Director’s Statement

SCHIRKOA is a metaphorical reaction to the world I live in today -a perpetual conflict between two dimensions of our world. Thus, I imagined an alternate timeline where the whole world is concentrated into just two nations -an eclectic mix of cultures, identities and languages.

One nation, Schirkoa, is striving hard to achieve perfection and quite successfully achieves it through the ‘Bag Act’. The second nation, Konthaqa, is more human, colorful, romantic, sometimes irrational and eventually chaotic.
Both nations have thought-provoking ideas to run their nations and the better alternative can only be subjected to an individual’s perception.

Against this giant backdrop, there’s an intimate story following the events in the life of a meek man whose life keeps ascending to extremities as he travels through these two worlds trying to find meaning between society, religion and family. As the story treads forward we transit from a relatable contemporary setting to an avant-garde fantastical territory.

SCHIRKOA is a cross cultural and multilingual country. It’s an alternate future reimagined and compressed into a single country. This is also the reason many actors in the cast are going to be coming from a diverse range of artistic backgrounds, ethnicities, languages and cultures. I am actively looking for not just actors but individuals who can imbibe the codes these characters stand for. From poets, activists, filmmakers to musicians I am trying to explore a wider range of individuals for these roles.

I tend to see the world through an absurdist lens: for me animation amalgamates absurdity and fantasy in a provocative manner while still keeping the visual poetry and human moments intact.

Interview with the director

By Marta Bałaga


Where did the idea for these covered -up characters even come from?

When I first entered the animation industry, my daily routine involved commuting to the studio for about an hour. In the subway, in that sea of monotony, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of people with glum or neutral expressions. I began to feel like a cog in a vast machine: utterly replaceable, devoid of any distinct identity.

In a strange way, it seemed as if none of us had faces. Our individuality was masked by the uniformity of our existence. To cope with this realization, I resorted to scribbling, giving life to faceless beings that echoed the soulless anonymity of the daily grind.

It’s almost a film of two halves: you start with this sad, monotone world and then jump into craziness and color.

Schirkoa: In Lies We Trust talks about two ideologies at opposite ends of the spectrum. While this may appear simplistic on the surface, delving into these contrasting realms allowed me to convey larger and more complex themes. I feel that this sudden shift in tone, mood, and visual design added an element of unpredictability. As the narrative progressed, I aimed to create an immersive experience: it’s like witnessing a myth coming to life.

“Flipping” the mood is also something I find immensely intriguing as a creator. I relish the element of surprise and how humor can take center stage when you least expect it, providing a stark contrast to the somber themes. I love such unusual juxtapositions. I like to incorporate humor into the darkest moments of the story. It’s not an attempt to downplay the gravity of situations, but it reflects the multifaceted nature of life.

You assembled a very interesting voice cast, from Asia Argento to Gaspar Noé. What were you looking for?

Our primary goal was to breathe life into these characters and that meant searching for artists who could truly embody their essence.

During our early discussions, when [producer] Bich-Quan Tran suggested names like Gaspar Noé and Lav Diaz, I was intrigued. Gaspar, in his sweetness, made himself available for one of the most improbable characters imaginable, while Lav Diaz offered to sing his poems in his native Tagalog language. Continuing this exploration, Bich-Quan brought in the immensely talented Golshifteh Farahani and Soko, who portrayed 242B – a character who would rather face exile than stay in caged freedom – and 33F: nomadic artist with a romantic yet rebellious worldview. For me, Soko’s music and personality mirrored what 33F represented in the film. My co-producer Stephan Holl suggested Asia Argento and her name left no room for second thoughts. She seemed like the real-life personification of her character. And all her costumes in the film are designed by Antonio Grimaldi for whom she has closed  a couture show before.

One of our key visions was to ensure that the main male lead embodied a multicultural background intertwined with South Asian roots – a reflection of Schirkoa’s diverse world. After weeks of auditions, Bich-Quan and I had an “eureka” moment. Why not cast both actors, Shahbaz Sarwar and Tibu Fortes, and let them voice different years of the character’s life? This decision turned out to be immensely rewarding, resulting in performances that made us immensely proud.

