What you have done to you and your ‘ethnic’ other | Sunday Observer

What you have done to you and your ‘ethnic’ other

8 September, 2019

The film ‘Paangshu’ by Visakesa Chandrasekaram, marked a much needed shift in the Sinhala cinema, in the local as well as the International film festival arena by bringing ‘a much discussed’ story – a story about ‘disappearance’ rather the story about ‘post disappearance’.

The wicked, viciousness of the 30 year long civil war and its exaltation is somewhat a cliché overused in the Sinhala cinema. For the past few decades the international film festival arena got to know us, recognized us, mostly by this truism theme.

The insurgency that gripped the country in the period 1988/89 had affected the lives of almost every citizen who lived in the South, either directly or indirectly. In that sense the civilians in the South had been affected directly by the 1988/89 riots more than the

30-year civil war in the North. Although in Sinhala literature we confront many stories based on this dark era of the country, we rarely see this era portrayed in the Sinhala cinema.

The story of ‘Paangshu’ revolves around ‘Babanona’ (acted by Nita Fernando), a washerwoman whose son disappeared during the riots in 1988/89. It is a story about her quest to find justice for her missing son but as the prolonged hearing in the courthouse continues for months, she has to confront the man who took away her son and his pregnant wife and their tragic story in life.

‘Paangshu’ is the second cinematic encounter by Visakesa Chandrasekaram and is indubitably a significant leap forward of his familiarity and expertise of understanding the cinematic language, as compared to his much acclaimed debut effort ‘Fangipani’.

The initial seed of ‘Paangshu’ was planted in Visa’s mind a long time ago; because of a woman he met when he was attending court to observe proceedings as a just passed out Law graduate. The woman, in her late fifties, haggard and looking toiled, clad in worn out clothes and slippers – asked him ‘Mahaththaya, where is the district court library?’

“That woman really changed the perception of my professional life I wanted to have a career. I was thinking to myself, ‘how can a person who couldn’t afford a pair of ‘Bata’ slippers, afford to pay for a lawyer’? How unjust would it be to expect such a person to pay a lump sum of money to obtain justice? That day I decided that this surely was not going to be my bread and butter. And, very much later this woman was on my mind when I developed the character of ‘Babanona’ for ‘Paangshu’ “ said Visakesa.

The subject matter based on the story of ‘Paangshu’ has been talked about in the tele-film written and directed by Satyajith Maitipe sometime ago and recently ‘Dawena Vihangun’ by Sanjeewa Pushpakumara and ‘Ginnen Upan Seethala’ by Anuruddha Jayasignhe also brought the similar subject matter to light. Visa believes the reason behind the paradigm shift of the cinema from the war based stories to different subject matters could be due to the political freedom we acquired as a society in the recent past. Although Visa was planning on a stage play based on the 88/89 riots, even before his debut film ‘Frangipani’, he postponed the idea as he wasn’t sure it was the right time to bring it to light. However, the consequences of the controversial Channel 4 footage on war crimes, remained traumatised in Visa’s mind for quite some time, “I still don’t understand how humans could have gone that far?” Visa said.

“For the past so many years we have been going through numerous brutal atrocities, we have been inflicting such acts on our own people as well as our ethnical ‘other’. None of us have acknowledged our own brutality so far. Therefore, as an artist what I want to highlight in ‘Paangshu’ is, if you don’t wish to acknowledge what you have done to others, acknowledge what you have done to yourself,” Visa added.

Speaking about the mature cinematic language which he has consciously used to bring out his story he emphasised the fact that although he loved to follow the experimental method in cinema, he deliberately used a traditional story telling format where people can relate to the story more easily. Through ‘Paangshu’ Visa intends to start the dialogue with our own people who are directly or indirectly oppressed as well as victimised in this era of terror. “I use my film as a vehicle to move forward with this discussion,” he said.

Frangipani’ Visa’s debut effort was entirely dependent on a debut cast. Contrary to what Visa has done in his debut film, for his second, he has chosen an experienced cast and crew as he explained that his attempt at making ‘Paangshu’ was quite different to his debut effort. However, ‘Paangshu’ was the first effort of Dimuthu Kalinga as the Director of Photography and Chinthaka Jayakody, the much acclaimed young musician’s as well.

“I pay a lot of attention to my actors and I want them to be fully prepared before they start in the set. I started the rehearsal process seven months before the shoot and we did many workshops and script reading sessions. It is kind of a combination of work in preparation of the cast and crew. They whole heartedly committed themselves and wanted to deliver a better product. I sincerely salute their hard work,” Visa said.

No stranger to the Sri Lankan cinema screen, the acclaimed actress Nita Fernando is the main actress in ‘Paangshu’ who portraits the character of ‘Babanona’. She played her character in a highly emphatic manner and could win the Best Actress award in the Foreign Film category at the Nice International Film Festival in France this year. She claimed that the character she played in ‘Paangshu’ was one of the most challenging ones she had ever taken in her five decade long career in acting. Paangshu will hit the screen in the local cinema in the near future.