I was privileged to be one of the few press-wallahs invited to the premier of ‘Aanivaer’ the movie which has been packing venues out across the Diaspora centres in the West. The title translates as ‘primary root’ – as in one’s descent or origin.
Aanivaer, in my view, is assured of its place in the history of Tamil movies.
| The film is based on real events.
In keeping with its claim – ‘inspired by true events’ - it is an authentic portrayal of the post 1984 Northern province under Army brutality. Produced by Swiss-based Tamil financiers, the film was shot in Northern Sri Lanka using extras from Jaffna (as opposed to south Indian Tamils with unconvincing voiceovers).
The hero, heroine and some other characters are played by stars from the South Indian movie world (quite understandably – Tamil Nadu popular cinema is, at least for now, decades ahead of Sri Lankan Tamil cinema).
The producer also brought in South Indian Tamil technicians for camerawork & direction. The film has been scripted and directed by Jon Mahendran, son of the celebrated director Mahendran.
The story starts with a South Indian news reporter Sandhya (Madumitha) arriving at the Sri Lanka Army checkpoint at Omanthai/Mankulam. She then crosses into Tamil Eelam territory. Her first interaction is a polite but firm encounter with the Tamil Eelam Police.
Sandhya tells them that she has come in search of a Tamil Doctor named Nanda (played by actor Nanda) whom she met some years ago rendering Medical treatment and social work to the hundreds of Tamil children women and the elderly injured by Army shelling.
But staff at the records office are unable to trace records on Dr Nanda and fear that he may have been killed by enemy action.
The film then goes into a flashback starting from the first day of Sandhya’s arrival some years ago and her meeting Dr Nanda, a dedicated and hardworking medical man for whom the top priority is the alleviation of the sufferings of his fellow Tamils around him.
Having lost his parents in the war he lives with his grand mother. At the outset, Dr Nanda is infuriated when Sandhya introduces herself as a Tamil journalist who has come from India to do a cover story!
Sandhya, although startled by Nanda’s short temper continues to follow him with a camera.
From then on, Aanivaer traces Sandhya and Nanda witnessing a sequence of well known atrocities committed by Sinhala troops.
But this is no mere documentary. By placing Sandhya and Nanda in proximity to the incidents, director Jon brings historical fact to horrifying life.
We are shocked at the sudden air raids early one day that disrupt the calm of Sandhya and Nanda’s morning coffee.
We are reduced to tears when Sandhya goes into a hysteria at the sight of the bodies of Tamil civilians minced by Army Tanks and scattered all over the road.
We are outraged when schoolgirl Shivashanthi riding in her bicycle is waylaid by boorish Sri Lankan Army soldiers in uniform, who bully her first but later subject her to thuggish assaults and finally rape and bury her in the muddy soil.
We share the feelings of Dr Nanda, who was very attached to Shivashanthi, when he refuses to see her body when as it is brought out of the soil.
The parallels to the rape and murder and subsequent exhumation of Jaffna schoolgirl Krishanthi Kumaraswamy are obvious.
Tamils have read and heard about all these incidents in the media. But our reaction is quite different when we see it re-enacted on the big screen with the realism induced by modern technology and crystal clear sound.
Many in the audience wept openly as the movie unfolded.
The producers have taken extreme care in avoiding words such as Thamil Eelam and Viduthalai Puligal (Liberation Tigers) for fear of accusations that this was just propaganda for the LTTE. It is the undeniable violence unleashed against the Tamil people by their erstwhile state that the movie seeks to capture.
There is one fleeting departure from this abstention, when Dr Nanda, referring to the atrocities, asks: “why should we Tamils stomach all this? We are not Poonai (cat) we are Puli (tigers).”
| The intensity of the fighting is brought home.
Perhaps inevitably, enthusiastic applause erupted from the audience at this solitary mention.
In its stirring of public reflection on Tamils’ political situation, Aanivaer, reminded me of a mini TV series also titled ‘Roots’ which I saw in the late seventies on British TV. In that production, the writer Alex Haley vividly describes the problems his Black ancestors faced at the hands of White rulers. That TV series shocked many and created deep controversies at the time.
By and large, films produced by Sri Lankan Tamils have a less than illustrious history, irrespective of whether they are produced in Colombo, Chennai, or in the Diaspora centres in the West.
Firstly these movies had a pronounced accent barrier in view of the fact that Jaffna spoken (colloquial) Tamil has been misused by Radio Ceylon dramas such as Vithaniyar Veetil, Sirappar Kudumbam and London Kandiah and promoted the notion that Jaffna Tamil is the language of comedy. South Indian movies like Thennali starring Kamala Hassan speaking our Jaffna Tamil made capital out of this mistaken belief.
Secondly, there is a distinct lack of professionalism.
Many of these producers are more concerned with ‘starring’ in their own movie with their favourite lady as heroine (who would not only be inexperienced but also would, shall we say, not be photogenic).
The ‘producer’ would also distribute and assign key responsibilities such as camera, sound etc, to his amateurish friends and relatives. Or perhaps it is a matter of being stingy.
These sub standard movies have severely undermined the reputation of Sri lankan Tamil movies which had become the butt of many a joke.
By contrast, Aanivaer, sets new standards by a demonstrable professionalism never seen before even in Maniratnam’s ‘masala’ movies which, like all South Indian movies, amassed huge revenues from expatriate Tamils, without acknowledging the historical circumstances of our community.
As the producer of Aanivaer, (an aptly named) S Prabhakaran, pointed out, “south India’s movie industry has shownmore interest in the wallets of our people than in our political problems.”
Wimal Sockanathan is a well known broadcaster & journalist.