The love story between a young transgender woman and an older married man can be a very interesting premise, but in “Roobha” these people are also Sri Lankan Tamil people living in Canada which adds a whole other level to the story. The struggles and riots and all the issues that are faced by the Sri Lankan Tamil people that led their immigration to western countries, however, their biases and stigmas stay the same.
Anthony (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) is a family man living with his wife, brother-in-law and kids. With scarce business in his bar and a smoking addiction that is threatening his heart, Anthony lives a life where the only positive notes of his life are his memories as a poet who wooed his love to be his wife. Roobha (Amrit Sandhu) frequents the bar and one thing and the other lead to an affair between the two which doesn’t go the way both of them had expected.
By the last half an hour, “Roobha” started to look similar to the 2017 Chilean film “A Fantastic Woman” but what makes it different is the simple back story that is shown till then with a lot more cultural subtexts. Through the use of mythology to show how transgenders in the Indian Sub-continent link their existence to mythology, there is a sense of confusion about these characters that is true for both LGBTQ communities and refugees. Food, poetry and dance is also used as representation of the emotions and relationship of the characters. In a small scene in the beginning, Anthony says his daughter is not ready to be a dancer because even though she has mastered the techniques her emotion about it was not passionate. At the same time we see Roobha’s dance in different styles and they are not as polished exact forms but much more passionate and truer to heart.
Lenin M. Sivam is known for his realistic and powerful depiction of Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and he delivers again with “Roobha”. The story is based on the short story written by Shoba Satki which is actually the pen name of actor Antonythasan. The way the story unfolds shows the stigma around trans-genders that is just hate or acceptance in the western world but for the Tamil world it is just complete ignorance about the whole situation. However, the way they have grown up and lived their life, it is not possible to blame them for everything they do.
Amrit Sandhu’s performance was so feminine and impeccable that I believed he must be an actual transgender until I checked and confirmed he was a cis-male. Antonythasan reminded me a lot of his performance from 2015 French film “Dheepan”. In that film he was an ex LTTE member and even here there is a mention about his shady past that stays a mystery, so the similarity in performance could have been intentional.
There was a number of scenes where it felt like it could have been better but considering the importance of the way the story is said and the budget, it is an accomplishment the makers could be proud of.
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.