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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Roobha: Lenin M Sivam Speaks About LGBTQ Film Screening at LIFF 2019

Filmmaker Lenin M Sivam has the knack for depicting real, raw stories through high visual aesthetics.

Sivam was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka and moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1991.

After several years of making short films, Sivam first achieved international recognition with his feature film debut 1999 in 2009, which won awards at film festivals internationally.

He was subsequently named as one of the Toronto’s Most Influential Tamils by Tamil Culture and recognised as one of the Ambassadors for Hope by the Charity Ball for Hope in 2012.

Lenin is considered to be one of the foremost filmmakers among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

His next directorial, Roobha will be screened at the London Indian Film Festival 2019 (LIFF). 

The movie depicts an intense love-affair between a Tamil Canadian Trans woman Roobha (Amrit Sandhu) and an ailing ‘straight’ bar owner, Anthony (Jesuthasan Antonythasan).

Filme Shilmy speaks with Lenin about the film.

You must be so excited for Roobha being screened at LIFF. What do you hope to achieve from this premiere?

We are very excited about Roobha being screened at LIFF as we consider it to be one of the important South Asian film festivals in the world.

We hope to have the film seen and discussed by many festival goers as well as inspire young filmmakers to tell bold stories.

You focused on the Tamil-Canadian milieu in 1999 as well as A Gun and a Ring. Is this what motivated you to make this film?

I never intentionally focus on Tamil-Canadian milieu, but it just happens that way.

I guess I am more drawn to these type of stories as I am a Tamil Canadian and I feel very close to their stories.

When I read the story, the first thing that struck me was the forbidden love between Roobha and Anthony.

I strongly felt that this romance between a young Trans woman and an older family man was something unique and must be told in a broader arena.

It is based on Antonythasan’s short-story. But besides that, what research went into the film?

Before I started writing the screenplay, I did a lot of research.

I read books, watched documentaries and other films that tackled transgender issues.

I made sure that I had enough background on the subject matter, in particular about the transgender community in Mumbai and the Indian transgender myths before penning the screenplay.

Antonythasan was also there every step of the way to ensure that I am not overlooking any details.

It wasn’t just me, every key person involved in the film, including some actors, conducted their extensive research.

For example, my producers Warren and Raji did their own research and fact checking before signing on the project.

We took this film and the story very seriously as it was touching on a very sensitive topic, in particular in the broader South Asian community.

Everyone worked on the film understood this responsibility and took extra care to do justice to the story.

It is believed that you have campaigned a lot for the LGBTQ in Canada after researching and making the film. Kindly tell us about these?

If you are familiar with my body of work, you’d know that I tell stories that are bold, honest and powerful and all I expect is an emotional response from my audience.

I approached Roobha in the same manner, never intended it to be something beyond a good film.

However, we knew that if we made a good film, it was bound to become something more.

In addition to Antony being the writer, he is also the main actor. What did you, as a filmmaker, see in him?

He is an amazing actor, his screen presence is absolutely stunning. As a filmmaker, I could not think of a better actor for the role.

The film may shock and not be appreciated by people. How have you prepared yourself for any potential backlashes?

I genuinely believed that Roobha would melt the heart of anyone.

This was generally the case when we first screened it.

Some people took exception to some of the scenes, but as an artist, I was true to my story and the characters.

I noticed that the few of those who did not appreciate the move are those who haven’t seen it yet.

I encourage everyone to watch the film with an open mind first before criticising it.

How do you hope Roobha will raise more awareness of LGBTQ rights especially in the community?

I think the world is going through a positive transformation about LGBTQ rights.    

The film couldn’t have come at a better time.

I strongly feel that Roobha will play its part to promote awareness and spark debates about LGBTQ rights not just in Sri Lanka but in the broader South Asian region.

The Bagri Foundation London Film Festival celebrates a decade of bringing the best new South Asian films to the UK, with 5 cities, 25 venues and 25 specially curated films.

It starts on 20th June 2019 in London continues until 8th July 2019, at cinemas across the UK.

For more on the festival, please visit: http://londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/

Watch the festival trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNdLixFRPf0

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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