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'Alimankada' (Road from Elephant Pass):

Arduous road to realisation of humanity

Chandran Rutnam

After ten years of silence, veteran film producer and Director Chandran Rutnam has re-emerged with his latest movie Alimankada (Road From Elephant Pass) depicting a saga of the thirty year war. This film now shown at Regal cinema portrays a story of the nation breathing fresh air after the ending of a bloody war that ravaged the country. It is timely that Rutnam comes out with a refreshing cinematic view of the human relationships coloured by ethnicity and biases. 'Alimankada' was the only official entry to the academy awards

Based on the award winning novel by Nihal de Silva, script writer and the director has meticulously crafted a script which is true to the sentiments articulated by the novelist with grotesque descriptions of the vegetation, flora and fauna and exotic landscapes of the wild in the Wilpattu sanctuary.

Breathtakingly beautiful with rare scenes from abounding natural beauty of Sri Lanka, the film meanders through a path leading to the realisation of human bondage, love, sorrow and unity in adversity that make the very anatomy of any civilized society.

The civil war was at its peak, by the time Nihal de Silva penned the novel that provides a rather fertile background to discuss the inconvenient issues that draw apart two communities who lived in harmony through generations and covers ethnic complexities that indirectly fuelled the ideology of hate and terrorism. One of the important facets of the film is that it is neither a carbon copy of the lengthly novel nor is an eulogy of parties to the conflict. The film is a meaningful narrative of human bondage which cuts across cultural, linguistic and ethnic boundaries that coloured biases over the decades. In the conventional sense, 'Alimankada' is not a war film but it is a brilliant post war film which does amazingly contribute to the much-needed healing process. More over it presents a postmortem on the ideology of the conflict through intricately knitted scenes and meticulously crafted dialogues which are rare amongst Sinhala cinema.

Although the narrative is interspersed with bizarre scenes, which provide spice to the story, the crust of the narrative is to infuse humanity into a war weary nation and to provide a refreshing post war vision for a healing nation. At the hand of the script writer and director, the war which has become a symbol of misery and blight of contention over the years, has been inversed into a metaphor which strangely unites two strange bedfellows, Sri Lankan Army officer (Ashan Dias) and a female informant of the LTTE (Suranga Ranawaka). One of the potent and lethal weapons that the LTTE possessed was its ideology of separation which demonized the Sinhalese as a community against Tamils.

Meeting of soulmates across artificial boundaries

In the course of the journey from Elephant Pass to Colombo, some of the contentious issues of the conflict have been discussed. Suranga Ranawaka, who brilliantly portrayed the role of a LTTE informant, dominated the movie although the lead role of a captain was equally played by Shan Dias. The film 'Alimankada' is marked for its breathtaking cinematography which captured the intrinsic natural beauty of Sri Lankan forest reserves and the use of natural sets which synchronizes well with the very tempo of the story. This is a signature feature of a master filmmaker and director Chandran Rutnam. One of the important factors of the film is its time of release.

Highly militarized landscape

At the time Nihal de Silva penned the novel, LTTE's activities were at its zenith. The terrorist outfit was, more or less, controlling the North and East of the Country and purportedly preparing for a final battle for a separate homeland. By the time the LTTE had overrun major military camps such as Elephant Pass and built up the myth as an invincible force. It was against this backdrop the novel 'Road from Elephant Pass' was written.

The novel among other things has captured the ferocious nature of the semi-desert landscape ravaged by war. Since the LTTE infiltrated into forest reserves such as Wilpattu, the journey from Elephant Pass through the wildlife sanctuary to Colombo was one fraught with danger. Besides the guerillas, the forest reserve was infected with hunters. It was a highly militarised landscape where each and everyone was looked at with suspicion. Earlier films such as Vimukthi Jayasundara's 'Sulanga Enu Pinisa' (The Forsekan Land) and Prassana Vithanage's 'Pura Handa Kaluwara' were not allowed to be shown.

However, time has changed. Sri Lankan forces annihilated the LTTE which was deemed as an invincible military outfit and described by western media as the most dangerous terrorist outfit. Following the victory euphoria swept the country and the militarization of collective psyche is pervasive and manifested in much-eulogised military exhibitions and society is grouped into two; patriots and traitors. Now, the pervasive militarization in terms of military exhibitions contributes not to 'triumphalism' as envisaged but to creation of a social landscape with eerie military presence.

Though the narrative may not be applicable against this backdrop, what is important here is that the people have to move on, out of the war and into a landscape which is capable of healing the wounds and to forge ahead in search of a collective identity and destiny. People could no longer rest on laurels or overarching 'triumphalism' but to face the hard facts of life.

Rutnam's movie 'Alimankada' is important in this respect. What is important at this juncture is not to have reconciliation between ethnicities, nationalities and 'reclaim' the forgotten cultural landscape with resonant multiculturalism.

Apart from its visual excellence and masterly cinematic diction, 'Alimankada', ends with a note of hope. One of the fundamental differences the film from other so-called war films is that the crust of the film is a celebration of life with love, sorrow and agony in separation against the backdrop of a ferocious civil war. Captain falls in love with a female LTTE informant during the course of the journey from Elephant Pass to Colombo through the wildlife sanctuary is not a mere love affair but an inevitable culmination of a process of reconciliation and triumph of humanity over war.

Although the author Nihal de Silva is no more, he would, certainly, be happy of the film based on his novel. "Road from Elephant Pass" is one of the best fictions that came out of Sri Lankan writings in English. Although it is a herculean task to turn such a work into cinema, Chandran Rutnam has done justice to the novel converting it to a cannon defining film in Sri Lankan cinema. The film has clearly established the fact that Rutnam as a master of filmmaker and equally gifted script writer.

 

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