Children of the Sun
Cast: Dinara Punchihewa, Sajitha Anuththara
Director: Prasanna Vithanage
Master moviemaker Prasanna Vithanage's latest foray into the world of visuals, Children of the Sun (Gaadi) -- which just had its world premiere at the ongoing 24th edition of the Busan International Film Festival -- is set in 1814 Sri Lanka, which was then known as Ceylon, which was then magically mesmeric with lush landscape set off against mighty mountains and blue waters of the ocean.
Cinematographer Rajeev Ravi captures these breathtaking sights to transport us into a Sinhala Buddhist nobleman's palatial bungalow, ornamental in every sense, where we see a young Tikiri (Dinara Punchihewa) on a swing, joyfully oblivious of the impending doom that is to befall her and her family.
A disgruntled and distraught nobility had been waging wars with the help of the British to dethrone their emperors, coming from a Tamil lineage – and we at once get wind of the seeds that were sown, seeds that festered into an almost 30- year civil strife in Ceylon/Sri Lanka beginning in 1983 that saw the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) demand and fight for a homeland, independent from the rest of the island nation.
Vithanage weaves into his, well, love story the all-pervading crisis of identity and egoism between the nobility and the royalty. Forced to marry a Rodiya (outcaste) youth, Vijaya (Sajitha Anuththara), as a punishment by the king after a failed coup by noblemen, Tikiri turns into a rebel, refusing to intermingle with her husband's tribe, much to the consternation of his folks.
The Children of the Sun, written and directed by Vithanage with lucid sensitivity and wonderful imagination, tells us through the lives of these two young people how differences in religion and caste lead to an unimaginable and needless crisis of identity – something the world still fights for and over. In the end, love triumphs, but at a horrible price.
While an earlier movie of Vithanage, With You, Without You, explored how a man and woman from two sides of the Sri Lankan spectrum try to bridge years of animosity, bloodshed and brutality between the Sinhalas and the Tamils, Children of the Sun takes this theme several steps forward to convey, in no uncertain terms, the futility of polarisation, often vitiated by a sense of superiority. And in all this, a warped feeling of identity creeps in and plants itself -- messing up lives, relationships, peace and joy.
Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children perished in the Sri Lankan civil war, as they did during the gory days of India's Partition. Vithanage briefly touches upon such a horrific similarity in his latest work – but ensures that the scene passes without undue dramatisation, but with a kind of subtle force to make the point. We see the hopelessness of rancour and rift and violence and war over divisions that people themselves create – and ultimately suffer from the consequences of it all.
Well mounted with excellent production values and helmed with fine sensibility, Vithanage gets masterly performances out of his lead pair, Punchihewa and Anuththara. Not a single false moment, and eminently watchable.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)