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Colourful vitality of South Asian Film Festival in Colombo

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By G.T. Ketharanathan

The Colombo SAARC Cultural Centre, which hosted the SAARC Film Festival 2011 once again extended its hospitality for the SAARC Film Festival 2012. The big day was celebrated with all enthusiasm in Colombo on 16 May at the National Film Corporation Cinema Hall.

SAARC member countries, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Maldives had sent in their productions for screening at the festival. Besides feature films, the inclusion of documentaries at this year’s festival was a progressive aspect, a step forward in the right direction. Cine field artistes and stars were also offered an opportunity to participate in a one day workshop.

Artistes very actively involved in the film industry in these nations had especially been invited to lend the festival colour and vitality. A panel of three jury members comprising, Mary Nashari from Russia, Phillip Sa from Singapore and Mohamed Resa Arab from Iran had been flown into evaluate the films and recommend them for awards.

The Indian feature films Ranjana Amiar As Pona directed by Anjan Dutta, Rayari by K.B. Suveeran and the documentaries Red Building Where the Sun Sets directed by the Tamil and Malayalam film star Revathy and We Play On by Pramod Pushwani were screened.

Anjan Dutta’s feature film A Ranjana Amiar As Pona is the story of an aging rock star, whose expecting wife was killed in an automobile accident years ago.

As he was way behind the wheels of the vehicle the day when this fateful event occurred, he suffers guilt ridden. Unable to get over the grief, he finds refuge in alcohol and drugs. The Music Maestro’s life in derailed and as he gets older in the grip of a deep sense of alienation, he happens to meet the poor, but young Ranjana who has a mad passion for rock music. The old Maestro captivated by Ranjana’s mind blowing performances and her excellent skill in writing lyrics, eventually moulds and guides Ranjana into perfect rock stardom. Ranjana really rocks.

This film by Anjan Dutta is a mature and honest creation. The life of a great musician with his strength that makes him adorable and admirable, and with his weaknesses that turns him into a detestable character, is portrayed in a lively manner. Musical films are often full length entertainments with a lot of fun and frolicking. This film of Anjan Dutta is exceptionally towed along a novel track from the outset to the very end, enriched with weighty substance.

Swiftly switching shots and richly scored music enhance each other. What is unacceptable about the film is the stunt sequences towards the end, that sends the otherwise speeding horse on an entirely different track. Somlata’s melodious voice lend fire to the wonderful heart throbbing composition of Neil Dutt that add a lofty dimensions to the film.

Director Anjan Dutta’s unbelievable performance as his own hero makes the audience wonder if the Music Maestro’s spirit has got into his veins. He has just walked into the shoes of his own protagonist.

The chief character in K.B. Suveeran’s feature film Bayari is a tender child, Nadira whose wedding is unexpectedly fixed on the very day she flowers into womanhood. She is destined to be the wife of a man who is three times as old as her. Unaware of the gravity of the situation, the innocent girl is seen playing hide-and-seek with a boy friend of her age. Burdened at a tender age, Nadira’s life turns out to be a uphill struggle along a rough and rocky road.

Meanwhile, we are moved to tears to see Nadira’s mother praying incessantly that her daughter should not experience the troubles and torments she herself has undergone.

Bayari depicts the life of the backward minority Muslim community that dwells along the Kerala, Karnataka borders. The film makes a genuine effort to analyze sympathetically the woes and worries, the agony and anguish of the women’s’ predicament as they confront the restrictions, taboos and rigid traditions of Islamic customs such as Talak (divorce) and Ithath (marriage). Despite the fact that Nadira’s husband loves her truly and dearly the traditional taboos and rigid laws they had been abiding by for ages heavily intrude into and ruin their life, making their reunion impossible.

We pity Nadira when she falls victim to the rage of both her father and husband whenever there is a tussle or bitter quarrel between them. Separated from her husband at a tender age, she comes back home burdened with a baby to feed and look after. No sooner she returns home, than she gets her divorce. She gets imprisoned in her father’s house and she loses all contact with the outside world. Meanwhile her husband takes the baby away from her through cunning means.

As days roll on, a situation though arises for her to reunite with her husband after surmounting all the obstacles. She is hapless that again and again fresh impediments emerge from within. It is funny and strange that the religious law has a provision for possible reunion with her divorced husband only when she remarries another man and gets divorced from him.

The film Bayari registers with a sense of pathos, the pathetic plight of women in a particular Muslim community living in a certain area trapped under unique cultural and religious norms. Director K.B. Suveeran claims that it was after a thorough study and scrutiny of the documents related to the events in the real setting that they ventured out to make this film.

Director K.B. Suveeran’s entry into the big screen followed his successful career on stage. He is of the view that creations on celluloid last longer than on the stage and films are in a way eternal. Bayari is his first feature film and as he is more conversant with the stage techniques and skills he admits that some of those stage elements might have inevitably crept into this film unawares.

