Machan - a must see film

A totally different Sinhala film with many layers: the obvious unraveling of a story; humour in large measure; realism; subtle meanings; cameo moments; undercurrent emotions and a deeper leveled social comment.

Machan tells the story of how a couple of young men, desperate to migrate to Italy, England, Japan, France, seize the opportunity offered in a scrap of paper in one chap’s hand – to enter a handball series of competitive matches in Bavaria. Through many vicissitudes a motley group of men fly to their competition destination and are warmly received. That’s as far as I narrate the story.

A thread of humour runs right through the film, sometimes producing guffaws from the audience on what is said, what is done by many of the players. Sometimes it may be an indulgent smile that is called for. The handsome gigolo produces these smiles when he emerges from the German woman’s room tired out and has to be sign languaged by a friend to zip up. After the final stint of ‘service’ he just collapses outside her room door. Loud laughter greeted the manner in which perfect acting Mahendra Perera outwits a group of South Asian would-be-boat-migrants springing for his jugular at being cheated of their dollars by promising them safe but illegal passage to Europe. He includes them in the team and then results loud laughter in the audience when the two matches are played with not one member of the team knowing the basic rules of handball!

Pathos and emotional moments are also present. A mother decides to take on a domestic’s job in the Middle East to pay off family debts and gets her daughter to play a game of packing her bag, spied on by a loving, yet helpless husband The two grandmothers of Stanley, (referred to as Istanley), go on with their selection of horses or dogs to bet on, even when the roof of the tenement they live in is removed by the landlord for non-payment of rent. Malini Fonseka as the mother of the bartender who goes to the posh restaurant he works in to host a farewell dinner, all dolled up and uncomfortable, pulls one’s heartstrings as she notes the high prices on the menu card and says: "I am not hungry, my son. I had dinner just before I came, so I cannot eat again."

The man who kept looking at the team practicing, while digging graves, is also roped in. (Reminiscent of an incident in the Oscar nominated Lagaan). He is filled with sorrow as he sees the headstone in a cemetery in Bavaria. He relates how he buried his father, his son, his wife and thus is introduced the useless loss of life through terrorism. A Sinhala guides him away. Racial harmony was a message that came through very clearly in the film.

Sharp bits of acting, scattered throughout the film, were superb. They held one’s attention completely. Remembered for long will be the way one of the gang (played by Gihan de Chickera) shakes a cocktail as bar keeper, corresponding his movements to the impact of the conversation that is going on with regard to the feasibility of migration on a false pretense. Later he introduces the softness of man’s nature and the fact that the grass is not always greener on the other side, since one needs to return to old pastures and they may now be unfamiliar. He refuses to go with the team since he says he was ashamed when he took his family to dinner in the hotel he was bartender of. "How would I feel when I return? I don’t want to feel more ashamed of them."

Mahendra Perera advices the players of the Sri Lanka National Handball Team to go for it and play the game when they are defeated in the first game ignominiously. The enthusiasm of the team is revived, this time in a spirit of nationalism – how let down the country? And they go on to win a goal, celebrated as if they’d won the trophy.

Realism went hand in hand with social comment, with no preaching. The two emerged subtly, yet remarkably. The scenes of the slum Stanley and his family live in; the money problems most of the players endure; the deviousness of the chap who sends illegal immigrants abroad by boat, were completely realistic.

Social comment and messages that emerged were many. One was the constant state of poverty that most Wanathamulla types live in and the seeming impossibility of eradicating their poverty and redeeming their debts. Unemployment was the reason why the prime movers of the project were prepared to take such risks to travel abroad as a non-playing team of a non-existent club.

Cameo appearances of some of the best in Sinhala cinema and theatre enhanced the film tremendously. Iranganie Serasinghe, Malini Fonseka, Saumya Liyanage are just three of them. Mahendra Perera was superb as the sleazy men trafficker. Dharmapriya Dias was excellent as Istanley.

The script by Ruwanthi de Chickera had been very cleverly translated to Sinhala. Particular characteristics of conversation and expression of the Machans was caught on film. The subtitling in English must have been close to her script, with however a use too much of the four letter word.

Uberto Pasoloni, Italian director of the film, brought in many sophisticated techniques to a fast moving film. Combined with producer Prasanna Vithanage, what but a very good production could one expect. There were a few more foreign technical persons and local people who have made a name for themselves in cinema. All of them are to be congratulated on the production of a fine film.

Go see Machan at the Regal Cinema. It will show you that the Sinhala cinema is capable of reaching a high standard of cinematic production with a good script, fine actors and the sure hand of a capable director, ably assisted by a seasoned producer.

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