When stars fade

I suppose it is too late to write about Akasa Kusum now. There’s a plethora of reviews on papers and on the net. But the other day, I watched the film again, on DVD. I immediately realised the difference of watching the film in a small screen. And yet, I was stunned by the visual poetics of the film. And second time, I watched it tallying it with the script, which was a great learning experience. From a description on a script to the actual visual, there a distance of visual choices of a director in terms of easthtics that could go right and wrong, create depth or fail the film. This is what Tissa Abeysekara called “Roopagnanaya”. Viusalisation.

My mother, after watching it is perplexed. ‘It’s such a..a…simple story…’ she says…and underneath that statement I can hear what she implies. She is deeply moved, nonetheless. For people of my mother’s and grand mother’s generation, the film is something that makes them reminisce about the film stars they grew up adoring and rumours they read about them in tabloids. I felt that when they recall a certain incident that happened, connected to a certain film, or a certain song with Gamini and Malini, for instance, it also opens a door to their own pasts.

Perhaps, it is in the realisation that the story of someone whom they loved as a star, could be the same as their own in the long run.

In the long run.

It is a film that makes you contemplate about the ‘long run’ of our lives.

I am yet to see the Hurt Locker. So I will not comment on it. When I heard that Kathreen is the first woman director to win in that category in Oscar, I was saying, how behind time the Oscars are. Come on, Jane Campion was awarded the best director at Cannes for Piano in 1990, I think. Twenty years back!

Indeed, I feel Hollywood a decadent place, along with its outdated oscar panel of judges, but when I watched Akasa Kusum and sat there the other day chatting with Prasanna about women directors, I felt how difficult it is to be a woman in this industry. Even if it is just being an actress. I know a woman director in Sri Lanka, and I wondered at times where her bitterness and defensiveness comes from. Now I know where.

Last week in a film making workshop in Trincomalee, I walked in to a room of 26 boys and no girls.

“Where’s the gender balance?” I asked my colleague and organiser.

“Ah! don’t ask me! ” he moans. “Yesterday there were two girls, but they both want to be actresses, so when they heard that the workshop is going to be on cinematography, they dropped out”

So I am to understand that acting has got nothing to do with making films…the curse of this generation!

Beside all this disappoinment, I realised how difficult it is, to have a woman express herself freely. In a man’s world. It will take us a long time to find our own thoughts, I’d say. So filmmaking is a long shot.

Now my grandmother wants to watch Akasa Kusum, just to see the old photographs of Malini. So probably I will end up watching it for the fifth time. every time I watch the film, I notice the details that has gone in to its seemingly simple frames. Masquerading as simplicity is the complexity of capturing the rituals of daily life and rendering it into poetry. If I were to use words, I would definitely labour much in finding the words, to keep it simple, yet rich in-depth.

As I said, this is no review of  Akasa Kusum, just a string of thoughts it got me into. But despite all the rave reviews it got, and knowing that I am no great critic whose words one would print in the DVD cover, I still feel I need to express my admiration for the politics and the poetics of this film.


Beauty as a Basic Need

Yesterday, the discussion that meandered through censorship, cultural policies, art and society left my mind racing through out the night. My mind was working through the ideas expressed in the forum, sifting through, scrutinizing, recalling statements, evaluating…maybe like my family feels, I am just plain mad. Or I am just one of ‘them’. So who are ‘they’?

I would like to call ‘them’ as people whose basic needs are slightly different, or more than the others. I really have no idea, if the people whom I meet day in day out, people who seem to have everything, and people who don’t seem to have anything, have anything in common with me. Do they really want the things I want. Have they got them? Are they happy?

Do people feel beauty is a basic need? When I say beauty, i don’t mean the way some men are hung up on some fantasy woman with 32-28-32 figure Naomi Campbell types, or women dreaming of some male equivalent,(whatever their measurements are…) I mean do people want beauty as expressed in nature, in art, in the diversity of our smiles? Do we search for it, the way we search for truth, freedom, justice, identity?

Some of my colleagues expressed that in our community, spaces for social communion and sharing have been erased. Our families are emotionally sterile grounds, a simple site where a struggle is for survival alone. I wonder if it is merely the economics of it, why someone wouldn’t really consider watching a movie every now and then, a need? Or going to a play? At least some of these movies, plays, books, poems,paintings and music fulfill in me a sort of a hunger; they ease my pain a bit; make me reflect; give my mad meandering mind a meaning to hold on to. Why do people around me not want these, the way they want food, clothes, jobs, sex or religion? Or is this only normal, and it is again myself, slightly eccentric in my needs, slightly complicated, doomed for a bit of mad meandering?

