Cinema is a medium which can be used to tell important stories but actor Ashish Sharma says in India, films often serve as the escape route people use to avoid harsh realities of life.
The 33-year-old actor, who has been a part of various television shows, is trying to tell one such truth everyone shuns – transgenders and their rightful place in the society through his film "Khejdi". The movie, which questions the idea of individual identity as a transgender person goes on a journey of self-discovery, is Sharma's big-screen debut. "It is about an individual journey to fit in. It's about an individual's quest to find their own identity. It is relatable for every gender. It doesn't matter which gender you belong to, we all go through that phase in our life where you want to fit into the society or a group, whether it is your peer group, your family or social circle. "Every stage of our life we all fight to fit in and find a new identity. There are rules and regulations everywhere. We have to abide by them to be a part of the society. And if we don't, then we are cast away. So it's just about that fight to fit in," Sharma told PTI in an interview. To get the film made, Sharma had to don multiple hats.
Besides acting, he has also produced the movie. He, along with his wife Archana, penned the script. "Five years ago, I came across a short story, which was suggested to me by my father and after reading, it stayed with me all this time. I shared with Archana and she also liked it. "She told me 'If you ever going make a film, then this should be your first'. It took us almost two-and-a-half years to write the script. And finally we shot it last year," he says.
The story provided the actor an opportunity to confront the society about the treatment meted out to the transgenders and the stigma attached to them. "We are scared of the truth. We try to run away from it. And that is why the kind of films we watch are most of the times aspirational. They take us away from our crude realities. "As an actor, I have always been driven by the story as I feel it enhances me both as an individual and an actor. And this story not just enhanced me but also challenged me as an actor because I had to portray a point of view which I never experienced before. I didn't just have to write it but also enact on screen," he says. The film also has cameos by real-life transgenders and Sharma said they lent authenticity to the story. "We never wanted fake-looking people who are trying to portray a perceived image of another person. Till now whatever films I have seen about trans people, they are made from our perspective. Nobody has ever tried to see them from their perspective. So the film is told from their perspective. They were needed in the story as they will not come with any inhibitions." Films in India have often tried to explore the lives of LGBTQ people but television has so far shied away from addressing such issues in the shows.
Sharma believes that commercial aspect of the medium has often proved to be the hindrance in getting such stories highlighted on-screen. Asked whether there will ever be a show that talks primarily of the LGBTQ people and their rights in India and he says, "I don't think so. Not in the next 10 years. People are scared to make films here, forget about making a television show. It is all commerce at the end of the day. As a society, I don't think we are still that evolved to face it upfront. They are still not included in our society. "In TV and films, the LGBTQ people are represented in a very cliched way. They are normal people who are born that way. If they have a certain sexual preference, then its fine. But we as a society has norms and rules, and we have to fulfil certain criterion so as to be considered a part of it. There is a huge DNA change that needs to happen."
The film, directed by Rohit Dwivedi, will be showcased at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival on May 24 and Sharma says it is the first stop in the movie's journey. "The journey is just beginning for us. I am happy to begin from this platform because KASHISH has become the Asia's biggest LGBTQ festival right now," he adds.