By Suren Rāghavan –
All cinema lovers must thank Asoka Handagama – one of Lanka’s best para-normal cinema makers for his latest cinematic? Social Intervention. Political responsibility of a constructive artist is to give hope to his/her society a newer dimension of hope especially during a hopeless time
Thinking about Love (or the absence of it) during a time when death is at the gate is a serious and responsible work, and Asoka has done it
After watching the short film twice I am still unable to cage it to any know genre. May be one should not try as we need to break aware from such anxiety of labelling and packaging to fit into some slim and sexy ideology
Asoka’s example is an exceptional modeling of cinema making for new comers who are looking for with Spielberg budget and Scorsese casting for their debut. Intellectual and human cinema can be without such hyper – luxuries.
Samanalee Foneseka (even while she had disagreed with me on many points of our recent political analysis) is one naturally gifted cine artists who has now mastered the ‘representational school’ of real acting versus method acting. Here she does it so cleverly – that begs a standing ovation.
Nadee Kammallaweera – the not so ‘fair’ actress who reminds us that there are still others forms of acting and reacting has stamped out that in cinema even in a very short film like this a second role can rob the plot to stand out as the actual first role.
In short – Beer Without Alcohol (BWA)- a short film – by Asoka Handagama, that evolves on a 20 minutes “Skype?” conversation among three friends lockdown during the Corona curfew in Colombo (and another in an Australian diasporic city*) – Film penetratiely tries to define what is Falling in Love ? arguably a phenomenon or a passing experience? In conversation among these four + one person – three searching for love and the other two (apparently) in love.
We all are products of our thoughts – So Asoka made a film of his world – his thought world during a global fear driven endemic in a country where at least 80% of the people were awe-struck about their existential tomorrow where it was estimated at least 1 million middle age trishaw drivers were stuck on a road to nowhere not knowing how to feed their young ones. A country in the far north still citizens live in “refugee” camps after 40 years, in a country where near senior citizen Tamil women had lost their daily job of getting up at 4 am stand at an angel and pluck many kilograms of tea leaves for less than 1000 rupees and in a country where the mother of a Matara fisher family with younger children could not go to the city to pawn her only available jewelry for far less than the cost of the wine, imported (Black and White) whisky and the beer (without alcohol) enjoyed by Asoka’s lockdown world.
Surely we cannot ask why Asoka did not make a film about these struggling people but selected what seems a group who except their inability to go out had no relevance to the world fighting for life (and death) beyond their windows. Asking so will be me searching for a Tamil song sung by pundit Amaradeeva when while he lived during three civil wars in this country.
Artists decide to produce and present what they feel not what we think they ought. No quarrels there.
Then when we look at what Asoka parents to us – it asks, complicates and not answer the question what is love? Is it an ethical and moral framing or actually do we love a WHOM or in fact a WHAT, if I am loving it is the qualities or the being? and then why do I call it this love than mere admiration? Unfortunately for us Asoka locates it to a very romanticized peg hole of feeling sympathy and feeling cared for as love and the moment of falling – Asoka makes it as if a double hermeneutical reading. First Thushari felt love when her fellow ‘Anthare?’ friend rescued her at a student-police clash (possibly at Lipton’s or Fort) and in return she became the moment of falling when she actually helped a friend who had got hurt. True, falling in love can be a process or a moment but if it is based on mere sympathy and caring it will be a serious error to name it as love. Because as Zygmund Bauman had argued if so the uncanny frailty of human bonds, the feeling of insecurity that frailty inspires, and the conflicting desires to tighten the bonds yet keep them loose and in an era of Liquid Modernity” – the man or woman with no bonds, and particularly with none of the fixed or durable bonds that would allow the effort of self-definition and self-assertion to come to a rest. Having no permanent bonds, the denizen of our liquid modern society must tie whatever bonds they can to engage with others, using their own wits, skill and dedication. But none of these bonds are guaranteed to last. Moreover, they must be tied loosely so that they can be untied again, quickly and as effortlessly as possible, when circumstances change – as they surely will in our liquid modern society, over and over again.
A factor all four of our characters and Asoka seems to locate in the moral fabric of sympathy for the fellow friend.
Actually the only falling in love was in the life of the one living alone and drinking wine. She had fallen for a long time as a process as her tears reveal. And now willing to fall even literally – because loving sometimes means also living alone. In fact in many South Asian societies this paradigm has rigidly destroyed a deeper friendship between men and women but pushed into this trap termed as love. Asoka seems to confirm that misery (un)willingly.
This is the brilliant subtlety of Asoka’s narrative. Asoka is a film maker whose actual film starts in our minds AFTER it finishes on the screen such emotional and intellectual protraction is the deposit Asoka often offers us. In BWA the centrifugal narrative is with the fall of that lonely women who had always loved but never able to tell that.
The repeated song (for 5 minutes out of 19) and the placement of it is something I did not analyse because it was too philosophical – even when sung by a scotch drinking person. Can love be that one off thing even when death is at the gate? Finally sympathy can be an identical twin of love but surely it should not be love.
PS: how is it possible Samanalee Fonseka to agree to cast a role where her a (semi) drunk lover imposes a hegemony of demand to know all the secrets of her life and even prefaces a physical violence, And she continues to sing philosophically after? Are our acting and practice two nothing to do things?
*Because Carlton Zero is a beer launched less than two year ago in Australia