Santosh Sivan’s Inam (Ceylon) may well rake up old wounds – or place a road block on a healing process. It has, in any case, not been easy to draw the curtain on a 30-year civil strife in the tiny island nation and still breathtakingly pretty Sri Lanka (once called Ceylon) that left 40,000 dead and a trail of blood and gore. The casualty may have included many, many more men, women and children in a war fought between the majority Sinhala population and the minority Tamils demanding a separate homeland. But in warfare, figures are often fudged.
Although, Sivan’s work – which he has himself scripted and photographed with almost divine looking imagery – is pro-Tamil (with just a snatch of a shot that appears to waver towards Sinhala sympathy), the Chennai multiplex where I watched the film was heavily guarded by a posse of policemen. Tamil Nadu is known for its soft corner towards Sri Lankan Tamils, the language being a strong binding force between the two. But Sivan and the theatre need not have worried at all.
Shot in some of the postcard locales of Kerala, Maharashtra and southern Tamil Nadu (including Rameshwaram), Inam is the heart-rending tale of a young girl, Rajini (played by Sugandha Ram, whom we also saw in Tere Bin Laden), who, along with the other inmates of an orphanage in Sri Lanka, escapes to India. But the two people whom she adored – Tsunami Akka (Saritha), who runs the institution, and the teen boy with Down’s syndrome, Nandan (S. Karan) – had to be left behind.
Sivan, who spent nine months with Karan, actually suffering from the syndrome, has done an excellent job of moulding the boy into the role; he is simply delightful to watch, and so are the other performances. Ram infuses pain and poignancy into the character, while Karunas (in a completely different part as Stanley) essays the dilemma of a school teacher, whose pleadings to Tsunami to cross over to India are stubbornly resisted by her with horrible consequences.
Although the plot is wafer thin, Sivan’s script includes an array of anecdotes to keep the movie moving. There are some remarkable sequences with Nandan: look at the way, he plays with a baby tortoise even as guns go rat-a-tat all around him, and his innocent bravado when he hops across a land-mined stretch. And yet when the bombs actually fall, he covers his head with his shirt hoping that this piece of cloth will shield him, and Sivan’s camera captures the aerial bombing on the orphanage with the frightening intensity it deserves.
If there is a flip side to Inam, it lies in its utter melancholy. Despite, Sivan’s efforts to inject a bit of joy through songs and wit (Stanley’s pet cock is reduced to curry and spice), the film refuses to rise above excruciating sorrow.