Lenin M. Sivam’s Roobha explores two intersecting narratives: one, a young dancer, Roobha (Amrit Sandhu), a transgender woman living on the streets; two, an older bartender Antony (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) whose poor lifestyle choices have severally worsened his health. The two unexpectedly fall in love, creating tension in both characters’ lives.
Roobha is far from an anodyne representation of the non-white trans experience, depicting a rough street life, where Roohba is violently assaulted and forced to make a living as a sex worker. The discrimination she faces here, from street hooligans to family members, no doubt mirrors the experience of many transpeople. But writer/director Sivam trades sensitivity for realism. The film signals little articulation to larger, systemic issues facing the trans community. While Roobha herself often provides narration, what introspection is offered feels superficial.
The central love story between Roobha and Antony also runs into obvious problems. What precisely the film wishes to thematizes here is unclear, beyond possibly sexual fluidity. Antony’s health issues come across as a clunky attempt to generate drama into the film, but ends up being an awkward inclusion.
Roobha is, at best, a superficial representation of the trans experience. With a muddling intergenerational romance at the centre, the film’s overtures to sexual liberation are frequently conflicted by the narrative directions it takes. There are more compelling representations of the intersectionality of racial and transgender films out there.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile