Interview with Ashoka Handagama on his Movie, Ini Avan

8 May

Ini Avan (Him Hereafter) is a Tamil movie by Sinhalese Director Ashoka Handagama which premiered on 03 April at the National Film Corporation, but is yet to be released to theatres.

The first Sri Lankan Tamil movie Samuthayam (society) was released exactly fifty years ago in 1962. Since then, only a handful of Tamil movies have been made in the country, the last notable release being Ponmani in 1977.

Thirty five years later, Handagama’s Tamil movie shot exclusively in Jaffna and showcasing Jaffna life post war, is set for release. Ceylon Today spoke to the well known but controversial director on the whys and wherefores of his latest venture.

What prompted you to make a Tamil language film?

I have been visiting the Jaffna peninsula regularly ever since the war ended. Even before that, during the ceasefire, I made several trips there to make friends with the people and be in touch with their lives. One of my friends suggested I make a movie on them and I thought “Why not?”

Did you have to do a lot of research work as an outsider to their culture and way of life, to get the authenticity right?

Well I just observed and talked to as many people as I could during my trips there. I heard various life stories and anecdotes which highlighted for me the sorry condition of widows, women, unemployed youths, orphaned parents…

I met a young man, an ex combatant just like the protagonist in the movie, who was in despair at being unable to raise the Rs. 20,000 required for a driving license. He knew how to drive but they required that amount for a license – the figure I quoted in the movie was the authentic amount being asked in Jaffna.

I compiled several different life stories and tried to incorporate them in the movie. The characters in the movie are all fictional but their characteristics are true – the characteristics of the Jaffna people in different perspectives, as I found them.

Is it just an abstract film made on their lives or is there a specific message you were trying to convey through the movie?

In some of my teledramas, I have promoted reconciliation but I didn’t bind myself with such restrictions here. I just wanted to explore the current situation in Jaffna and showcase it through the movie. A new capital liberalism has arrived in Jaffna; a lot of developmental projects are happening but my perception is that they are not filtering down to the grass roots.

My main focus was not on what happened during the war but what will happen if certain conditions are not corrected!

What has been the reception so far from those who have seen the movie?

I have had positive feedback from the premiere. The people who came said they liked the movie.

What has been the Tamil people’s reaction to it?

Thus far, those who have seen it said they liked it. I plan to showcase the movie to a select group of invitees in Jaffna soon.

How do you think the Jaffna Tamil diaspora will receive it?

Whenever I showcase my movies abroad, both Sinhala and Tamil diasporas attend. I tend to receive both negative and positive feedback from them. In some of my earlier movies depicting Sinhala border villages, the Sinhala diaspora took offence at certain scenes and said I was bringing disrepute to their culture.

I don’t let it bother me as my movies are not the tourist board type ‘everything is beautiful and glorious’ movies. My mission is to typecast reality as I see it and if it bothers some, it can’t be helped.

Were there actors from Jaffna in the movie?

Nearly everyone except the four main characters:

Dharshan (hero)
Subashini (heroine)
Niranjani (Second heroine)
Raja (villain)

were from Jaffna. The main actors were all Tamils too but they were from different parts of the country.

Why did you choose the name Ini Avan?

As two separate words, it literally means “Him Hereafter” in Tamil but if combined into one word, it would mean “Sweet Person.” I deliberately wanted it to be a play of words – so that both meanings could be ascribed. Ex LTTE combatants suffer a negative image in society and I wanted to challenge it.

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