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Roached | An Interview with Kshitij Sharma

Interviewed by Rich Monetti

We interview multiple award-winning filmmaker from India, Kshitij Sharma about his film “Roached”. He has made 7 feature films and his work has received 100 screenings worldwide and is currently on streaming platforms in 11 countries. His work has also received Best Postmodern film and Outstanding Achievement for Best Director & Best Actress in Cult Critic Award’s monthly edition.

Cult Critic – How did you get interested in filmmaking and what do you see as your responsibility in creating messages for film audiences?

Kshitij Sharma – Growing up, stories were the epicenter of my life. My father, an avid reader, had a humongous personal library. From Shakespeare to Tagore, from Tolstoy to Maupassant, I devoured stories with an insatiable hunger and would invariably picture them as movies in my head. I would take a notebook and play with the order of the scenes, expanding or rearranging them to my liking without realizing that I’m dabbling with the fundamentals of screenwriting. When I ran out of books to read, I turned to movies and realized that in this magical world, anything is possible. Stories can find new wings to fly and imagination knows no bounds. From that moment on, movies became my life. As to my responsibility as a filmmaker, I personally feel I have only one and that is create a seemingly authentic fictional world for my audience that they can inhabit for a while and stimulate their imagination in some way. Beyond that I do not consciously attempt to shove a message down their throats because each individual will derive his/her own meaning from art. Some of the most slapstick, irreverent comedy films have taught me more life lessons than any preachy, message driven film. You let the film have its own voice rather than use it is a microphone to amplify your own.

Cult Critic – In this very dark and disturbing film, why do you open with a playful and youthful scene between friends of similar ages and backgrounds?

KS – I have always believed that we are at our most real when we are with our childhood friends. The people we grow up with bring forth an innocence in us that otherwise gets shrouded in our daily lives. At the start of the film, you see these four friends without knowing who amongst them is the central protagonist of the film. They are carefree, happy and full of innocent joy. Their collective childhood still alive and breathing in each other’s company. From that point, as you step into the lives of one of them, you realize what this person is actually going through. It gives a tad bit more of a personal connect with my protagonist in my opinion.

Cult Critic – What in your own life and your filmmaking career has prepared you to write Roached?

KS – I have always been interested in stories that that dazzle and entertain yet leave you with a question to take home and ponder over for some time. With Roached, the question is what it truly means to be human? We all are so different in our personalities but humanity is something that we all collectively & subconsciously define as having certain fundamental characteristics of love, empathy and kindness. Strip a person of those and are they still human or just a creature that looks like one? I just wanted to toy with that question and this film allowed me to do so.

Cult Critic – We see one instance of physical abuse in the film, but the verbal abuse is so powerful. What are you trying to say about that type of abuse and control?

KS – I believe that the absolute lowest a man can stoop to is to physically assault a woman. Women are far more resilient than men and possess a near unshakable strength of character. Anytime, a man feels compelled to use his physicality to try and bring a woman down, he has already accepted defeat. He knows there is nothing else he can do to exert his dominance so he resorts to the most animalistic side of his personality. A woman will still bounce back and recover from it because she knows that such a man has had to surrender in front of her resilience. A man like that will inevitably lose his self-esteem and plunge to his downfall. In the film, that moment becomes the defining moment for both these characters and how things progress from there is for all to see.

Cult Critic – One core element of the husband’s personality is a deep sexism. How are you trying to show that the trait lends itself to becoming an abuser?

KS – That’s a great question Rich. I believe there is a clear correlation. Growing up, I have been incredibly fortunate to have been collectively raised by a lot of incredible women in a sprawling close-knit family. Ever since, be it in my personal or professional life, women have always played a huge role in my journey. Incidentally, all my six films have a woman as the central protagonist so I have a deep rooted respect, almost reverence for the women in my life. While creating the character of Manav, I attempted to give him a mirror image upbringing to mine. He has been raised in an environment where men feel entitled to control women under the guise of being protectors. His sexism is do deep rooted that most of the times he doesn’t even realize that he is being disrespectful or even abusive towards his wife and that is a very dangerous thing. I would like to believe that in creating Manav, I have created a character that is a complete reversal of the kind of husband I am in real life. I really hope my wife would agree. PS: I just looked over my shoulder. She nods in agreement. Phew!

Cult Critic – What are you implying in the periodic appearances of the idyllic movie couple?

