Movie : Roached
Director : Kshitij Sharma
Hello Kshitij, congratulations on winning the Best Director award at BCIFF for your film Roached. How did you come up with such an interesting story?
Thank you! I’m grateful to the jury at BCIFF and honored to receive the award on behalf of my entire team. The idea for Roached actually came from the need to explore what it means to be human. I wanted to do a film where the juxtaposition of humanity against the lack of it can take centerstage and I hope that underlying thought resonates with anyone who watches the film.
Did you anticipate the excellent response Roached has been receiving in film festivals? How does it make you feel?
Feels surreal. I’d be lying if I say I anticipated the flood of love and adulation this film has been receiving. On the contrary, considering the experimental nature of the film, I had huge doubts on its merits. It was my team and family’s steadfast belief in the film that convinced me to submit it to film festivals. Roached already has 30 awards to its name and I’m glad that the collective efforts of everyone involved in the making of this film are getting recognized.
Tell us something about your love for stories and movies. Do you remember the first movie you watched? Were you enthralled?
Stories, comic books and films have been my best friends since childhood thanks to my father’s love for reading which he passed on to me and an old VCR player at my grandmother’s house which introduced me to the magical world of cinema. While I don’t remember the first film that I watched since I’d been accompanying my parents to movies from before i could walk, I distinctly remember the first film that truly blew me away as a kid. It was a landmark Indian film called ‘Mr. India’. A science fiction story about an ordinary fellow who discovers a device that can turn him invisible. That was my first introduction to the power of cinema to trigger imagination and it birthed an addiction to movies that I still continue to be a slave of.
Who are the directors that inspire you? What would be your favourite movies?
Far too many to name here. Being an Indian filmmaker, my first love is Indian Cinema. Some of the Indian filmmakers that continue to inspire me are Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Sai Paranjpye , Manmohan Desai, Shubhash Ghai and Basu Chatterjee. The overseas filmmakers that I look up to are Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Wes Craven, Bob Zemeckis and M. Night Shyamalan. The list of favorite movies is too long to cover here but Back to the future and Mr. India would be the two films that I must have watched over a 100 times each. I also try to sneak in homages to my favorite films and filmmakers in my works. I put in a Delorean model as an easter egg in my first film which was also a time travel story and even in Roached there is a clear nod to Twin Peaks that longtime fans of David Lynch would be easily able to spot.
What are the some of the biggest challenges you encountered in making this film?
Right from the get-go the journey of this film was full of hurdles. First and foremost, there was the creative block that had set in due to two years of inaction courtesy of the COVID pandemic. Even at the writing stage we struggled to stitch together this bizzare and seemingly unfilmable story into a screenplay that can be executed in our minimal budget and constraints. Finding the right location during the filming restrictions in place due to the lockdown was another challenge. During the shoot, both my lead actors fell ill and braved through the filming with utmost dedication and professionalism. Achieving the practical effects needed to be able to tell this story on our minuscule budget was perhaps the most daunting challenge yet through the ingenuity and passion of my team we managed to get the results we were aiming for.
The movie’s uniqueness is in the way it blends serious, hard hitting and agonising themes with the backdrop of magic realism. What prompted that narrative choice?
Roached could very well have been a conventional human drama dealing with the concepts of ego, control and compassion but I always try to put a slightly bizzare twist on the normal. I believe cinema as a medium is designed for flights of imagination and any time I feel there is an opportunity to incorporate a bit of the fantastical into the mix, I will go for it. A fantasy backdrop is a canvas on which human stories can truly flourish. For example, Star Wars on the surface is an epic intergalactic tale with spaceships, lightsabers and what not but at it’s core it is a relatable human story about redemption and that is what has ensured it’s longevity as a timeless tale. While writing the screenplay we made a conscious effort to bring the human story to focus amidst a backdrop of magic realism. We felt it adds an additional layer of intrigue into the proceedings and gives the film its own unique identity.
Both Deeya Dey and Rudolfo Rajeev Hubert are impeccable as the leads in your film. What is your process of directing actors?
The recipe for directing actors is 50% of casting, 10% of instructions and 40% of getting out of the way. I have been a trained actor myself so I connect with and relate to actors instantly. I understand what goes through an actor’s mind before an emotionally demanding scene. Acting is a highly complex and sensitive art form and actors need a safe and nurturing environment where their craft can flourish. In acting schools they make you do trust fall exercises where you close your eyes and fall back, trusting that your colleagues will catch you. As a director, I aim to create an environment where my actors can place that trust in me. The last thing I want is them worrying about the scene or their performances. That’s my baggage to bear. I do in-depth discussions with them about the character, find a common ground between their interpretation and my creative vision and beyond that my focus is on taking care of their overall well being on the sets by making sure they don’t over exert themselves. Needless to say, doing all of the above won’t help if you have below-par actors. I’ve been very lucky in that sense to have had access to the incredible talent of Deeya and Rudolfo. Together they have created stellar magic with their performances and everyone who has watched the film is in agreement with me on that.
The effective cinematography and excellent background score play a big part in creating the right atmosphere in Roached. As a director how do you ensure alignment between the technical aspects and your creative vision?
Every department associated with a film should have only one goal; how to tell the story using the tool sets they have. If you are cinematographer, your only focus should be on how to convey the essence of the story through framing, composition and lighting. If you are a musician, your focus should be on how do you tell this story purely through sound. That can only happen if your technical crew is involved at the initial conceptualising stage itself. My cinematographer Abhishek Negi is my backbone and has worked with me in 7 films now. His process involves breaking down the screenplay into meaningful shots giving storytelling precedence over stylized shots. Having him on the sets takes so much of load off me. Sharath Srinivasan who has scored the film is a childhood friend of mine and an ace musician. I used to discuss the thematics of every sequence with him and he would come up with a piece of music that would instinctively blend well with the essence of the scene. Both these folks have been instrumental in making Roached the film it is.
Apart from writing and direction, you also edit your films. How complex was the edit process for an unconventional film like Roached?
Editing is the aspect of filmmaking that I enjoy and dread the most at the same time. The simple fact of the matter is that a film is ultimately made on the editing table. After the involvement of so many people, it all boils down to one person sitting in front of a computer. That in itself is an unnerving thought and creates huge pressure on the editor. For me the editing starts at writing stage itself. I first imagine the film shot by shot and thereafter attempt to replicate the film that I’ve already seen in my head. With Roached, the editing was incredibly complex since each act of the film delves into a different genre. It nearly drove me insane but all’s well that ends well I guess.
Can we summarise the movie as a tussle between violence and liberation?
That would be a fair interpretation. Ultimately, it is about facing your demons and realizing that fairytale endings don’t happen by themselves until you find the strength within you to change the course of your destiny.
Why do you think certain important movies must be made that would reflect reality? Both generally and specifically. Why must movies narrate tales about real occurrences across the globe?
I would say that’s inevitable isn’t it? Filmmakers come from society and what we see around us shapes and forms our human experiences. Stories are almost always born out of a little bit of social commentary mixed with wishful thinking. That’s the way it always has been. That’s how it always will be.
What are you working on next? Is there a new idea cooking?
I do have story ideas for atleast 10 more films. It all boils down to which one to pick next and go for depending on what resources I have access to at the moment. I’m waiting to see where the journey of this film takes me. Depending on it’s eventual fate in terms of distribution and how much budget I have access to, I will pick what I want to do next. I can’t decide between a horror or comedy for my next one. Guess I’ll just flip a coin.