They move in crowds, thrusting handfuls of bills into sellers’ hands before slipping their purchases stealthily into their bags. With its poor sound quality and shaky videography, this is one DVD that would not normally merit such secrecy — or popularity — on the streets of Yangon.
But these are not normal circumstances, and this is not a normal film. The Lady, Luc Besson’s long-awaited biopic of the Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has no scheduled release in Myanmar and is likely to be banned by the military-backed civilian government.
The buyers are undeterred and eager to know more about 66-year-old “Auntie Suu”, as she is known here, who, after 15 years of house arrest, will contest a Parliamentary seat with her opposition party National League of Democracy in April’s byelections. With reform in the air, it is no surprise that Myanmarese citizens would want to know more about The Lady.
Starring the Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, the film follows Aung San Suu Kyi’s involvement in politics and how her dedication tested her marriage with the British scholar Michael Aris, played by David Thewlis.
In Yangon the pirated DVD has been available for months. It is so poorly copied it is almost unwatchable, yet entire street stalls have been set up to sell the film, which costs about 40 rupees a copy.
Those who have seen it hope it will make a difference internationally. Khin Zaw, a teacher in Rangoon, says the film may “open the eyes” of the rest of the world to Burma. May Khaing, an actor, says: “I’ve met people abroad who didn’t even know where Burma was. Perhaps the movie will change that.”
Aung San Suu Kyi has not yet watched the film, according to Besson. He told Thai newspaper the Nation: “The film is very private and emotional for her.” It depicts scenes of her late father, who was assassinated, and her husband, who died of cancer while she was under house arrest.
Film piracy is common in Burma, where the latest copies of Hollywood blockbusters and Korean soap operas are often found long before their cinematic release. But The Lady is a peculiar case, sold in a special DVD package alongside other banned films including 2008’s Rambo IV, which pitted Sylvester Stallone
against the then military junta; speeches from Aung San Suu Kyi; comic performances from the recently released political prisoner Zarganar; and the 1995 film Beyond Rangoon, a largely forgotten action drama of the 1988 student uprising, which has become a cult classic among democracy activists in the country.