As a movie that’s deeply rooted in Indian mythology and culture, it was essential to find authentic and unique voices from India. Established filmmaker Anurag Kashyap immediately came to mind and so did composer Sneha Khanwalkar. It was Samir Sarkar who helped us contact Anurag, who in turn put us in touch with producer Karan Johar, who lent his flamboyant voice to the character of the Announcer, the official voice of the regime. Samir also suggested Shekhar Kapur, who brought articulate sophistication to the character of a veteran politician. Another example is the inclusion of artist Piyush Mishra. From the start, I had envisioned a character tailor-made for him, one that spoke Hindi and recited his powerful verses.

I wanted Schirkoa to encapsulate the essence of our global society, where multiculturalism has become an integral aspect of modern life. Just like the world we inhabit, it portrays the coexistence of various cultures and civilizations, each at different stages of evolution.

Sneha Khanwalkar is also responsible for the film’s soundtrack.

The essence of Schirkoa’s soul also lays in its music, and we agreed with Stephan Holl that Sneha Khanwalkar would craft the overall music, intertwining it with licensed tracks from King Khan, Saba Lou and Sun Ra. One melodic choice that held a special place in my mind was Benny Turner’s You Gonna Miss Me. The hauntingly impressive track from the film Baraka, based on Brother’s An Daorach Bheag, also lingered in my thoughts. That’s when Bich-Quan proposed that Sneha could create a special track based on that song. We were also blessed with Asia Argento and Marco’s Sexodrome.

Can you tell me about the technique you chose?

It was a blend of traditional methods and new technology. For the characters, I employed a modern character generator. The characters and sets were then brought together within a game engine, specifically Unreal Engine, where they were assembled in their respective locations.

From this point onward, we used a unique hybrid of animation and live-action techniques.

We embarked on a motion-capture process that spanned over two weeks. It was camera-free, allowing us to shoot the film like a stage play, where every angle and movement carried significance. However, it’s essential to acknowledge the considerable effort and talent involved. Hundreds of hours were devoted to manually fine-tuning each performance and that task was handled by a team of skilled animators, who brought life and emotion to every character on screen.

Integrating data into the game engine marked a turning point in our creative process, allowing us to approach shooting with the fluidity of a live-action movie. This newfound creative freedom opened doors to experimentation, enabling us to explore diverse multi-camera setups and lighting techniques. Unlike the locked-in nature of traditional storyboarding, the hybrid game engine pipeline granted us the incredible ability to make real-time adjustments. We could modify shots, edit sequences and entire scenes on the go. This process fostered a dynamic environment where we could continuously refine designs, camera angles, animations, sets and color. Surprisingly, this approach didn’t inflate the budget. It actually allowed us to work efficiently with fewer resources.

I guess this film is a testament to the advantages of utilizing a game engine like Unreal. Not only did it handle vast amounts of data with ease, surpassing other animation software, but it significantly reduced rendering times. The environmental implications were significant, as it drastically minimized energy consumption and resource usage. I hope more filmmakers embrace this sustainable method and set a precedent for the future of animation filmmaking.

You have also worked on the second volume of Star Wars: Visions. How did you discover animation in the first place?

I was aware of the medium since an early age, but it wasn’t until my college years that animation truly enticed me. I was deeply involved in writing and directing stage plays, and I came across an experimental theatre troupe called the Neo-Futurists. Among their plays, one called Bingo caught my attention and it had been adapted into an animated short film by the Canadian animator Chris Landreth. It completely blew me away. I believe that every cinema lover should see it.

Working on Star Wars: Visions Vol. 2 was a blast. Having the opportunity to contribute to this iconic universe was an incredibly rewarding experience. One of the most beautiful aspects of the project was the freedom Lucasfilm granted us to incorporate Indian culture into the Star Wars universe. It was a chance to infuse my own heritage and artistic sensibilities into a world that has captivated audiences for generations. Of course, working within such established universe required adapting to a different filmmaking style, but I embraced the opportunity to blend a more classic Star Wars narrative with the vibrant energy of Bollywood cinema and the rich tapestry of Indian culture.

I am curious if the pandemic has changed the film in any way. All of a sudden, everyone was covered-up too!

I couldn’t help but notice these similarities. I wouldn’t say that the pandemic fundamentally changed the essence of the film, but it certainly reinforced certain themes and character motivations. In a way, it became a reminder of the ever-changing world we live in and the need for art to adapt and connect with the zeitgeist.

