Reading our inner desire through cinema | Sunday Observer
Behind the Mask

Reading our inner desire through cinema

26 September, 2021

Continued from last week...

Asoka Handagama is a prominent film maker in Sri Lankan cinema. His debut effort in cinema was Chanda Kinnarie (Moon Lady) and it is said that he made the third revolution in Sri Lankan cinema with his second film Me Mage Sandayi (This is my Moon). Then he made ‘Flying with One Wing’ (2002) which supposed to be that identity politics is addressed for the first time by the Sri Lankan cinema.

Controversial film

His most controversial film, however, was Akzsaraya (Letter of Fire) and has been banned in Sri Lanka by the Public Performance Board for withdrawing its original permission on technical ground. However, this banned movie in Sri Lanka found its way to the You Tube where it has been watched by more than three million people.

Then he directed his next film Vidu and it was considered by critics to be his setback. Many people thought that this setback was due to the difficulties he had to face making the film Aksharaya (Letter of Fire). One critic who had highly admired his earlier works such as ‘Letter of Fire’ said that Handagama had distorted the Sri Lankan social reality through his film Vidu.

For another such critic, Handagama broke away from classical art and entered popular art through the creation of Vidu. In furthering of this criticism one other gentleman had considered Vidu as an expression of popular art in the guise of art classical nature. However, nobody had considered the fact that Hanadagama’s Vidu is a children’s film.

True. Handagama’s children’s film making is different from previous films made in that genre in Sri Lanka. Earlier we saw children’s film made for adults. Handagama reversed it and made an adult movie for children. It means that ‘Letter of Fire’ has been re-created in the label of Vidu. His socio -political reading portrayed through the ‘Letter of Fire’ has not changed in the slightest.

The ‘Letter of Fire’ reads about the relationship between mother and child. The child in the film does not know about society but about his mother’s body. Consequently, the child is in the midst of many crises and the mother’s intervention in her child’s crisis ends in tragedy. The movie Vidu is also woven around a mother and child.

But Vidu is a child who has left his mother’s body and became socially attached to other substitutes or rather signifiers. Because of this, the society is not a problem for him but the society is getting into trouble because of him.

Isn’t Vidu realistic as certain critics had said? Handagama believes that the cinema screen is like a mirror. Earlier we read a description of the magic mirror in Harry Potter’s school of magic. Now we have a logical back ground to ask what Handagama’s cinematic mirror is. In fact, Handagama’s mirror is the same mirror in front of Harry Potter. In that mirror he sees not his own image but his own desire within himself. Accordingly, Handagama summons the spectator’s desire on to the mirror called cinema screen. Then the screen reflects many of the desires of the child spectator, such as small child speaking English fluently, taking to the social stage and engaging in oration.

But they are not the true form of desire, but its virtual expression. He is looking for his lost mother. Human life is the desire to pursue that lost object. But he is satisfied with substitutes instead of the real object. English language, clothing and vehicles. express the desire for his mother that has been deprived him by the society.

The spectator identifies with those desires that are reflected on the screen because they also are his own desires. Those desires are a reality. This is the reality that Handagama sees, which is not seen by anyone who says that it is irrational for a child of a woman pick pocket to enter the social stage.

What is the politics that could be elicited in reading of film Vidu? The mother of the ‘Letter of Fire’ is a lady judge who upholds the rule of law. She is tempted to do anything to save her child who is involved in a crime.

But Vidu’s mother goes against the law and maintains her child with the money she earns as a pick pocket. The lady judge in the film ‘Letter of Fire’ smashes artifacts in a museum, metaphorically, revolts against her own past. It’s realistic because it shows the spectator’s fantasy on the screen. Some opposed to the ‘Letter of Fire’ because Handhagama reflected their own unconscious state on the screen.

The struggle

Vidu’s mother goes to the politician’s house and demands her son back. The struggle demanding her son ends with she become arrested by the police. The museum watcher of the film the ‘Letter of Fire’ has transformed into the politician of the film Vidu. It is not coincidence that the same actor (Saumya Liyanage) is used to play both the characters.

The politician keeps the child locked up in his house for his own benefit. The watcher in the movie the ‘Letter of Fire’ keeps the child in his house for the money he gets for it. Then both the politician and watcher become one.

There is no difference between the judge mother in the movie the ‘Letter of Fire’ and the pick pocket mother in Vidu. Both are tempted to to do anything for their child who is part of their body. What has happened is that Handagama has chosen a pick pocket instead of a judge.

However, this writing is not an analysis of Handagama’s cinematic practice. After Vidu he created Ini Avan, Ege Esa aga (Let he Cry) and Asandhhimitta. His film Vidu is here discussed to explain how the film screen becomes a mirror to the spectator. Here we realise that the spectator’s desire is projected on the cinema screen and, in fact, we are not watching a movie but reading ourselves.