I think that he has handled the visual medium in a balanced manner in this limited dud-get 16mm film portraying the characters in a unique style. This is the first film made in the Bayari language that doesn’t have a writing script. Malliha, the Tamil and Malayalam film star has played the role of Nadira commendably. Elated at his debut film getting national award for the best film in his country, Suveeran said the film was about the conditioning of women in the Bayari Muslm community, based on sexuality.

Red Building Where the Sun Sets is an Indian documentary directed by the celebrated Tamil and Malayalam film star Revathy who has etched out for herself a unique image playing vibrant feminist roles. What is unknown even to many of her fans is the fact that Revathy is excellently equipped to direct feature films and documentaries projecting her creative personality.

In Revathy’s documentary, she has depicted the episodes in the life of a husband and wife Aravind and Radhika and their seven year-old-son Arya. They belong to a fairly well-to-do modern day Indian family. The closeness and intimacy that reigned their life deteriorates in a few years after their marriage and they suffer under severe stress. Faults are thicker when love is thinner. Minor problems and petty quarrels that were brushed aside as trivial matters have now exploded and assumed magnificent proportion.

Both of them express their rage; they find an out let for their wrath, hatred and hostility slamming the door as if they slap each other. Arya, their son who yearns for his parent’s love gets confused and frustrated because of their frequent friction. The ceaseless clashes of his parents alienate the child and he finds solace and refuge in his grandpa’s company. The old man lives in other quarters away from their family. The tender child once upset and unnerved by the intense ‘fighting’ of his parents runs to his grandpa’s house instead of going to school.

When the husband and wife find their son missing from school, they become desperate. The husband and wife are tortured and tormented beyond words, until grandpa comforts and consoles the boy and bring him back home. They realize how deeply their child is hurt by their daily brawls and how alienated he has become. Eventually when the boy arrives home with his grandpa they welcome him and pledge not to quarrel thereafter.

The director has brought out the gravity of this minor episode from a creative point of view. She have also captured how matters that are simply ignored as trivial can in an instant turn the whole situation topsy turvy, artistically without any struggle.

The next documentary And We Play On by Pramod Pushwai is his maiden film. He has many years of experience behind him as a TV script writer, director and producer. This film poignantly narrates the tragedy of Vivek Singh the celebrated hockey star and how he reached great heights as a gentleman in the playing field as well as in his real life. He endured poverty and the pangs of cancer silently.

Though his health failed, he led a detached spiritual life without crying for any assistance from anyone or any institution which had benefited through his service, until he breathed his last. ‘Vivek Singh Hockey Academy’ which he had founded hietherto disseminated the hockey traditions throughout India. Vivek Singh is synonymous with hockey and countless hockey players are emerging every year from the institution. What a true documentary should focus on is very clearly illustrated through And We Play On.

Akasa Kusum by Prasanna Vithanage and Vidhu by Asoka Handagama are the Sri Lankan feature films that vied for the awards. I missed the two documentaries from Si Lanka.

Prasanna Vithanage’s Akasa Kusum peers into the dark side of the film star Sandhiya Rani, who once sparkled in the Sri Lankan silver screen. Though she now lives as a recluse in a corner of the city after losing all her wealth and glory, once again Sandhyiya Rani hits the head-lines due to an unexpected event that occurs. Consequently she was to reveal the truth about her past life. Her sad story unfolds in such a backdrop.

Though Vithanage’s screenplay for this film is lacking in strength in comparison to his earlier works he has managed to overcome the shortcomings through his direction that bears his own stamp.

Vithanage’s unit is fortified by the amazingly able cinematographer Mahindapala, his excellently competent music director Seram and the veteran Malini Fonseka whose performance elevates the artistic value of the film. This trio have immensely contributed and extended their fullest co-operation, to bring about a balanced portrayal pushing behind the deficiencies in the screen play.

Though Akasa Kusum cannot be equated with his earlier outstanding creations Purahanda Kaluvara (Death on a Full Moon Day) and Pavuru Valalu (Within Walls) Prasanna Vithanage has established himself as a capable director to be reckoned. There isn’t even a ‘lota of doubt’ that Vithanage is the pioneer powerful director among the third generation Sinhala film makers.

The other feature film Vidhu is the work of Asoka Handagama, the third generation film maker who finds a place of pride in the list next to Vithanage.

Vidhu depicts the desperate plight of a little boy who doesn’t know who has fathered him. Even though Asoka Handagama makes an effort to analyze the social economic and political afflictions in our country, he presents the problem superficially and artificially and thereby the film ends up as a cheap commercial product.

As he has avoided the integral elements of an alternative cinema the film drags on a beaten track. This film doesn’t have the essential characteristic elements of a good cinema at all. The cine lovers who has great expectations about Asoka Handagama have nothing but disappointment in this film, at the same time it will not be inappropriate to recall his outstanding work Flying with One Wing, which won him great admiration and the unanimous acclaim of the film critics.

Personally I am unhappy to note that Vidhu has not brought the best out him.

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