KS – Ah! the idyllic couple! That scene is actually from a very famous Indian romance film from the 80s called ‘Qyamat Se Qyamat Tak’. The film has a cult following and for years has been the quintessential teenage romance film, a flag-bearer of innocent love in movies. I have been incredibly lucky to get the rights from Mansoor Khan Films to use the footage in my film and I’ll be every grateful to them. I tried to juxtapose that footage with Anuradha’s personal life as a symbolic representation of the kind of youthful, innocent love she craves for versus what her marriage actually is. Also, the lyrics of the song that they sing (which is also my favourite song of all time) weave themselves into the narrative arc of my film in a very interesting way.

Cult Critic – The close friend is rendered powerless by Anu’s refusal to act.  But how do you hope the film can inspire people to help in any way they can – even if asked not to.

KS – That’s another great question. I think we all have been on either end of this spectrum in some way at some point. Sometimes, you will see a loved one battling with something and as much as you try to reach out and help them, the walls they create are often difficult to barge through. Sometimes, you yourself will create such walls as you try to battle your own demons. I’ve had that happen to me recently while battling the stress and anxiety associated with making this film. Some of my loved ones left no stone unturned to try and reach out and help me and they did. A lot. But at the end of the day, people close to you can lend support and offer you tools, like a metaphorical sledgehammer. You have to grab that hammer and bring down those walls yourself. That said, I hope everyone has atleast one Nazia (the friend in my film) in their lives.

Cult Critic – What about a cockroach makes it a creature to tell this story?

KS – At the end of the day, the cockroach is a symbolic representation of Anuradha’s fears and inner demons. The creature is a plot device to advance the arcs of the human characters in the film. It could’ve been a rat, a lizard, or even a fly but there is something about a cockroach that triggers extreme disgust and anxiety in people when they find one crawling in their kitchen. It’s a creature that to us is so far removed from anything human that most of us won’t think twice before stomping it out the moment we see one. A lot of us will also scream and jump on the couch in terror. It’s those extreme reactions that a cockroach triggers in us humans that made me feel it’s the creature to go for.

Cult Critic – What does it say about society when the way women are raised, they – like Anu – could believe that being on the receiving end of domestic abuse can be a choice?

KS – Like I said earlier, I think the problem is more to do with how men are raised in certain sections of our society. As long as the sense of entitlement that is still often naturally bestowed upon a male child does not go away, this issue will remain. That said, men or women, whoever finds themselves at the receiving end of abuse should try and find help. Reach out to people who care about you. Talk to someone. Do not hope and pray for the situation to resolve itself. Sadly life is not a movie and happy endings are often denied to those who deserve them.

Cult Critic – How did you help create the crucial chemistry between the husband (Rudolfo Rajeev Hubert) and wife (Deeya Dey) that defines the victim-abuser relationship?

KS – Usually I tend to have a week long workshop with my actors where they can connect with their fellow actors and find a common creative ground. With this film, I was very clear that I did not want Rudolfo and Deeya to do a lot of rehearsals together. We had one cold reading and that was it. I wanted to capture the uneasy dynamics and the awkwardness between these two characters in a very raw form, Obviously, you cannot do that with lesser actors. I have been incredibly fortunate that ways. It’s my first collaboration with Rudolfo and the way he has worked on and prepared for this character is incredible. He spent a lot of time with me discussing Manav’s character and background in detail, never missed a beat and was just a delight to work with. Deeya is my cinematic progeny, my spirit sibling and has been my muse and protagonist for six of my films. I have seen her talent flourish with film over film and directing her is incredibly easy for me. We often communicate in unspoken sign language on sets and she would instantly get what I’m looking for in a scene. The fact that she has been my co-writer on all my screenplays also helps tremendously. There might be aspects of this film that some may like and some may not but as a filmmaker I am very confident of the fact that the performances of my lead pair will resonate with everyone. They have truly knocked it out of the park.

Cult Critic – What had been the impact of lockdown in India, and with the increased incidence of domestic abuse, how do you hope your film can raise the profile of the problem?

KS – I feel not just in India but all over the world, one of the most unfortunate side-effects of families being locked together due to this pandemic has been disturbing new stories of violence and abuse. If my film can help trigger some thoughts and emotions that resonate with someone going through something like this, I would consider myself incredibly fortunate.  I hope all Manavs everywhere attempt to make a deeper connection with their humanity and all Anuradhas everywhere get the fairytale endings they deserve.

Cult Critic – Why do you refer to this film as a “What If” Fairytale”?

KS – That is the official description that the film carries with itself in the film festival circuit but I cannot get into the details of it without spoiling the ending. I guess people will have to watch the film and tell me if they agree or not.


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