Also, animation industry has undergone a remarkable transformation during the pandemic. In the past, I used to favor working in a physical, email-agnostic environment where physical interaction was the key to solid communication. Over time, I realized this approach came with its limitations. When artists are granted the flexibility to collaborate from their chosen environments, they become more open, motivated and deeply invested in their work. This newfound sense of ownership and comfort creates an environment where creativity can thrive without the constraints of a traditional workspace. Actually, two of the critical brains behind pre-production were artists who worked from different countries. My storyboard artist Shahab worked from Iran, bringing amazing creative sensibilities and experiences into the narrative, and character designer Yaning worked from China.

Were you always interested in animation for adults? What kind of stories inspired you? I think Kafka immediately comes to mind.

From the very beginning I have been drawn to the idea of crafting animation for adult audiences. However, I wouldn’t classify myself as solely an animation enthusiast.

I have a profound love for movies and I used to be an avid reader. My father introduced me to the writings of Khalil Gibran and Tolstoy at a very early age. Kafka, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche influenced me as well, shaping my creative perspective.

Beyond the world of animation, I found myself mesmerized by the works of Fellini and Jodorowsky: their ability to create vivid, shocking and imaginative worlds. For me, they transcended boundaries of multiple art forms. When it comes to animation, the works of Santoshi Kon and Ralph Bakshi have certainly left a mark.

Do you see this film as political? There is something very recognizable about the unrest you are showing.

I guess the fears depicted in Schirkoa are not confined to a specific timeline or era. They have existed throughout history.

At its core, it’s a story of an ordinary individual, initially experiencing nothing more than a sense of discomfort with the state of affairs. Before that moment, politics plays no prominent role in his life. However, as the narrative unfolds, his discomfort transforms into personal loss. He decides to take matters into his own hands and challenge the establishment. It portrays the powerful transition from individual concerns to a broader political awakening: suddenly, personal experiences merge with collective grievances. The film explores the question of how many citizens are content with mere mild discomfort and how many are pushed to the point of agonizing pain before deciding to take action.

You have already made a successful short set in this world. Would you like this story to continue?

From its inception, Schirkoa was a vast world that extended far beyond the scope of the short film. In 2010, I decided to make a graphic novel, and then it just grew. The animated short allowed me to delve into the look and the heart of this world, leaving room for further exploration. Its success reaffirmed my belief in the potential of Schirkoa as a multi-dimensional narrative.

In the future, I would like to branch out to various mediums. Certain aspects of the world are more suited for a graphic novel, allowing a more in-depth look at the world’s intricacies, lore and aesthetics. There are more immersive world building aspects that are best suited to interactive mediums while the journey of some key characters can certainly be explored in a TV show. From art installations, board games to Lego sets, there are almost too many possibilities!


Ishan drew his first comic at the age of 6. As a school kid he was deeply inclined towards writing, drawing and acting. He created many original comics before finishing school. After getting rejected from two art universities he got into a prestigious engineering college in India pursuing computer science. It was here when he found his love for theater and animation. He wrote and directed several plays and made a couple of short animated films in college. The love for animation films intensified and he dropped out by the third year to pursue animation as a career. In 2008 he got a diploma in animation from renowned Singapore 3dsense Media School and started his career as a CG artist there. After a few years of well paid yet disheartening animation work for advertising agencies and TV series he quit.

He came back to his hometown in India to work on his own film. Meanwhile, he worked as a video editor and part time lecturer to pay the bills. He even worked as a CG art director at a monastery for 2 years where he worked and lived with the monks while working for their projects. These extremely diverse experiences completely changed his view of the world and art in general.

Amidst these brief stints, he managed to finish his first short film single-handedly in 4 years working nights and weekends. The film became the first Indian animated short to get long listed for the Academy Awards followed by tremendous reception at more than 120 international festivals. The film has received more than 30 awards.

Ishan Shukla has now set up his own animation studio to work on highly personal and artistic adult oriented animated feature films aimed at both an arthouse and broad audience.

Ishan Shukla is also the director of ‘The Bandits of Golak’, one of the nine short stories from the Lucasfilm anthology series ‘Star Wars: Visions Volume 2’, which premiered in May 2023 on Disney+.