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Sunday, 12 June 2016

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No kind words to comfort a broken heart:

'Let her cry'

Asoka Handagama's latest film Let her cry revolves around the very controversial but age old topic of affairs, sexual or otherwise between university professors and their young female undergraduate students. A topic usually spoken in whispers, in his film Handagama captures this element by depicting the story only between the Professor, his family and the obsessed student, as his wife points out to him that being seen visiting the female student is beneath his position as a lecturer, and could become a source of gossip in society.

The opening scene of the film draws in the viewer so fully that one is only released from its grasp as the film credits roll to Chithral Somapala singing the soundtrack for the film Aharenna (Awaken).

As a vehicle approaches on a dark, rainy night, the voices of four individuals are heard discussing an incident that had occurred earlier in the day. With only hints on the topic, the viewer is left in the dark when suddenly a female bursts out crying. As one female voice questions the rationality of crying, the male among the four says 'Let her cry'.

Endure

The English title of the movie, coined by this statement, could perhaps strike a chord in the hearts of women. In a society where women are forced to endure much, letting her cry seems like a kindness. The lack of words or gestures of comfort to the broken hearted woman from her husband or anyone else, echoes throughout the film. 'Let her cry,' he says, and so she does, surrounded by her family, or alone in her room, the unconsoled woman cries.

Even though some reviewers complained they were not able to connect with the main characters, it is perhaps due to Handagama's presentation of somewhat complex female emotions through the largely female cast that can leave many men baffled. Upset and disgusted one moment, over the alleged affair between her husband and his student, the next moment she brings the student to live with them in their family home. A confusing thought indeed for many.

Protect

The professor's wife, played by veteran actress Swarna Mallawarachchi, resonates with women one encounters even in modern day Sri Lanka. Forced to listen to and witness her husband's indiscretions through the daily reports given by the professor's alleged lover, Mallawarachchi turns to the only solace available to keep her family intact, which comes in the form of religion. Driven to protect her family life she is calm and composed despite the raging storm within her, losing her temper at very rare instances, and once again calming down instantaneously. In bringing her husband's alleged lover home and treating her kindly, the capability of women to be kind and tolerable which some might label as weakness, cannot be disregarded. Mallawaarachchi portrays brilliantly, the struggle of the professor's wife.

As Mallawarachchi constantly engages in prayers, their daughter constantly watches television, neglected by both parents, lost in two different worlds. Monotony rules the household. The professor confused by his young student's confession of love goes in search of her in spite of himself, only to sneak out without her knowledge later.

Is there a sexual element in their relationship or is it mere fantasy, is the question that viewers are left with, as scenes supposedly existing only in the professor's mind are played? The scenes are neither crass nor distasteful.

Psychotic

However, the student's obsession bordering on almost psychotic levels is clear through her brash actions and words. In a film where the ageing professor and the girl rarely speak about anything interesting, some viewers are confused by her attachment with the old man, as he is neither a brilliant persona nor possessed with intellect.

Born out of wedlock, not knowing her father, and marginalised by the villagers for her looks, perhaps the interest academically shown in her by the professor, triggers this unusual obsession. In her own words, despite having many men her own age interested in her, perhaps it was her inability to connect with them on an intellectual level that attracts her to the ageing professor.

In a world where the majority of the youth are less literally and aesthetically inclined, older men have become closer to younger women craving intellectually compatible partners. But Handagama leaves the viewer to understand this obsession as they may.

At the climax of the film a chaotic scene unravels at the temple. At a time when the four main characters are present in the temple, a scuffle breaks out with another wife attacking her politician husband's alleged lover, forgetting she was within the temple premises. Mallawaarachchi is visibly shaken at the desecration of the holy ground she holds dear.

She is now left to follow the loneliness of her solitude. Handagama in this scene shows that women may choose to treat similar familial struggles in numerous ways, but the main question is, is this what is in store for women after marriage.

Theme

'Let her Cry' as Handagama's other films, challenges one intellectually, leaving many doubts and questions in the viewer's mind. The film appears to have many underlying themes such as, social class, religion in today's context and politics interwoven through it, to which we are presented with various hints and clues.

Despite the low attendance of film goers today, unfortunately to the detriment of good cinema and directors such as Asoka Handagama, the film is a must-watch, as it is one of sheer brilliance in script, acting and cinematography.

The movie can also be watched on cinemasofsrilanka.com.

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