Great thinkers have already said that basic needs goes beyond the requisites of basic survival. Maxneef says its well being, freedom, identity, love etc. But why is it only Maxneef and the like, a minority, and not the whole lot of us? Is there no common human element in us six billion?

Sunil says it’s a very Sinhalese-Buddhist disease, this negation of complex needs, as you find in Sri Lanka. I can call it Capitalist-Nationalist disease. I mean, Cancer or Aids; whichever, right?

After the forum, on my way home, I chat up the cab driver. He’s a shaken chap. Locked up in his small car, pushing into middle age. He’s no Maxneef. But his mind has started questioning. He says he hasn’t seen a movie or held the hand of a girl in a long time. he says he feels like living dead. Hacked. Tired. Hopeless. Lost. Lonely.

And I meet so many people like that day in day out. Tired, hopeless, lost, lonely people. It’s like we carry a tiny glass capsule around ourselves, and trapped inside we all feel the same.

And I really don’t know…when I get this feeling, which is not even loneliness, I go watch a film or read a book and it temporarily gives me the beauty I lack in myself, in my life. So, I recommend the same pill to the cabby, ‘there’s Akasa Kusum, go watch it…and about a girl, i don’t know really the way around that one, but i wish you luck!’

Ha ha ha! (Just a way of finishing the whole thing, in wanting better words…)

Mother of Sorrows; Mother of Joy!

Christmas makes me sing a few hymns from my convent days. Among them, the hymn I love most is ‘Ma Mavuni’. It’s a Sinhala hymn, calling to Virgin Mary. I have no idea if it has an English version.

Ma mavuni athi premaniya

Me loke mage adhaara

Shoken ma nithi santoshaya

Yangyave mava sundara

(My most beloved Mother; you are my help, my refuge in this world; you save me from sorrow and lead me to joy; you are the Mother of prayer, most beautiful)

As I sing this, I recall the little statuette of the madonna, that all of us sang to as young girls. These expereinces have led to a story found among the pages in this blog as ‘silent night; whispering night’. I never realised the ‘mother cult’ we were so much a part of in the convent, simply becuase it was never really interpreted in a feminist light. I wonder if others who were a part of the same expereince, who sang along with me to Virgin Mary, our mother of sorrosw, our mother of joy, recall these moments the same way as I do…

There’s something about those sad eyes and the blue robe…and how many women from around the world must be praying to her in the same vein…Tarkovsky captured this on a celluloid poem in Nostalgia, in the scene ‘The Madonna of Childbirth”. In an old crumbling church in a remote  Italian village, a statue of  Mary is carried in by women, praying fervently; among them is the one who hosts the ritual, praying for a child…at the fever pitch of their prayer, the robes of the statue is flung open and a flock of tiny sparrows fly out to freedom from the virgin’s womb. 

I’m deeply moved by this scene. Is it becuase I am a woman? Is it because I was in a convent? Is it because I resonate with the yearning of a woman? When women want, they want so badly, so madly, so completely. They pray, they fight, they cry. As if wanting is the be all and end all of exisitence.

Do men want things to the same degree? Do they ever pray? In the same fervour I mean? Does a man ever want to be a father as much as a woman yearns to be a mother? And is it correct to say, that all women want to be mothers?  What about those who don’t want to be mothers; but yearn to be loved as women, as madly and as fervently, as those who pray to become mothers?

I read somewhere that to live, is to want.  

We pray for wanting; for the joy of wanting; for the sorrow of wanting;

So this is for the Mother of mothers…

Madonna of Childbirth from Nostalghia by Andrei Tarkovsky

Together We Will Live Forever

Clint Mansell. It’s the first time I heard of him or his music. I am yet to see the film by Darren Aranofsky: The Fountain, but it seems promising. Somebody described it ‘a poem’.

Together We Will Live Forever is again a simple A major composition (you could make it B flat, too), that reaches deep into the twilight of our emotions. My emotions. At this point in life.

It has happiness and sadness in the same note. Simplicity and complexity in the same chord. Hope to hang on and the urge to let go in the same scale.  

So I sit at the piano and a small enlightenement comes to me: whatever the tune it is, it has to be in these keys…with a little bit of fumbling and not quite the same scale I start to play Clint Mansell. It’s amazing…

Can day-to-day mundane realities have such a dreamlike quality?



Tarkovsky inspired me to look at my candlestand by the mirror once again. I watched his Nostalghia yesterday. many Sri Lankan filmmakers are inspired by Tarkovsky. I admit, he is poetic. I admit, I couldn’t beat his concept of “Sculpting in Time”. But there was a strange foreboding while I watched his film. The scene on the Maddona of childbirth, and the candle of faith were really haunting.

What is it exactly that we like so much in Tarkovsky?