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'.
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.
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.
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.
'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
The movie can also be watched on cinemasofsrilanka.com.