Stuck at home amidst the COVID pandemic, a timid housewife finds her world unravelling due to the constant presence of her overbearing husband and a six-legged intruder in Kshitij Sharma’s Roached.
We have reviewed a couple of Sharma’s films before at Screen Critix, ‘Devil’ back in 2018 was his adaptation of Guy De Maupassant’s short story Le Diable. While 2017’s ‘Let’s Talk About (it)’ was a horror film where a psychiatrist’s life changes for the worse when she starts to help a new patient battle some inner demons. Both garnered positive reviews from us and what was also noticeable was that Sharma had not only enjoyed our reviews but he had also acted on some of the criticisms we made. After his first film he went on to improve as a filmmaker, ‘Let’s talk about (it)’ received a good review while ‘Devil’ went on to get an even better one.
Roached is, yet again, another improvement on Sharma’s previous films, and it is also a mixture of different genres which makes it a much more interesting one. Beginning life as a jovial comedy with four friends during COVID connecting over zoom, we watch them catch up with each other, have daft conversations, and play silly games like spin the bottle and Truth Or Dare. Very quickly though, the atmosphere changes as one of the friends, Anuradha (played by the very strong Deeya Dey) is summoned by her husband Manav (the terrifically oafish Rudolfo Rajeev Hubert) to make his dinner. What follows is a domestic psychological drama that has touches of horror and surrealism as it puts into perspective the way many women in India are still treated as second-class citizens by men.
Dey is a brilliant actor, her face is so expressive that she manages to show many emotions, yet at the same time, she is able to convey a blankness and innocence that allows the audience to project their own feelings onto her. She has some absurd scenes towards the end of the 70-minute runtime and she totally sells them. Hubert, too, is excellent, and he is obviously having fun playing the completely loathsome and vulgar businessman Manav. Together they make an excellent couple whose complete incompatibility and contempt for each other make for some compelling viewing.
Roached is superbly photographed by cinematographer Abhishek Negi, whose use of light and shade effectively evokes the dark material contained within the script, yet he is able to find enough range to highlight bright reds and whites that allow the more comedic moments to shine through.
Also, as the title suggests there is a cockroach involved in the plot and it is an unsettling little thing. I don’t mind creepy crawlies, but full marks to the sound editors and effects men who, with no money whatsoever have managed with a mixture of real insects and models, to create a really uncomfortable experience. Franz Kafka’s legendary Metamorphosis is the undoubted influence on this film and just like Kafka using his work to describe life, Sharma also highlights that Anuradha is quite alone in this world, and no matter how much she cares about others or how much she does for her husband, they will forget it all and he will continue to treat her as a liability as long as they are together.
Roached is easily Sharma’s best film to date, with a script and sense of cinema that helps elevate the simple story of a subservient wife controlled by her layabout husband into a fascinating surrealist nightmare that strongly criticises the Indian class system.