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Ira Handa Yata


Review – Nan


To me the most striking feature of the now-showing film Ira handa yata (below the sun and moon) is the sharp editing and visual juxtaposition of contrasting scenes. The cinematographic device was striking and emphasized contrasts dramatically and thus conveyed more definitely the truths scriptwriter, co-producer and director, Bennet Ratnayake, intended highlighting. One scene was the instant transfer of the viewer from deadly scenes of the northern battlefield to a ballroom dance class in Colombo; exploding bombs, dust, fire and mangled bodies against the peaceful clean dancing in progress with the girls and men in pristine white. Another was the start of the film. Young revelers pour out of a doorway, (we assume it is a nightclub), with motorcycling youngsters noisily joining them and thus impeding the path of the vehicle with the young soldier and little child seated beside him. We wonder who these two are and that captures our immediate interest. Later we learn he is on a humanitarian venture, having suffered intensely the war while the revelers, in contrast are raw, shallow youth enjoying the freedom brought on by the ceasefire. The contrast strikes home more sharply because the scene is repeated at the end of the film. Another sharp juxtaposition was the first kiss of the army officer Mahasen and the Tamil girl he rescues. Their lips just meet when the screen explodes with a horrendous bomb blast in the war zone spewing black rising waves of dust and smoke. In the midst of love and life we live in war and death.

And thus the cross cutting of the camera from the battlefield, hard-to-stomach scenes of injury and imprisonment, cruelty of both the LTTE and government soldiers, and the soft crying of the ballroom dancer, the stoicism of the sister of Mahasen against the silent sorrow of his young Tamil wife, Thiruba Devi, worried about her husband and rejected openly by her mother-in-law.

I will not reveal the story but suffice it to say there are two major narratives, intertwined of course, with two protagonists. One is the story of Officer Mahasen (Saumya Liyanage) and the other of the army private Rakhitha (Udara Rathnayake). The latter rescues the Officer and looks out for him. The soldier is captured and incarcerated in an underground cell in a LTTE stronghold. He tells the LTTE leader where Mahasen is, in the hope of saving his life by getting him to the LTTE base and probable hospital treatment. This is done but later Mahasen is shot for refusing to collaborate and thus the self-laid burden of guilt the young soldier suffers from which results in a humanitarian saving of Mahasen’s daughter from a mental condition righted in Colombo.

A stellar cast appears in the film, mostly in bit parts and cameo appearances. Newcomer Udara Rathnayake was adequate but no amount of injury-suffering or starvation reduced his healthy well set self one bit! Saumya Liyanage has appeared before as an army man – in two films, I think - memorably as the chap who is followed home by a Tamil girl deserter. He had to indulge in histrionics in this film ranging from stoicism to romantic soft heart to deep pain and near dying. He did it all adequately. The role of his girl, the young Tamil, orphaned by a Sinhalese armed force person, was played by Dharshani Tasha. She projected the soft suffering wife but went awry in her Tamil accent off and on. The greats were many. Mahendra Perera was unrecognizable in appearance as a prisoner in the LTTE camp but recognized by his voice as he advises the new inmate, the young soldier. Veena Jayakodi is seen for less than ten minutes but filled the screen with her portrayal of a contented Tamil housewife and mother soon to go berserk with fear of death. Kaushalya Fernando (Banu) is excellent as the deputy commander of the LTTE outfit in the camp where the soldier and officer are both incarcerated. Palitha Silva is the ruthless gun-happy GOSL soldier and Damitha Abeyratne is a LTTE guard at the Omanthai checkpoint. I admire Chandanie Seneviratne as an actress. She is fine in this film too as the sister of Mahasen, niggardly in speech but able to convey loads by just a subtle change in stance or a look. Sathischandra Ediriweera and Roger Seneviratne in their cameo appearances were also good.

