Monday, August 30, 2010

“Pura Handa Kaluwara” (Death on a Full Moon Day) a film by Prasanna Vithanage

Anuradha Gunarathne 1

Sri Lanka is a country which has the experience with the three decades conflict between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam. The civilians both in the North and the South were suffered due to this protracted conflict. Thousands of civilians died. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, wives and relatives were suffered due to the lives of their sons, husbands, fathers and relations. No one was there to talk to the hearts of the suffered. Some of them were psychologically affected.

In 1997 the famous film producer Mr. Prasanna Vithanage produced a film named “Pura Hada Kaluwara” (Death on the full Moon Day). It explores collective life of the island the ethnic conflict that has engulfed Sri Lanka during conflict. The movie does not portray the conflict directly. Instead, it focuses on the trauma brought about in the lives of a few chosen people by the ethnic conflict.

The film tells the story of Vannihamy, an elderly blind farmer from one of the Sinhala villages in the northern dry zone of Sri Lanka. He has two daughters and a son. The elder daughter, Sumana has married and moved away from home. Sunanda, the younger daughter, lives with Vannihamy in expectation of her marriage. Vannihamy's only son Bandara has joined the army. Bandara, resolved to join the army with the aim of earning enough money to build a small house and take care of his sister's forthcoming wedding.

In the opening sequences it shows land purchased by a long drought, and the villagers, including Vannihamy, undergoing great hardship due to the scarcity of water. Vannihamy, even though he is blind, is an experienced farmer and predicts that rain can be expected within few days.

A few days later, on the Buddhist full moon poya day, the body of his soldier son's is returned by the Army in a sealed coffin. He refuses to recognize the fact that the sealed coffin bearing the body of his son was brought back and buried. The officers of the army had intimated to him the fact that his son was killed in battle. However, he stubbornly believes that his son will return alive. The contrast between the father's unshakable faith in the return of the son from the battlefield and the brutal realities of life fuels the narrative.

Sunanda, the younger daughter, silently accepts her father's decision and finds a job in a garment factory. But her boyfriend Somay, her elder, married sister and the local Government officer pressure Vannihami to sign the papers which will entitle the family to the Government's compensation payment for his son's death in action. They thought that, that is the only way to earn for decent living. The customary alms giving period of three months, after bandara's death is fast approaching and money has to be found to pay for the food. The local Buddhist monk wants to construct a memorial in the name of the valiant son of the soil who gave his life for his country.

Faced with this pressure from villagers and relatives blinded by desperate poverty, day to day hardships and empty glories of being nothing more than canon fodder, Vannihami retains the clarity of vision, which gives him the wisdom that reaches far beyond what the eye can see.

He pick up the mammoty (hoe) to dig up and open his son's sealed coffin by doing this he knows he will invalidate the compensation claim, but his greater purpose is to believe that the war cannot kill his son. This is the most emotionally powerful moment in the film. A young woman who comes to the village tank to fetch water sees Vannihamy and informs the villagers. They rush to the scene and take on the job of unearthing the coffin themselves clearly with the intent of laying to rest the doubts assailing Vannihamy. They retrieve the coffin, break the seal and open it. Vannihamy, who is alert to everything going on, eagerly fingers the contents. All that is in the coffin are some pieces of wood and a large stone nothing that could prove the death of Vannihamy's son. As he leaves the graveyard Vannihamy is neither a defeated man nor spiritually broken. It is clear that he still believes his son is alive.

The old man's refusal to believe in his son's death becomes completely plausible only when it is viewed as the result of an unconscious protective mechanism operating against the unbearable reality of his son's death.

In the final sequences of the film Vannihamy as confident man as he was at the beginning comes to the village tank to fetch water, and listens eagerly to a ripple of laughter coming from the children bathing in the river. A scarcely perceptible smile comes to his lips perhaps he remembers how his son used to play in the river.

In this film face of Vannihamy represents the soul of a nation suffering 30 years of civil strife as the state and Tamil fighters continue their war of attrition. It's an observational realist movie which uses a spare medium concerning the grievances of the poor due to the civil conflict.

1.The author works as a National Coordinator of the National Projection and Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Unit of National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and independent consultant for several human rights events.

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