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 Post subject: Ira Mediyama - A hauntingly beautiful masterpiece
 Post Posted: Wed Nov 16, 2005 4:10 am 
Ira Mediyama -A hauntingly beautiful masterpiece

by Jayantha Anandappa in Australia

Ira Mediyama is a hauntingly beautiful heart-rending movie. In this classic Prasanna Vithanage presents a sublime portrait of the effects of war on contemporary lives and the recent social changes and decadence that have occurred in the country in a manner never before attempted in the Sinhala cinema.


I am yet to see another Sinhala film that depicts the effects of war with such clarity, objectivity, subtlety, neutrality and maturity without visually or vocally being explicit. The film has an unerring sense of realism. Nothing has been romanticized or sentimentalized. Nothing seems invented.

Ira Mediyama can be aptly described as the much more accomplished, complex and the superior sequel to Pura Handa Kaluwara, easily the best of Vithanage’s earlier works. If the message in Pura Handa Kaluwara is the futility and the deception of war, in Ira Mediyama the artist takes us in an unforgettable journey to the northwest and other parts of the island to show what is at stake for the average people affected by war. The artist has accomplished his mission with an unfailing Tolstoyan sense of sympathy.

Ira Mediyama is not the conventional drama driven by a central story and a plot. It is made up of three separate stories that unfold concurrently in August 1996 in different parts of Sri Lanka. These narratives are essentially inconclusive, unrelated and sketchy. But they depict the trials and tribulations of the people of Sri Lanka caught up by a meaningless tragic war with remarkable power and accuracy.

The film also strongly focuses on the lax attitude of the people with regard to the war and their lack of understanding of the war, its cause, futility or its cruelty, unless they are affected or their comforts are challenged. The three stories have been developed and interwoven with such mastery the end product looks seamless and remarkably coherent. To me this is almost a miracle of art.

In one story the artist looks at the fate of a group of minority Tamils living in Mannar who are evicted by the LTTE allegedly for being (potential) informers to the Sri Lankan Army. They are forced to hastily leave their modest homes taking whatever meagre belongings they could muster.

The group make the hazardous journey through sea to reach the safety in Kalpitiya and to resume their life in makeshift pol-athu huts on the beach. The protagonists of this sub-story are a vendor by the name of Hassan, his wife and a young son Arafath who has a pet dog.

The second tale relates to a young soldier by the name of Dumidu. Considered a hero, the soldier looked confused and contemplative. (Is he not the same soldier of Pura Handa Kaluwara whom we never saw?) Dumidu apparently is on leave and visits a brothel in the holy city of Anuradhapura with two of his colleagues for meals, drinks and female company.

In this brothel Dumidu unexpectedly confronts his sister who having lost her job is working as a prostitute in the busy rooms. Enraged, the soldier violently attacks his sister physically creating pandemonium in the brothel.

The third tale is the story of Chamari, an urbanite independent attractive young woman and her pursuit to find her partner (Niroshan) whom she believes is held in captivity by the LTTE- after the LTTE had allegedly shot down an Air Force plane that was piloted by Niroshan. Chamari had defied convention and is living together with Niroshan in a flat, pending legitimizing their marriage- when she loses Niroshan whose vanishing has made her predicament more serious due to her marital status.

Chamari is understandably very desperate and is prepared to venture out on any journey to find Niroshan. She makes contact with a UK based- a youngish, an articulate TV journalist by the name of Saman Gunawardena who claims to have contacts with the inner LTTE.

After some coaxing, Saman agrees to chaperon Chamari in a van to the territory controlled by the LTTE and help Chamari get her partner back. Their journey ends at Kalpitiya under the scorching sun with nothing but the sands and dunes and the Tamil refugees to welcome them. Chamari’s search ends in tears and disappointment. Niroshan remains illusive.

All events relating to the three stories take place within a space of one or two days. This was at a time, the Sri Lankan cricketers, with the euphoria of winning the 1996 World Cup, were belting the leather out of Australia in one day cricket in Colombo. Cricket has brought the whole island to a standstill. Everyone is glued to the TV or the radio.

The judicious use of cricket commentaries as the backdrop for the three tragic tales is a master move by the filmmaker. It brilliantly summarises the general attitude and the mood of the people who are not affected by the war.

Superb editing
Vithanage and Priyanth Liyanage were responsible for the story and the script and their combined effort had produced a brilliant outcome evident in every frame of the film. Sreekar Prasad had done a remarkable job as the editor when mixing the seemingly unrelated three stories.

