Synopsis: “At a young age, Archana, is told that she is cursed. After an astrologer says that she is Manglik (cursed due to the positioning of Mars in her horoscope), her family tries to counteract the curse in various ways. At 25, Archana is about to perform a ritual to cleanse herself of the curse, but finds herself in a position that might prove her horoscope true.”
Raksha, co-written with Vidhya Iyer, features a cast that includes Nitya Vidyasagar, Sharmila Devar, Pramode Kumar, Sunny Virmani, Abhimanyu Katyal, and Vanessa Patel. The film will be shown as a part of Shorts Session 6 on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 1 p.m. at the ShowPlace ICON theater. Below is an interview with producer Jhanvi Motla and director Meredith Koch.
What was the inspiration to create this film?
Jhanvi Motla (JM): Growing up in India and then moving to America at 18, I’ve struggled with my own identity, much like Archana. Straddling two cultures, learning when to let go and realizing the detrimental effects of holding on too strongly, were all themes that both writers felt closely. We wanted to incorporate an unspoken part of Indian culture and explore these themes within a female character.
Meredith Koch (MK): Although Archana comes from a very particular upbringing, I related to her journey and felt that there was a common through line in this story that would be relatable to any audience. I believe we all struggle to find our identity beneath social and family pressures. Raksha was clever about exploring them in a unique way, through the cursed horoscope.
What are you hoping audiences take away after watching your film?
JM: We hope that audiences will leave empowered to question the things they have been taught. There are many valuable lessons imparted to us from our parents and our communities but that doesn’t mean we apply them without any rationale. Archana represent the extreme person who doesn’t question the belief system and later suffers the effects of repressing their own emotions.
MK: First and foremost I’m hoping that our audience is diverse. Our team always intended for this film to be relatable by anyone from any upbringing and personally, my approach to directing is with that inclusion mentality. Audiences ask me a lot about the ending. “Is it nature or nurture?” That is the point of that ending.
How did you get interested in filmmaking and why?
JM: I got into filmmaking after feeling limited by theater. I started out as an actor but craved behind the scenes work more. While theater is liberating and complex, I found film flexible and a medium that allowed me to do so much more with the words on paper.
MK: Growing up I thought I wanted to be an actor and at 17 I moved to LA to pursue that dream. During the course of my training, I realized that what I loved wasn’t performing, it was being around and working with actors. Directing didn’t cross my mind at first because I had always associated it with a “male profession” due to the lack of diversity and female representation in the field. When I moved back to my hometown, Portland, OR, I discovered Maya Deren’s films and picked up a camera and enrolled in Super 8 filmmaking courses at the NW Film Center. It was there that I found my voice as a director and a keen interest in experimental filmmaking.
What was your filmmaking process like? How did you meet the cast and crew? Were there any major setbacks/challenges? How did the film come together?
JM: I met my core team at the AFI conservatory. Despite the difficulties in fundraising our team was excellent at being adaptable with the challenges of the budget. We were operating on a very tight team with a lot of moving parts, so it was natural for us all to feel worried about seeing the finish line. What I appreciated most was that our team always communicated the issues at hand, so we were all on the same page. The film came through because of the team’s unwavering dedication for a whole year.
MK: I worked with the writers for several months to solidify and refine the story. Thereafter I spent some time studying the culture. I wish I had had more time to do this, but with our program’s impending deadlines I had to invest time into the visual aspects of the film. Working with Nathan Mielke (Cinematographer) and Fie Alber (Production Designer) was critical since much of the story is told visually and without dialogue. We were able to create rules and then break them in the end, which is very exciting and hopefully adds to the shift in Archana’s point of view. My editor, David Kabisch helped me withhold information throughout the story until it was essential. The non-linear quality is something we found in post-production. I am very proud of Raksha’s cast for tirelessly rehearsing and re-shooting scenes for the sake of perfecting this film. Everyone added so much to this film’s creation and I’m proud of everyone when I watch it on the big screen.
What would you like to say about Chicago South Asian Film Festival and its team?
JM: We are so blessed to be a part of CSAFF this year. The festival has always been an advocate for South Asian Cinema and their work is now more important than ever. There is still a severe lack of South Asian faces on and off camera in mainstream American entertainment. By empowering South Asian filmmakers and their work, the festival does what most of Hollywood still struggles to do in its drive for diversity, even today.
MK: We greatly appreciate the recognition and support from CSAFF and hopefully Raksha will inspire filmmakers to venture out of their comfort zones and make movies that are challenging the status quo.