I remember walking out of Bandaranaike Airport in Sri Lanka in 2005 for the first time. It was like dragging me from 2005 to 1945. Looking around everywhere I found yellow striped ribbons warning me about landmine. The sight of masked Srilankan army men waving their guns to stop our car sent chill up our spine. Check posts were not what we got to see in movies so far.
At times our suitcases were opened and checked right in the middle of the road. Our driver used to fill my suitcases with liquor bottles, adult movie dvds betel leaves which were taken off by the army men. Our passports were photocopied in every check post we came across.
My driver named Kuruppan who was smuggling(?) me to Kilinochi where I was supposed to shoot my movie Aanivaer, warned me not to speak in Tamil. He suggested me to speak in Hindi or any other language other than Tamil. I am travelling in a place where me disclosing as an Tamilian or speaking Tamil was dangerous.
People were seen in large group travelling (fleeing) out of Jaffna by all means of transport. At times our vehicle was diverted to a different route during when I see a bunch of dead bodies lying on the ground soaked in blood while a six year old kept running around crying banging her hands on her chest. Yes many a times I felt I was inside the movie Killing Fields or Hotel Rwanda.
Entering Kilinochi was altogether a different experience after passing through No Man’s Land where I noticed a German seated with a tank near him, mind it I am talking about Army tank not water tank.
I saw huge banners of future designs of that particular area,in every road I travelled, Dreams ,Hopes everywhere…
I noticed every place or shop had names in proper Tamil. Unlike in Chennai where Boat club road is written Boat club road in Tamil too. Be it any international brand of O’Neill or Fonti footwear, it was all called Bata.
Furthermore I found funny was to see vegetable roll was called Kannivedi in the bakery’s there. Kannivedi in Tamil means Landmine. So that’s a place where you get to eat landmines and still stay alive.
A huge group was watching India vs Pakistan match when we entered the restaurant named Pandian Vaneebam. Whenever an Indian cricketer scored a run or a Pakistani batsman was out, the whole crowd went frenzy in joy. I realized that they felt like Indians not as Sri Lankan Tamilians as we address them.
As a Director my work was easy, honestly very easy. All I got to do is sadistically recreate an ambience of a massacre or an air raid and just remind them about the tragedy, the entire crowd goes hysterical and stopping them is a mammoth task. All the pain engraved so deeply in their memories. But one lady who came to act in a particular sequence took me for a surprise.
It was a sequence where a lady comes frantically running to a make shift hospital camp to save her grandson who was just hit by air raid bomb. This makeshift hospital camp in real are the places where many surgeries were done by making the wounded person lie on the back of a hospital staff because of absence of a surgery table.
Anyways back to my shoot. After explaining in detail how her grandson is gonna die during the surgery and how she is got to go berserk and cry I called for my take.
To everyone’s shock there the lady who was acting didn’t really cry but instead just faked. After about thirteen to fifteen takes and as the early morning light was opening up I lost my temper and screamed at her.
“This is the kind of hell you are living in…This is what you people see daily here…This is how people get killed daily here…this is how you lost many closed ones…Haven’t you seen this before? Why can’t you feel that and cry for real?”
The lady so dead said “I have lost my husband and two sons because of this war John thambi…I have cried enough… I don’t have tears left in me John thambi… I can’t cry anymore”
The silence that followed was deafening…
I still hear the cheer and claps of the people who were watching cricket.
Film Director, Writer, Author, Currently teaching Film Making in BOFTA