I wished the roles of the important Tamils - male and female LTTE cadres and civilians - were played by Tamils. Bennet Rathnayake is a versatile and intelligent director, unafraid of censorship. So there must have been a valid reason for not roping in Tamils as actors in his film. I hope it was not that he wanted only seasoned, well known Sinhala screen persons. If Rathnayaka had coopted Tamils to play certain roles in the film their accents would have been genuine. Furthermore, he would have buttressed his theme of racial amity.

Themes are many and conveyed adequately. The uselessness of war and its senseless killing and destruction, especially a civil war, came across forcefully. We who thought we knew this were stunned by the enormity of the suffering depicted in the film and the machine-like killers produced through indoctrination (LTTE leader who was superb and absolutely a Tiger) and army training which makes some trigger happy and blood lusting (the officer who shoots a mother and father just because their son, a Jaffna university student, escapes from the house as the soldier search party approaches.)

Another message was the indomitability of human nature; also bravery, commitment and loyalty – both of the LTTE and government soldiers. Humanitarian concern for fellow beings is a theme made much of by the soldier saving an injured officer while risking his life; also his bringing Thiruba’s little daughter for treatment to Colombo, seeing her through her surgery and taking her back to her mother. Intolerance and racial animosity is depicted by Mahasen’s mother. I think there was a shade of overacting in her performance, and I did not like the sudden, almost too facile resolution of her final statement that the child belonged with her mother after physically trying to pull the girl from the soldier. Her sudden conversion to racial amity seemed trite

The easy possibility for racial parity, communication and cooperation was projected through the marriage of Mahasen to Thiruba. He falls in love with her when he meets her in a refugee camp, her entire family having been killed by the army. There are several smaller incidents to show that all Sri Lankans are basically of one nation, even though of different races. The title itself suggests this – all equal below the sun and moon, whether hot and bothersome or soft and mellow .

The permanence and beauty of true love is shown in the film sans sentimentality and play on viewer emotions. Mahesen declares he will always love Thiruba to her and later, when he presumes he is dying, requests the young soldier to tell her so by tracing her once hostilities are ended. The ballroom dancer loves the young soldier in spite of his being slightly crippled and joins him in looking after the little girl. Love is expressed in English. "I love you" and "I will always love you". They come across easier while if it were said in Sinhala using the word premaya or even aadaraya it would have surely sounded stilted and non-spontaneous. Thus kudos to the sensitivity of the director’s hand in his treatment of the theme of love. Incidentally, the dubbing in English was competently done with just one mistake noticed and the Tamil dialogue was dubbed in Sinhala.

The story, co-authored by Bennet Rathnayake and Sarath Gamalath, had no holes or even dents in it. I had my reservations when the little girl the soldier travels with is Mahasen and Thiruba’s daughter, being subject to epileptic fits. Children, especially suffering ones, induce emotional responses. But the story and more the directing of the film did not allow the audience to wallow in sympathy nor feel their emotions were played on deliberately. Love could turn sentimental and slushy. Not so in this film where love was sincere and self sacrificial too. What more sentimental than a soldier saving an officer’s life and then saving his daughter’s life after listening to the story of their life narrated by the mother. But sentimentality was avoided; realism did not give it any room to manifest itself. One must also remember when critically viewing a Sinhala film that the vast majority who see it are native language speakers not exposed to the greats of western and far eastern cinema. They need a story with many threads to it, not sophisticated film making.

The photography was superb, the war scenes expensive and needing permission, I presume. All done very realistically. Rohana Weerasinghe’s music score was very good, especially the final song that backed the credit titling.

The film has already won two international awards and we feel sure it will win more. We congratulate Bennet Rathnayaka and all men and women involved in this film which can be classed as one of the greats in local cinema.

I could not help but wish, as I emerged from the cinema thoroughly impressed and with sense and sensibility fired, that our political leaders would see the film, more so those at the very top who are the policy makers and decision takers. Seeing the immense suffering that people underwent and could easily do so again if peace is not maintained carefully and fairness meted out not only to minority races but even to the majority. Sri Lanka will continue to be on the razor’s edge if the leaders do not act like statesmen.

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