The Post Conflict Scene in Sri Lanka

The post ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has many sordid stories to tell. Some about the woes of war and others of its aftermath, one such story is depicted in the movie “With You, Without You” (Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka) that screened at the 43rd international film festival, November 20-30 2012 at Goa, India. 
 
The film is set in the months after war and deftly explores the emotional fall-out of such trauma on the lives of ordinary people. The movie depicts the life in a society which still has unhealed wounds of the war that lasted over three decades, killing over tens of thousands of people. 
 
The movie tells the tale of the confrontation between a man from the majority Sinhalese point of view and a woman from the Tamil minority community. Their struggle with their own past is beautifully depicted in the movie and could a metaphor for the struggles of the tear drop island itself. 
 
Selvi (Anjali Patil) is a beautiful but quiet Tamil refugee girl who catches the eye of a middle-aged Sinhala pawnbroker (Shyam Fernando) when she comes to his shop to cash in her last jewel. The Buddhist pawnbroker captivated by the Tamil beauty follows to her temporary home. He discovers that his love interest is about to get married to a old man for wants of money. 
 
The pawnbroker throws all caution to the winds and proposes to marry the Tamil girl. Selvi too breaks all barriers that divide the Tamil and Sinhala societies and moves into the house of her savior. They slowly but surely fall in love with each other but neither of them ever talks about his or her past. This was until an old army friend of the pawnbroker turns up, and a terrible secret emerges.
 
In order to unburden himself the pawnbroker tells Selvi, that he is an ex Army man who was involved in the operation at Killinochi, where a Tamil girl was raped by the soldiers accompanying him and the girl died subsequently. He further narrates that he was unable to withstand the brutality and quit the Army and took up the business of running a pawn shop. 
 
The confession unstitches the wounds of the ethnic conflict and Selvi becomes hysterical. No amount of persuasion, cajoling and coxing by his lover has any sobering effect on the Selvi. The pawnbroker even sells his shop and buys tickets to travel to India for sight seeing but Selvi is totally withdrawn. 
 
It’s a very romantic evening; Selvi watches from the window the dark clouds hovering over the hills, playing hide and seek. The pawnbroker, riding a motor cycle returning home with air tickets and goodies for Selvi is trying to race with the clouds, avoiding being caught in the rain. The background score signaling for an emotional union, but the climax has a gory side. 
 
Selvi, appearing to have a better view of the clouds, climbs up to the window and then jumps out to her death. The pawnbroker, who was able to beat the rain, returns to find that he was late to unite with his lady love.     
 
The expression of the woes and miseries of the poor Tamil girl is powerfully portrayed by Indian actor Anjali Patil who bagged the best actress award at the Goa international film fest. The film marks talented theatre actor Shyam Fernando’s debut role in cinema. Others in the cast include Wasantha Moragoda and Maheshwari Ratnam.
 
The film is directed by Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage which is his seventh directorial venture and is considered as Prasanna’s best work so far.
 
“When I was reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella “The Meek One” over and over again, two things plunged into my mind. One was its probe into masculinity and the second was questioning how consumerist values deprived people of human connection. When adapting this novella to a film, I based it upon the biggest issue facing our country, which is the ethnic conflict,” said Prasanna while talking about his film at the Goa film fest media conference.  
 
“With You, Without You,” has a striking resemblance to “The English Patient,” a 1996 romantic drama film based on the novel of the same name by Sri Lankan-Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje. Set before and during World War II, it’s a story of love, fate, misunderstanding and healing. Written for the screen and directed by Anthony Minghella, “The English Patient” won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. 
There is a problem in categorizing “With You, Without You.” The movie is relating to the theme of love, it is also related to the post war conflict; it is also an exhibition of third world cinema. What could be its proper genre is something baffling.  Notwithstanding the facts, this co-production by India and Sri Lanka can be described as Sri Lanka’s independent cinema at its best.
 
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He attended the 43rd international film festival, November 20-30 2012 at Goa. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com