Movie Review: Ini Avan (Him Hereafter)

8 May


Whenever Ashoka Handagama produces a movie, people sit up and take note! “What unpalatable societal truth has he portrayed this time?” That’s the question on most people’s minds whenever a Handagama movie is set for release.

His latest offering is a Tamil film set in Jaffna. Predictably it’s about social struggles and the hardships of day –to- day life instead of being flighty, light hearted froth but Handagama has also matured over the years in his ability to tell a cinematic story. He has always endeavoured to open the eyes of viewers to realities within their society that they might not be aware of, but this time he has managed to do it without getting their eyeballs to pop in the process.

It’s a simple and lucid script but whether it is going to be considered controversial or not depends on the viewer; it is the story of a ‘rehabilitated’ LTTE combatant and the challenges he faces in restarting civilian life in Jaffna.

As a Jaffna Tamil myself, what I found most appealing about the film was its authenticity in portraying the landscape, houses, way of life and mentality of the people. Previous Tamil films showcasing Jaffna Tamils (made by Indian Tamils in Tamil Nadu) had been irritating in getting various facets including the accents, speech, mannerisms and landscape wrong.

The Jaffna landscape is vastly differently to the rest of the country and Handagama’s low budget movie which was shot exclusively in Jaffna, does not suffer by portraying misinformed caricatures of the reality. The old houses; unglamorous but sturdy, the winding lanes, the thatched fences, the palmyrah trees – all conjure up an authentic Jaffna atmosphere effortlessly.

While that might not have required much effort as he only shot what was already there, the merit is certainly his for getting the mentality of the people as well as their problems in day to day life, post conflict, absolutely right. Handagama, though a Sinhalese, has managed to get into the skin of the Jaffna Tamils in the way they think and interact; their various fears, hopes and aspirations – and portrayed it empathetically.

The challenges of a strapping young LTTE combatant getting back to civilian life, the lack of economic opportunities for young people, the anger of other civilians towards the returned combatants – both for dragging out the war, as well as their failure to win it… have all been smoothly scripted in by Handagama without entanglements, and well enacted by the actors.

It is impressive how within a short film, he has managed to tell a lucid story and brought the mentality and current situation of the Jaffna Tamils to an outside audience. Ini Avan is almost a masterpiece in storytelling in that aspect – no unwanted scenes, no corruptions of the reality – a uniquely individualistic people and their problems have been beautifully portrayed for others in their country (and out) to see and understand.

The film is not an entertainment film – Handagama does not do entertainment – but it is nevertheless riveting throughout its length; and to fellow countrymen who live outside Jaffna as well as the diasporas including the Jaffna Tamil one, many of whom have been so long outside the country that they have evolved away from their brethren back home – this movie will prove highly educational.

Every aspect of their lives including the Jaffna people’s dress, walk, talk and thought processes have been portrayed authentically by the director.

Different characters in their minor roles bring out so much – the father who refuses to marry his daughter to a ‘low caste fellow,’ his dilemma in having to marry the girl off quickly to stop her from being enlisted by the LTTE (they forcedly conscripted all youths except the married girls), the father who is furious at the returned combatant because his own sons have died, the shopkeeper who initially sympathizes with the returned unemployed combatant and gives him groceries on credit – only to take it away in a huff, when the young man rather brusquely (in his embarrassment) asks for Rs.20,000.

“Extortion money? Sorry those days are long gone.” With that single short scene, Handagama portrays so many different things; the frustration of a young man unable to raise the exorbitant fees for a driving license in order to be employed, the unemployment problems of youths in the peninsula, the way the LTTE demanded ‘taxes’ from shopkeepers in the area for their cause – and the resultant miasma of anger, disappointment and regrets.

The movie moves seamlessly from scene to scene at a brisk pace (though by no means hurrying the viewer). The story, direction, acting and cinematography are all superlative – but the most gripping aspect of the movie is the dialogues. Handagama was apparently personally responsible for the script and wrote it originally in Sinhala to be translated into Tamil.

Given that constraint, the fact that the dialogues are simple and realistic but most of all hard hitting is fascinating. Some great quotable quotes are in that movie – but the fact that Handagama managed to have them portrayed naturally and realistically instead of with over-the-top grandiosity or exaggeration as so many filmmakers are guilty of, is a noteworthy artistic feat.

The film ultimately is a very real depiction of Jaffna life today – especially of the lower middle classes and the poverty stricken. Handagama does not attempt to have an ending or closure in this movie – unless you can call the closing shot of the bright blue sky and the Palmyrah trees closure. The movie is rich in symbolism and that final shot after taking the viewers for a harrowing ride seems to say – ‘it’s Ok! The Jaffna people, like their Palmyrah trees, are resourceful, resilient and tough! They will survive against all odds with the same sturdiness and dignity.’


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