Whistler Film Festival 2018 Interview – ROOBHA executive producer Raji Nair

“Roobha is a delicate tale of love that deals with the complexities of personality and gender identity.  She is a charming twenty year old dancer…and he is a family man in his forties. Their attraction is mutual, perhaps more because they feel trapped by their circumstances. She is trapped in the wrong body, and he, in his mundane life. A rapturous romance ensues between them. However, Anthony’s familial affiliation, failing health, and ultimate death throws Roobha into a conundrum once again.” Producer Raji Nair on ROOBHA which screens at the 2018 edition of Whistler Film Festival.

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to the wonder that is Whistler Film Festival! So is this your first time here and are you planning to attend your show?

Yes, it is our first time at Whistler Film Festival, and we will be attending the screenings.

When was the moment you said to yourself “I want to get into the movie business” and what have you worked on in the past?

Movies have enthralled me, and captured my imagination, just like they have of millions of others. A “willing suspension of disbelief” takes place as I immerse myself in the narrative. But I also realized how a good story alone could not keep the attention of the audience if the movie lacks on the technical front.

When one of my acquaintances brought a script for a short film called BROKEN DREAMS, to me, I realized the potential and discussed it with Warren Sinnathamby at Next Productions. He liked the concept and agreed to produce it. Being a new arena, there were challenges galore. We got the cast and crew together and shot the film in Berlin, where it was set.


So how did this movie come together?

The movie is based on the short story, Roobha, by Anthonythasan Jesuthasan, who writes under the pseudonym Shoba Sakthi. During a rendezvous in Paris, Shoba Sakthi narrated the story to Lenin M. Sivam, a Toronto-based director. Lenin liked the story and drafted a script based on it. When he showed us the draft, we liked it too, and decided to make the movie. Lenin, of course, undertook the task of directing the film.

Canada-wide auditions helped us find Amrit Sandhu to play Roobha. Anthonythasan Jesuthasan, who is based in Paris, had proved his prowess at acting, with his performance in Jaques Audiard’s DHEEPAN, the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes 2015. To find the protagonist, Antony, we had to look no further. In the role of Pavun, Anthony’s wife, we cast Thenuka Kantharajah, a very gifted actor from Berlin. As she had worked in our previous films, we knew that she would make an impeccable Pavun. Being a classically trained dancer, Thenuka doubled as a choreographer, helping Amrit learn the mudras and mandalas required to dance to classical music, and the twirls to caper and cavort to contemporary music. Cassandra James, a real life trans-woman plays the role of Lucia, Roobha’s transgender friend. Cassandra was in fact transitioning while the film was being shot. The other actors were mostly selected from in and around Toronto.

It would be remiss if I did not mention Arsenij Gusev, the Director of Photography, and Bettina Katja Lange, the Art Director. They worked on the visual composition and the colour palette for about three months.

We did a pilot shoot in order to ascertain whether we had what it takes to make a full length artistic movie. With the reassurance that we could, we commenced principal photography in April 2016. Filming was completed in May, and soon enough the post production work started. When we showed the first cut to Telefilm Canada for their opinion, they liked the film so much that they came on board for post-production. The movie was ready for delivery in November 2017. As showcasing our film in the artistic circle of film festival was the avenue that we wanted to explore first, we applied to various festivals.

We had the world premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival, followed by a Toronto premiere at the Reelworld Film Festival. The Cambridge Film Festival was the platform for the film’s international premiere. Roobha was an Official Selection at the Windsor International Film Festival, and at the International Film Festival of India.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What is your drive?

During the long hours on set, innumerable cups of French vanilla and hot chocolate kept us going. But above all that, it was the drive to finish a job that we had undertaken that kept us ticking. We took one step at a time, and surmounted obstacles as a team. I think that the cohesiveness of the team was paramount to the making of ROOBHA, as you see it today.

So if you were to pick one moment that you would consider the biggest challenge of making the movie, along with the “a-ha, we GOT it” moment, what would each of those be?

Finding an actor to play the title role was the most challenging task.  We had to find someone who could embody not only the struggle, the vulnerability, the vigor, and the impulsiveness, but also the depth of the character. At first we looked for artists from Toronto. Not finding a suitable one, our Casting Director, Joanne Boreham, extended the quest Canada-wide. Of the audition tapes that came in, one particular one from Calgary, caught our attention instantly. That was of Amrit Sandhu. He seemed to capture the quintessential spirit of Roobha, and everything she stood for. And lo behold, we had our perfect Roobha.

I would say, the ‘a-ha’ moment was when we saw the second cut done by Rohan Fernando. The movie that we had in mind had finally come together.

Could we get technical for a second? For my tech-savvy and filmmaking readers, I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how it was photographed.

The visual composition was orchestrated by Arsenij Gusev, the Director of Photography, Bettina Katja Lange, the Art Director, and Serafim Gusev, the gaffer. Previously having worked together on different projects, they understood each other very well. They brought an incomparable European perspective to a South Asian tale set in Toronto. We shot on Arri Alexa with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. An anamorphic lens was used to capture the surreal outdoor atmosphere required for some scenes.

After your WFF screening, where is the movie going to go next? Theatrical? Online? Any dream screenings or exact theatre in mind?

After WFF, we plan to have a theatrical release, but do not have a specific release date yet.

We do have a lot of people out there looking to be inspired and work in the industry in one way or another. What is a piece of advice that you would give to anyone looking to get into the motion picture business?

Perseverance  is the key. Combined with determination and hard work you have the cocktail for success.

And finally, what is the single greatest movie you have ever seen?

IKIRU by the Japanese director Akira Kurosowa. Languor and lethargy had seeped into Mr. Watanabe, the central character of the film. He gets a jolt, when he is diagnosed with stomach cancer. As he sees his end in sight, he realizes how empty his life has been, and sets out to bring about a change in his community. In his quest for the true meaning of life,  he leaves behind a lasting legacy.

ROOBHA is showing December 1, 2018 at 8.00 p.m.at Village 8 Cinemas, Theatre 6 and on December 2, 2018 at 7.00 p.m. PDT at Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.


This is one of the many movies playing at this year’s Whistler Film Festival. For more showtime information and on the festival itself, point your browser to www.whistlerfilmfestival.com!

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