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Handagama’s Jaffna: Hope in the Aftermath

Prior to the first screening of Asoka Handagama’s “Him, Here, After” at TIFF, the audience was told that this wasn’t going to be a typical film. It seemed like a fair enough claim to make as the Tamil film was written and directed by a Sinhalese filmmaker and featured a cast that was almost completely amateur.

Prior to the first screening of Asoka Handagama’s “Him, Here, After” at TIFF, the audience was told that this wasn’t going to be a typical film.

It seemed like a fair enough claim to make as the Tamil film was written and directed by a Sinhalese filmmaker and featured a cast that was almost completely amateur. Intent on delivering an experience and not a story with a neat little resolution, Handagama skillfully used sound to make his audience feel every moment of his film–regardless of how uncomfortable some of those moments were.

With no background score until late in the story, moments like “Him” arriving in his hometown took on a surreal quality.  His former neighbours gawked at “Him” like some sort of bizarre spectacle and he finds himself alienated from those he once knew well. One of the few neighbours who does speak directly to “Him”, does so only to curse at “Him” for coming back alive while his sons were killed. The burden of being a survivor, when so many had died for no more reason than he had survived,  was no small one, and we see this as he struggles to fit back into society.

Though Handagama succeeds in telling a story of hardship, he manages to weave moments of hope within the narrative as well.

We see “Him” reunite with his lover, who he finds widowed after the man she married to escape conscription has passed away. And though his job as a security guard was made possible by another man being fired, we see the formation of an unexpected friendship between the former security guard’s wife and “Him”.

It probably seems strange to describe these characters in such terms, but without names, music, or even dialogue at times to give the audience context, the film forces you to observe the relationships and individuals in the story rather than define them for you.

The result is that the ordinary becomes extraordinary and even strange. The sound of the former security guard’s wife’s laughter, for instance, seems out of place and even mad at times in a setting devoid of happiness.

A film that raised many questions left the audience at the premiere scrambling for answers following the screening. Several members of the audience asked what inspired Handagama and why he made this film. He seemed surprised that someone would even ask and replied “Because I’m a filmmaker.” Handagama went on to say that he wanted to consider how and if rehabilitation and reintegration were possible after the war, and it was through film that he explored these ideas.

Watching “Him, Here, After” at TIFF is a unique experience, as it is drawing crowds of mixed demographics and cultures, all curious about the possibilities of life after the war in Jaffna.

Don’t miss the final screening of the film at TIFF this Saturday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday! For more information and to purchase your tickets, please click here.

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