Asandimitta - weirdly beautiful | Sunday Observer

Asandimitta - weirdly beautiful

21 April, 2019
Nilmini Sigera as Asandimitta
Nilmini Sigera as Asandimitta

He is renowned for his ability to captivate viewers with narratives that object cinema’s cookie-cutter standards. In his career, he is already considered one of the most distinctive and original film directors who has a track record and reputation for creating controversy through his creations.

His films are not mega-budget, they don’t fit easily into any particular genre, are not produced to a formula, not big-crowd pleasing money spinners and rarely break box-office records. He is one of the pioneers in Sri Lankan cult cinema. Asoka Handagama is back on board with his latest cinematic venture Asandimitta, currently being shown in theatres on a limited run.

Asandimitta had its World Premiere at the prestigious Busan International Film Festival, followed by many more international film festivals. The unapologetic, morbid performance by Nilmini Sigera as Asandimitta blazed the trail by winning the Yakushi Pearl Award for the ‘Most Brilliant Performer’ at the 14th Osaka Asian Film Festival in Japan. More importantly, Asandimitta was her first appearance on the silver screen.

The strange story of Asandimitta starts with a mysterious phone call received to a well-known filmmaker from one of his old college mates in the middle of the night. Asandimitta, whom he recalls as a large and voluptuous woman, asks him to make a film based on her life.

She then confesses that she was recently involved in a triple homicide of three women and is taken into custody shortly afterwards. Intrigued, the filmmaker attempts to piece together her fragmented story for a film while Asandimitta awaits her fate in a local prison.

As Asandimitta is set to become one of the must-see movies the Sunday Observer spoke to its maker and the author of the novel to enlighten readers of how the film was made.

Q: Asandimitta is your first film which is based on someone else’s narrative. What’s the significance of the novel Asandimitta by Saman Wickramarachchi for you?

AH: Creating an art piece, we are inspired in many ways. We are inspired by our own life experiences and by the society we live in. It’s a challenge to re-create something born in somebody else’s imagination. The success of the production relies on how much you can own such story.

The basic structure of the novel is based on the story which was told by Asandimitta to one of her friends - Mahaliyana, a novelist. However, before she completes her version of the story she is arrested and accused for triple homicides.

The second half of the novel is fictionalised by Mahaliyana according to the hints given by Asandimitta.

I enjoyed reading it. While reading, I visualised the story replacing the novelist with a filmmaker. I felt it would be an interesting cinematic exercise to fictionalise the story from a filmmaker’s view-point. I never had this inspiration before. Therefore, I decided to pick the story as my tenth cinematic venture. In the film you will find a filmmaker instead of a novelist.

When I did the screenplay, I never felt that the story was born in somebody else’s mind. I was so moved with the story line and felt it was a shared-imagination of the original author and I.

Q: What was your involvement in the re-production of Asandimitta into a screenplay?

SW: I wasn’t involved with the process. When Handagama told me that he wants to do a film based on my novel, I granted permission. It is natural for an author to expect each word he’s written to be included in the screenplay. However, it’s vital to understand the difference between these two mediums. I was curious to know how Handagama would grab the essence of the novel into his screenplay. He did it well. I like his cinematic reading of Asandimitta.

Q: The film’s narrative structure is somewhat linear compared with the complexity of the novel. Are you satisfied with the narrative structure of the film?

AH: As I understood the story of Asandimitta, the story itself carries the narrative structure. Therefore, I brought the same narrative structure to cinema and for me it’s not linear at all.

Although the novel used multiple perspectives to tell the story, I used only two because it would be much more complex to tell the story in cinematic language if I used many perspectives.

At the beginning of the story Asandimitta gazes at the camera. Her gesture invites you to go on a journey with her. That journey comes to an unexpected end when she is arrested by the police.

Thereafter, the filmmaker (Shyam Fernando) takes the lead to fictionalise the story. The story which has been told by Asandimitta, is a real one or was it a fantasy? Who is Vickey? Is he real or is he Asandimitta’s imaginary-partner? What really happened to the three women? Were they truly murdered? Or was that also a part of Asandimitta’s imaginary world? All these incidents are fictionalised by the filmmaker’s perspective.

SW: The crisis of the realistic storytelling method is that the reader gets trapped in an emotional journey. In realistic stories, the characters’ emotions are the sources of their action, because motivations are based on emotions.

The realistic storyteller always determines the emotional core of a character as it leads to a clearer understanding of that character’s behaviour. I always try to eliminate this formula in my writings; rather I try to alienate the reader from the characters I build in my stories. I see a similar character in the film too.

Q: The novel describes Vickey as an old man disguised as a young boy. In the film you have used two actors for the roles (W. Jayasiri and Dharmapriya Dias). Why?

AH: In the novel Vickey has dual personalities. In cinematic language, it would have been unrealistic, because no one would ever believe that an old man can look younger by wearing a wig and a set of dentures. The realistic approach could have destroyed Asandimitta’s imaginary world.

According to the novel, Vickey is seated next to Asandimitta in the bus. In her fantasy she takes him home. Vickey is nobody in the real context but Asandimitta’s imaginary partner-in-crime. I decided to use two actors to show the complexity of Asandimitta’s imaginary world and I think it worked.

SW: This is where the film bypasses the novel. Handagama’s decision to have two actors for Vickey’s character is a brilliant idea. The Asandimitta novel as well as the film is a challenge to its readers and viewers.