Recent Drexel grad Siddharth Jha’s career in filmmaking is starting off on the right foot. Jha, who hails from India, says his first time stepping foot in the United States was when he landed in Philadelphia to begin his education at Drexel. Flourishing in the notably technical film production program at Westphal College, Jha triumphantly completed his studies as the director Grievances, a gritty and suspenseful drama penned by Lauren Guinnip, his peer from the college’s screenwriting program. The film follows Brandon, a despondent man whose mental health descends into alcohol-fueled paranoia after he receives the tragic news that his young son has been diagnosed with leukemia. This senior thesis film was selected to play in five domestic and international film festivals, and he’s already in talks to license Grievances to a North American cable channel specializing in short films.
From India to Philly
The film takes place in the city, and viewers will recognize parts of the Philly skyline in the beautifully shot first scene. The urban environment, Jha says, was an integral part of introducing viewers to Brandon’s inner machinations. Each shot frames the disturbed character as a small part of a wide-open world. “There’s so much life around him,” says Jha, “but all he can think about is how there are forces out there working against him.” These stylistic shots are paired with an eerie, discomforting score, further emphasizing Brandon’s deteriorating mental state.
Jha prioritizes character in his development process, he says, focusing less on plot and more on strong justification for his characters’ choices. This is apparent in Grievances, a film that is less of a series of plot points and more an exploration of the inner workings of a mind under stress. Jha spent months developing the Brandon character, he says, exploring every detail from what the man’s house would look like to the kind of shirts he would wear. The success of this method is apparent in Jha’s short; viewers learn so much about Brandon in the mere 14 minutes they spend with him.
What is next, then, for Jha? Now, with the pandemic, the young director is hunkered down here in Philadelphia, focusing his attention on writing. “I’ve been treating it like a full-time job,” says Jha of a feature-length script he’s currently developing. Aside from writing, the director says he has plans to expand into different modes of filmmaking, including directing a music video for a local band once it’s safe to do so again. He cites dark comedy as a genre he’d like to pursue in the future, striking balance with the titillating drama of Grievances. Off to a great start already, Jha’s career in film is clearly one to watch.
What, When, Where:
Siddharth Jha’s latest film Grievances can be viewed online as part of the Sundance Ignite Short Film Challenge.