By Kusal Perera –
“Ini Avan” the film has many firsts to its credit. It is the first Tamil film in post war Sri Lanka. The first post war film to be shot in Jaffna and entirely in location there. The first Tamil film by a Sinhala Director in post war Sri Lanka. The first Tamil film with an entire Tamil cast from Sri Lanka. “Ini Avan” also is, Asoka Handagama‘s first Tamil film. Definitely, camera director Channa Deshapriya’s first Tamil film too.
The film has many serene and beautiful renditions that keeps the audience with it and along with it, as it rolls out on the screen. Camera direction of Channa Deshapriya as often, is a soothing treat to the mind’s eye, to say the least. Music by Kapila Poogalarachchi adds ripple with quiet discipline. Actors and actresses, Dharshan Dharmaraj, Subhashini Balasubramaniam, Niranjani Shanmugarajah among others, are not the hyped and celebrated lot in Sinhala society. Perhaps they are almost unknown even in Tamil society. Its a cast nevertheless that deliver Handagama’s script without blemish and with poignant portrayal of life, in post war Tamil society. I did enjoy all that in Handagama’s film, as a screen version of post war life in Tamil society. But then, when the lights come over again to tell you life outside the cinema hall that all who watched the film would walk out to, is real, its more than a tinge of sadness that I felt.
Sad, for the film brings forth a focus on post war Tamil life with warped and squinted interpretations, the majority would accept as perfectly real, watching it on screen. Handagama can have his own interpretation of events that unfold in the Vanni, in the Northern Tamil society, as he wish to formulate for himself. He may have his own self censorship in developing the story and the script to go through official taboo areas too, without much grumble. That’s his personal discretion and dilemma too. No. That is not right for one who wants to discuss his creation in public domain as a public media intervention. That does not justify a story which has a festering pathos in life, than what it really is.
Asoka Handagama’s “Ini Avan” is about a LTTE cadre who had survived the war, had presumably been arrested or surrendered and returns from State crafted “rehabilitation” after a period of time. Handagama is right. This rehabilitation is just stupid. It does not provide any opportunity for a so called “rehabilitated” youth to get back to a worthy stable life on return to society. That is arguably without dissent. In real life, they continue to live under the military intelligence scanner. Some have even disappeared, from what is at times reported in the media. An aspect that is never even hinted at in Handagama’s interpretation of post war “rehabilitated” life. Let’s say, that aspect is not what is discussed by Handagama in his film, “Ini Avan”.
Yet, how right or responsible is Handagama to project a post war Tamil society that totally rejects youth who had previously been LTTE cadres ? His portrayal of social rejection of this former LTTE cadre takes turns from elderly villagers to boutique owners to even a little child. With every frame he captures on the return of this “Avan” he instils in the mind of the audience a notion that the whole village despises and rejects former LTTE cadres. This portrayal or interpretation of post war Tamil society that Handagama projects as rejecting the LTTE lock stock and barrel, is false and wrong.
IF Handagama was nosy enough in finding out what really takes place in post war Northern Tamil society before he sat to write his script, he would have known the present day Tamil society does not reject their own youth, rehabilitated or not. A war battered and mutilated society that has to continue living 24 x 7 under military occupation and is ethnically oppressed too, would be naturally inclined to nurture a feeling of longing to those youth who opposed such brutality. Or else, there is nothing human in that society. Handagama’s whole effort in trying to project a human side to this former LTTE cadre contradicts his very projection of the LTTE cadre, if that same humanity is wiped out from his own village. The contradiction goes still further, when a LTTE cadre who is insulted and turned off by the village grocer as a former “Kappam” man, is projected as having returned from rehabilitation with much humanity, that is absent in the village.
This absence of humanity stands out much larger than the film itself, in a post war Northern society that in Handagama’s film has absolutely no interference from State security. Except for just a fraction of a minute when a fleeting moment of a Sinhala policeman uttering a few words in Sinhala, the whole film runs without any glimpse of security personnel and without policemen too. Busy streets of this Tamil city centre provides no clue that it had gone through three decades of war and is still controlled by government security forces. Such total absence of police or security forces in any town or city kerb in present day Sri Lanka, would look a miracle. Long drives and a still longer motor bike chase, never weaves past a single security barricade, a single military post in this battle worn terrain. Even the beach captured in cinematic beauty, was empty in its entirety of Naval presence, something the Northerners know, is impossible in their real life.
On the contrary, IF Handagama had cinematic prudence to portray this Tamil life as still under military rule, his first and major observation of a Tamil society rejecting their “fighter sons” would not hold any human logic. The portrayal of a post war society, now peaceful all by itself as Handagama visualises without any security forces, contradicts the return of former fighting cadres and the political need that society had, in challenging the Sinhala State. A battered society that accrues everything a free market society tries to make quick money from, can not crop up that easily and without contradictions as a simple flat society. The society that Handagama has in Ini Avan, where any expatriate Tamil could roam about trying to scout pimps for illicit business. Unless the security forces have a benevolent role to play.
Therefore his projection that former LTTE cadres has only such vices for a living is not acceptable, even if one argues that Handagama may have wanted to say, “in the absence of social acceptance, though rehabilitated, they have little or no options”. No war torn society settles for such simple, plain life without complexities and contradictions, with the oppressive State going totally absent as in “Ini Avan”.
Handagama’s “Ini Avan”thus comes to an end not as Ini Avan, “Him, Hereafter”, but as the Tamil lingo understands, “Iniavan” where “Avan” the LTTE cadre is a “sweet and a nice human being”, with warm humanity, still there after rehabilitation.
That, I would not debate nor argue against.