With You Without You
Syed Ali Mujtaba
The post ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has many sordid stories to tell, some about the woes of the war, others of its aftermath. Depicted is one such story in the movie "With You, Without You" (Oba Oba Ekka Nathuwa) that was screened at the 43 rd International Festival at Length Goa, India from November 20-30 2,012th.
The movie depicts the life in a society which still has unhealed wounds of the war, a war that lasted over three decades, killing over tens of thousands of people and rendering many more homeless. The film is set in the months after the Tamil Elam war and explores the emotional fall-out of such trauma on the lives of ordinary people in Sri Lanka
The movie tells the tale of the confrontation between a man from the majority Sinhalese point of view and a woman from the Tamil minority community. Their struggle with their own past is the main theme of the movie a metaphor that is used for the struggle within the tear drop island itself.
Selvi (Anjali Patil) is a beautiful but quiet Tamil refugee girl who catches the eye of a middle-aged Sinhala pawnbroker (Shyam Fernando) when she comes to his shop to cash in her last jewel. The Buddhist pawnbroker captivated by the Tamil beauty follows her to her temporary home. He discovers that his love interest is about to get married to an old man for wants of money.
The pawnbroker throws all caution to the winds and proposes to marry the Tamil girl. Selvi too breaks all barriers that divide the Tamil and Sinhala societies and moves into her savior's house. They slowly but surely fall in love with each other but neither of them ever talks about their past.
All was hunky-dory until an old army friend of the pawnbroker turns up in the house, and a terrible secret emerges, that unstitches the wounds of the war. Selvi, comes to know that the pawnbroker has army connection and the trauma of her past begins to hunt her.
The pawnbroker in order to unburden himself confides to Selvi, that he was in the Army before and was involved in the operation at Killinochi. He further tells her that in the operation the soldiers accompanying him had raped a Tamil girl who died subsequently and he got disgusted with such acts brutality and decided to quit the Army and have taken up the business of running a pawn shop.
The confession of the pawnbroker brings the memories of the ethnic conflict to the fore and Selvi becomes hysterical. The trauma of war over powers her and no amount of cajoling has any sobering effect on the Selvi. The pawnbroker tries to coax to be normal and promises to take her to India for sight seeing tour. He even sells his pawn shop and gets ready with his travel plans but Selvi is totally withdrawn. She has bouts of depression and has little interest in life.
It's a very romantic evening; Selvi watches from the high rise window the dark clouds hovering over the hills, playing hide and seek, signaling the coming of the beautiful bout of rain. The pawnbroker who has gone to the city is returning home riding a motor cycle. He has smiles on his face as he has got the air tickets to India and had purchased goodies for Selvi. He is trying to race with the clouds, avoiding being caught in the rain, the background score hinting for an emotional union, but the climax has a gory side.
Selvi, lost in her seems to be enjoying the spectacle of the nature and appearing to have a better view of the clouds, climbs up to the window and lo and behold, she then jumps out of it to her death. The pawnbroker on return finds that he was late to unite with his lady love, even though was able to beat the rain. This is the most haunting scene of the movie. This has a political message that represents Tamil - Sinhala divide. The lady after weighing her options to choose between love and politics, eventually sacrifice herself rather than giving herself to the protagonist lover, that too a former army man, whom Tamils hated awfully.
The expression of the woes and miseries of the poor Tamil girl is powerfully portrayed by Indian actor Anjali Patil, who bagged golden peacock for the best actress at the Goa international film fest. The role of the pawnbroker is played by talented theatre actor Shyam Fernando who makes a debut in cinema. Others in the cast include Wasantha Moragoda and Maheshwari Ratnam.
The film is directed by Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage. Some consider "With You, Without You" Prasanna's seventh directorial venture as his best work so far.
While talking about the creation of his film Prasanna told the media persons at the Goa film fest media conference; "When I was reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel" The Meek One "over and over again, two things stuck into my mind. One was its probe into masculinity and the second was how consumerist values have deprived people of human connection. When adapting this novel to a film, I based it upon the biggest issue facing our country, which is the ethnic conflict, "he said.
"With You, Without You," has a striking resemblance to the film "The English Patient," a 1996 romantic drama based on the novel of the same name by Sri Lankan-Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje. This movie is set before and during World War II, and is a story of love, fate, misunderstanding and healing. Directed by Anthony Minghella, this movie won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
While watching the movie "With You, Without You" I had problem in categorizing this film. The movie is about love, it is related to the post war conflict as well; it is also an exhibition of third world cinema. What could be its proper genre was something that baffled me. Notwithstanding these facts, this co-production by India and Sri Lanka can be described as Sri Lanka 's independent cinema at its best.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He attended the 43 rd International Length Festival, November 20-30 at the 2,012th from Goa. He can be at Contacted Syedalimujtaba@yahoolcom