Surely the tight and carefully constructed script must have made his task easier. Cinematography was another superior aspect of the film that had enhanced its artistry to sublime levels.

The choice of Lakshman Joseph de Saram, known more as a conductor than a composer to provide the musical score is an interesting one. The score was refreshing and perhaps slightly reminiscent of the Hollywood classics of the thirties that relied somewhat on playing already existing pieces from classical and romantic ages.

I am not sure to what extent de Saram leaned on the previous (Western) works, but I thought I heard Debussy at the beginning at the hotel foyer scene. I was so engrossed in the film- its musical score was hardly discernible though its effects were obvious.

As I now know the fate of Chamari, Niroshan, Dumidu, his sister, Hassan and Arafath, I could perhaps leisurely listen to what de Saram had to offer if I am lucky enough to see the film a second time.

Vithanage has shown unbelievable resourcefulness in eliciting the best from a new or an amateur cast.

Namal Jayasinghe played the role of the troubled pensive young soldier, the introvert who hardly speaks, with brilliant ease and vitality. Nadee Kammalaweera comes out with an equally impressive performance as the soldier’s sister who never utters a single word in the entire film.

A.A. Mansoor as the Muslim cloth vendor and Mohamed Rahfuillah (a refugee boy hand picked from a refugee camp from Kalpitiya) as the young Arafath were impeccable. Their acting can never be any better. So too was the lady who acted as the mother.

Peter D. Almeida was very convincing as Saman the journalist. In a film where even the extras looked impressive and natural, the jewel in the crown for performance must go to Nimmi Harasgama as Chamari. Nimmi, though making her debut in a Sinhala film, has studied drama, dance and theatre arts in England and has acted in films such as Mother Theresa. As the troubled, the determined and the delicate Chamari her performance is unforgettable.

High points
The film has many high points, too many to enumerate here. I might briefly touch on a few.

The beginning of the film where Saman presents his critical and honest view about how the media reports the war- is a brilliant move. Herein the artist not only announces his views on the war but also establishes his intention and seriousness very early with no ambiguity or partiality. Vithanage is on front foot here.

To most Sinhalese the war is just a number game. This analogy is not symbolic. It is a fact. The introduction also establishes Saman’s credentials. Selection of the Muslims as the Tamils who get sandwiched between the LTTE and the Army, in addition to being an historical fact- is another brilliant ploy.

All scenes relating to the exodus of the Tamils have been very well handled. The reconciliation between the soldier and his sister is another superbly handled poignant scene in which a myriad of issues are summarised in a single frame without any dialogue.

That fleeting moment of intimacy between Chamari and Saman under that blazing August mid day sun when she realises that her mission in search of Niroshan had failed- is one of most beautiful and subtle scenes in all films I have seen.

It has a Shakesperean aura about it. The artist here is at his very best. Chamari is experiencing complex emotions ranging from disappointment, despair, helplessness, and annoyance to gratitude and trust.

She is still hopeful, but where does she go from now? She might need Saman again to trace Niroshan. On whom must the poor lonely thing lean on for a moment of comfort? Saman’s emotions are less complex. Is it Platonic love? Or having spent time with her- is he probably attracted to her innocently? The answer to this I think is found only in the final frame.

We are then quickly taken to the city for the next scene. Chamari drops Saman who is about to depart to the West for a reunion with his own wife and children. Whilst they are parting, in the background arrives a wedding car presumably bringing a newly married couple.

What did this car signify? Was it to symbolise that Chamari will never find Niroshan for her marriage? As the film runs without an intermission, the end appeared abrupt to some. In Sydney, the spellbound audience was still gazing at the screen when the lights came on gradually.

The two gentlemen next to me looked perplexed and were quick to inquire from me whether the film is over. Clearly no one had wished the film to end. Not in that manner. It was so intense and absorbing. Overwhelmed by emotion I looked at my watch and gathered that more than one and half hours had passed.

I slowly rose from my seat and strolled towards the exit thinking about the end. Why did Vithanage end the film in that particular frame by placing the protagonists (except Saman) in the same vehicle? Continuing their troubled journey together they looked their normal selves, but also total strangers to each other.

The message in that final frame, at least the way I understood, was so powerful it almost brought an involuntary tear to my eye. Probably it is the hopelessness of a journey of the whole country where the war has become the way of life that is figuratively shown in that frame.

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