Renowned Sri Lankan auteur Prasanna Vithanage’s film, With You Without You, will open theatrically on June 13 in several Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad.
The movie first screened at the 2012 International Film Festival of India at Panaji, and its lead actor, Anjali Patil, who plays a Tamil girl, won the Silver Peacock for acting.
The film travelled to many other festivals after Goa, but Vithanage could not find a distributor for India. PVR has now agreed to step in.
But can Vithanage breathe easy now? One is not sure.
For, Tamil Nadu has been overly sensitive to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue that even kept away state chief minister Jayalalithaa from the recent Prime Ministerial swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi. She did not attend the event because Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was invited. Tamil Nadu's ties with Sri Lankan Tamils are quite strong.
And the 30-year ethnic war in the island nation -- which ended in 2009 -- between the majority Sinhala population and the minority Tamils left a wound that is yet to heal. The Tamils consider themselves as victims.
Cinema has also been affected. We saw this a few weeks ago when Santosh Sivan’s Inam (set in Sri Lanka) could play in theatres only for a few days before it was taken off. And this was by no stretch of imagination a pro-Sinhala work. Yet, Tamil groups did not allow the picture to run.
Vithanage’s feature, inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s short story, The Meek One, is wonderfully narrated through sparse frames and economy of words. As much as it probes masculinity and consumerism – which tend to destroy human relationships – With You Without You is, at the end of it all, a story of one man’s efforts to right a ghastly wrong. Of course in his own little way.
Vithanage’s movie is about a Sinhala pawn-broker and a young Tamil girl who frequents his shop. They marry, but the memory of the war atrocities continues to rattle the wife.
Pawn-broker Sarathsiri (played with gripping intensity by Shyam Fernando) has a dark past, while Selvi (Patil) has had a torturous existence. Her two school-going brothers were killed by the Sri Lankan (essentially Sinhala) Army, and her parents had sacrificed a lot to save her from the rapist soldiers. Brooding and sombre, Sarathsiri takes a while to win Selvi’s affection, and finally when the two are just about able to push their past away, death intervenes. “The girl finds it impossible to reciprocate the man’s love, and in a way that is the tragedy of our nation”, Vithanage adds.
Easy to label the work political, With You, Without You goes far deeper than the mere repercussions of the war. Actually, the movie is a poetic study of humanism, of forgiveness, and, above all, of the overwhelming sense of love with its power to break the mightiest of barriers.