, Google and Microsoft and hopes to get them aboard next year. 

"They are keen on a deeper engagement, which goes beyond giving cash. They want to use this as an opportunity to create awareness among their existing employees and promote their brand as an employer," he says. 

As the four-day festival gets ready to roll at the Cinemax multiplex in Versova on Wednesday, one company that is fully leveraging its sponsorship of Kashish is 
DKT India, a subsidiary of the Washington-based DKT International, which makes the Zaroor brand of condoms. Last year, DKT used the film festival to launch its Zaroor Plus range, giving away free samples and setting up a stall to demonstrate the best way to put on condoms. 

Another sponsor is the 
Godrej Group, which organised a Kashish curtain raiser last week at its headquarters in Vikhroli, where several short films were screened. Heroes Project, an NGO chaired by Parameshwar Godrej that works in the HIV-AIDS space, has donated Rs 5 lakh to the festival, which takes care of expenses for one day. "Kashish empowers the LGBT community. 

This goes well with our objective of removing the social stigma that has come to be associated with HIV," says 
Roy Wadia, executive director of Heroes Project. At a personal level, Wadia has also instituted an award at Kashish in memory of his late brother Riyad, who was a film maker. 

While large corporates are always welcome, Rangayan is particularly proud of the fact that small LGBT-owned businesses are sponsoring Kashish this year. These include the Khusha's salon chain and Pink Escapes, a travel agency. 

Khusha's owner 
Khurshed Vazifdar, who has bought advertising space at Kashish, says, "If we don't support our own events, how can you expect outsiders to support it?"

In a year that has seen the gay marriage issue take centrestage abroad, some Indian companies too have latched on to the idea in their brand positioning. Picking up on Ray Ban's 'Never Hide' campaign, for example,Fastrack by Titan recently launched a 'Come Out of the Closet' campaign, featuring twowomen literally stepping out of a closet. 

However, Titan has not taken the next logical step and advertised at Kashish or setting up a stall to sell its sunglasses to the hundreds of people who will be there. But Rangayan is optimistic. "Maybe they're not ready yet. They can always join in next year," he says.