'Tough to find takers for LGBTQIA content in India': Ashish Sharma on his maiden production Khejdi
Last seen as Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Eros’ 10-episode web-series Modi: Journey of a Common Man, actor Ashish Sharma is back and this time he plays a transgender in his maiden production Khejdi. Premiered at Kashish Queer Film Festival last year, the film has been touring film festivals since then and just had an international theatrical release in Thailand. Excerpts:
Q: Tell us about Khejdi. How did it happen?
Ashish Sharma: It is based on a short story Sanjha, written by Kiran Singh. My father was the one who read it first and then he passed it on to me. The story got stuck in my head. I then shared it with Archana (wife and partner in Rachayita Films) and instinctively, we both were on the same page that this should be our first film.
Q: Tell us more about your role and film.
AS: My role is simple and complex at the same time. I feel most films on transgenders are made from society’s point of view and not how they see society Khejdi is about how she sees the world, and while watching the film and you will realise that it is nothing different from any other child or individual. You try to fit in your family, school, friends, workplace and that’s what she’s trying to do as well.
Q: What was the inspiration behind making this film?
AS: Globally, a lot of content is being churned out concerning LGBTQIA but we have very less representation from India. In other parts of the world, the makers are not always from the LGBTQIA community and yet they make a relatable, sensible, balanced and well-defined film. I think that is important and crucial to have an inclusive world.
Q: Was it challenging to develop the film on your own?
AS: It took us two years. When you are just an actor, you are confined with the script. But when you create something from scratch, it is a very liberating. The whole process of writing, production and then taking it to the festival was challenging. There are challenges that every independent filmmaker goes through – finding funds, a team that agrees to work on a small budget and platforms that are ready to showcase your work. I had pooled in my own funds and as well as the team was concerned, I think it was the 10 years of my earnings as an actor that there were people to support me.
Q: OTT platforms?
AS: We reached out to all the OTT platforms but nothing has worked out. It is surprising that there are no takers for a film that is deeply rooted in India even as there are takers to take it to Thailand.
Q: How challenging was it to prepare for Khejdi?
AS: Transgenders in India are taught to behave and interact in a certain way and we are used to seeing them like that and that’s why we consciously stayed away from interacting with transgenders. This made it very difficult because I had no reference point. So, I started creating her in my head from scratch, I started confining myself to my room, it started with one hour and gradually I started increasing that time. I also took Kathak classes – which involves certain postures and gestures. Slowly, I started behaving differently, I even slept in a certain posture. It was a bit scary as well because you need to know where to stop and pull back.
Q: How demanding was the physical transformation?
AS: The idea was not to lose weight because there wasn’t any but to shed physicality. The muscles have been there for a decade now and it was difficult to get rid off because they were rigid. For four months, I was on a liquid diet, involving green vegetable juice. Initial 10-15 days were really gruesome because your body doesn’t accept sudden drastic changes. But after a point, I didn’t feel hungry.
Watch the trailer of the film: