Old Wounds that Bleed
By Priyangwada Perera
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right,” wrote George Orwell, in his novel 1984.
Even though we speak so much of the importance of our ancient history, we pay less or no attention to our recent past. That is also the continuous political tragedy the country encounters. Instead of dealing with the truth, instead of opening doors to debate and discussion, we lock them out. We shut them down. Or even worse we bring them out only when it pleases us. Only certain portions of chapters are brought out. We are unconsciously controlled by power politics. It is in such a context, the internationally awarded movie Paangshu, is released. Visakesa Chandrasekaram and his team have already claimed accolades at many award ceremonies abroad. The late 1980s were tattered by the terror infused by both Paramilitary groups and the State. It is not an easy task to bring this out in an aesthetic form.
In 2019, Xavier Kanishka won the Golden Door Award at the International Film Festival, USA for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Nita Fernando won the Best Actress in a Foreign Film at the Nice International Film Festival. Visakesa won the Jury Award at the Religions Today International Film Festival and the Royal Reel Award at the Canadian International Film Awards. Paangshu was also nominated for eight other categories at the Golden Door International Film Festival. They have been the nomination, representing Sri Lanka at numerous other international film festivals.
Paangshu deals with the festered wound in recent Lankan history. To someone not directly connected to these painful incidents, the wound may appear to have been healed. But it is quite another story to someone who went through the trauma and was a victim of injustice. Nevertheless, it is praiseworthy that Visakesa wanted to wait till the General Election was over for the movie to be released, lest the plot be used as an unnecessary promotion or condemnation of certain political parties. The director’s intentional marking of time to have his creation come out only after the elections tells us his intention. Visakesa is finally free to get the spectator to see the movie for what it is.
Apart from the older generation, how many of us know of this time in Sri Lanka? In spite of the agony, I am glad to have been alive to know what happened. Being extremely young children, small and safe enough to not be affected a lot, yet old enough to understand the horror of what was happening around us, we were spectators of this political drama. Too young to understand the deep rooted problem, all I remember is horror. It gives goosebumps to have that same fear recreated in the movie. The truth is that the young me had nothing similar to the lives of either Baba Nona, or Sudu Putha. At the same time it is easily relatable to any human being. Any mother, any child, any parent or any person living today. If you uproot the movie from the time frame and plant it where you and I are, nothing seems to have changed. It might as well have happened today, just now.
Out of many things that were impressive about the movie was its not directly pointing fingers at anyone. However, that does not mean the movie was vague or neutral. Visakesa had dealt with the daunting task of telling the truth without taking sides. It is for the spectator to decide. The most spectacular thing about Paangshu would be its self discipline. Having written the story, the script and directed it himself, Visakesa, instead of provoking, instead of infusing rage, takes us down a calm road. It is no wonder that Nita, in the role of Baba Nona, won international acclaim. Together with Visakesa, she blends in to create that serene pain, consistent grief fought with patience and never failing hope. The intense human emotions Paangshu deals with provides us with opportunities of focussing on separate case studies. Even though it seems like it stands up predominantly for the pain of Baba Nona, the lady herself is just one representative of hundreds of her clan. Baba Nona is just one victim. Sudu Putha is gone. If Baba Nona’s anger is directed towards someone, he too is a mere pawn in someone else’s game. The fury directed towards the ‘villain’ is nothing but misguided. The real villain is never punished, never recognised.
Just as much as the film looks at that primary tragedy, the focus is on the ongoing multiple tragedy of the masses it has transformed into. Isolating the incident of Baba Nona, Visakesa manages to do an intense exploration. Baba Nona is synonymous with iron will. She has waited for so long. She has fought relentlessly. There are small sub plots complicating the story. We have brilliant performances in Nadie Kammellaweera, Jagath Manuwarna, Randika Gunathilake, Xavier, Gayan Lakruwan and Malcolm Machado.
Every character contributes in completing the circle. Yet the end is the most unexpected. Leaving everything else aside, one cannot miss the feministic undertone. The magnanimity of this pained dhoby woman is the kind Maya Angelou glorifies. Baba Nona knows what cannot be undone. The only power in her hand in the name of her Sudu Putha is what she uses. The movie is a conversation between two women. Many women. Each death had heightened the tragedy of one or many women. Baba Nona is at a deciding point.
All I could think of was the Christian legend of Longinus, the blind Roman centurion who thrust his spear into Christ’s side at the crucifixion. He had to make sure that Jesus was dead. Some of Jesus’ blood falls upon his eyes and he is cured. Tears rolling down my cheeks, I accepted the miracle. One that Baba Nona was. A miracle she was denied, in spite of many prayers. But peace Baba Nona bestowed on herself, her dead son, a culprit, a culprit’s wife, a baby yet to be born. A breathing, living human being in this country should not miss watching Paangshu.