In conversation with Ashish Sharma, who is widely known for his role as Lord Rama in Siya ke Ram, and has done many other popular shows. Here he speaks to us about his debut film ‘Khejdi’, what was the starting point for it, his journey amidst much more…

What was the Starting point for Khejdi?
The starting point was when couple of years ago, my father happened to read a short story, which was in Hindi and it was written by Mrs Kiran Singh, it was called Sanjha. He read it and he gave it to me and it just got stuck in my head. Then I shared it with Archana, who then read it and then said, if you ever want to make a film then this should be your first film. Two years after this, we started working on it, and that’s when we started developing it. The story kept lingering in our head somewhere down the line, that’s how powerful the story is. The story had a lot of depth and that’s why it took so long to develop the screenplay and get into production. So that’s how the whole thing started and now it’s ready.

What was your thought process when you decided to back the film?
The only thing that was clear in our heads was that we want to take this story and make a film on it. There was no strategy per say that we had to do something in particular or anything as such, but the only thing we knew was that we had to say this story convincingly and with as much honesty as we can, because the story and the subject needed that honesty. It would not have even been possible to say this story otherwise. People need to identify with the subject and the story, otherwise it just falls apart. Another thing that was clear in our heads was that this story needed to go on a global platform. It will make a mark when it comes to India’s representation of the LGBTQ subjects globally, because we have comparatively less representation when it comes to such films or content.

Where there any apprehensions when it came to playing the role of a transgender in the film?
So Archana and I wrote the script together, so while writing it we both knew that I was going to playing this character. It was she who pushed me, or rather motivated me to play this character as well that this should be my first experiment/role as an actor in films. So since the beginning we knew I was going to play the role and since the beginning we knew how difficult it was going to be. It was a constant fight within us, and we knew at the end of the day that it would be difficult to find an actor who could commit that much time or commit that much honesty, because we knew how much work it will need. I was well prepared in my head as to what I am getting into.

What were the challenges that you faced?
The biggest challenge that so many independent filmmakers face is that there are not many takers for such indie films, especially in India. The only way we could fight this challenge is by making a good film, unless we do that, there’s no point cribbing about there being no takers. A good film/bad film is all upon the views of the people. But what matters is the conviction with which you make a film. Another challenge was to get a team together in such a shoestring budget and still make a cinema which looked international; that was the biggest challenge for us. The whole team of the film has come from a television background and we have made this film and I’m really proud of it. People have really appreciated the film, not just the story or the content but even technically. Another challenge we faced after shooting was, who is going to edit the film? Thankfully, Manas Mittal, who probably is the most experienced amongst us, has a huge and a brilliant filmography to his name, and him agreeing to edit the film, was another big challenge we overcame.

What are your expectations from the film, in terms of if the audiences will accept the film or appreciate the content?
They already are accepting it. I have had a few screenings in India, we even won three awards at the Rajasthan Film Festival, so many of our screenings are even running housefull. After each screening, we have had interaction with the audience and it is a very intelligent audience who knew what they were getting into and loved and appreciated the film. People just appreciate good content and are willing to spend money for it.

It seems to be more of a character driven film, what were your efforts to bring the character alive?
Looking back on it now, it was very scary and very crazy and insane; it took me almost four months to get into that zone and physically transform, I had to lose my muscles, had to become more feminine, lost a lot of weight. But more than the physical transformation, it was the psychological transformation that was much more difficult. I wanted things to happen organically and I didn’t want that effort to be seen on screen. I wanted it to look natural. I almost gave up 10 days into my workshop, it was so draining psychologically. In retrospect now, I don’t even know how I reached to that point now, it just happened organically.

The journey you have had so far, playing so many different characters to now, producing films and making films, how evolved do you feel?
I feel fortunate, rather than evolved. When you start, you know that beggars can’t be choosers, so you initially do what you get, but I was fortunate enough to have the roles that I did. How hardworking you are, how talented you are, everything comes later. Most important thing is being at the right place at the right time. But after a certain point I started being conscious, and starting choosing things. Your needs should never become your wants. Once that happens, you lose your power to say no. People slowly started having faith in me and big shows started coming my way. It also happens viceversa, but yeah I do feel fortunate to get what I have gotten.

How liberated do you feel creatively and in where do you see yourself in the long run?
I feel completely liberated. Earlier, I had no control over a lot of things. I couldn’t contribute to a lot of things. All I could do was just act. Compared to films, there isn’t much to play around with acting in television. You are limited to the script. When it comes to creating a film; that is when I feel that I’m at my best. I am interested in the whole process and I’m not restricted to one thing and I enjoy the whole process; that is when I feel that I’m me. I do see myself directing a film down the line as well. I have already started working on it as well. It is really a golden age right now to be in for any creative person. People are working everywhere, in films, on digital and even television, and that’s not even it, people are even working across borders, so in a way the world has become smaller and the spaces have intermingled beautifully.

What do you take back from Khejdi? And what does the title also mean exactly?
Khejdi is basically a kind of tree that is seen in Rajasthan and basically in deserts. It is found there in abundance. Its quality is that it doesn’t need ground water to grow, but each and every part of that tree is used in some way or other, from food to medicinal purpose. But still no one really cares about it, it’s just ignored and it just grows, but in a way it is also the lifeline of so many people there. So that is the paradox which we have tried to create in the film. What I take back from the film is that, if you’re an independent film maker, you have to stand by your film till the end, because your fight never ends; you have to keep standing with it and see it through, otherwise it will never happen. Trade Magazine