We all want to live our best life. (That’s one of the few things we can all agree on in this toxic day and age). So what stops so many people from becoming the best and most authentic version of themself? It’s a question at the heart of director Lenin M. Sivam’s Roobha, a story about two people overcoming a lifetime of negative conditioning to find each other.
When the movie begins, we meet a down-and-out family man named Anthony (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) during a moment of crisis. First off, his health is failing; a lifetime of cigarettes and hard liquor have ravaged Anthony’s body. Making matters worse, his business, a hole-in-the-wall pub, is drowning in debt. Anthony is in a rut and just going through life’s motions when he meets a beautiful young dancer named Roobha (Amrit Sandhu).
Anthony and Roobha have a mutual attraction, and it’s obvious they want to act on it. Their dalliance intensifies quickly, but before they have sex, Roobha reveals she’s a trans woman, which throws Anthony for a total loop. For their relationship to continue, the potential couple must navigate their conservative families, come to terms with antiquated gender norms, and face violent acts of intolerance.
Sandhu and Antonythasan deliver two exceptional performances. Anthony is an introspective man of few words. We learn much about who the character is through Antonythasan’s probing eyes. They’re brooding and intense and always searching. Roobha’s vibrant and flirtatious personality makes her a perfect compliment. It’s this contrasting dynamic that makes their relationship feel so passionate. A whole new side of Anthony emerges when in Roobha’s presence. Conversely, we see his spirit diminished in the presence of his family and friends.
The two lead performances are critical to the film’s success because Sivam’s script (with a story by credit for Antonythasan) is at times clunky and awkward. The blunt dialogue spells out what characters think and feel, and some plot beats feel forced. But Sandhu and Antonythasan’s charismatic turns balance out the screenplay’s rougher spots.
My main gripe with Roobha is its pacing issues. Early on, the film focuses on Anthony, but then it drops him completely to present Roobha’s backstory. The decision to flashback kills the plot’s momentum and sense of tension. Roobha starts feeling like two stories stitched together rather than one story with two perspectives. While this choice gives film’s second-half a choppy feeling, it doesn’t spoil the movie.
Arsenij Gusev’s cinematography helps bring this harrowing tale to life. Gusev’s immersive photography perfectly captures the highs and lows of Roobha and Anthony’s story. We first meet Roobha draped in dazzling golden light, looking like an angel descending to the mortal plane. When the story hits its nadir, Toronto’s cold, gritty streets take on a brooding menace, as Gusev paints the frame with frosty greys and blues.
Sivam’s bittersweet love story highlights the best and the worst of what humanity has to offer. The film depicts acts of prejudice, cruelty, and malice that leave you feeling cynical about a better tomorrow. But Roobha also features acts of love, compassion, and selflessness that remind us what makes the world worth saving.