- Movie to premier in local cinemas on 20 January
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Gaadi, or Children of the Sun, is a 2019 movie by Prasanna Vithanage that many have been impatiently anticipating, and it will finally be screened at Scope Cinemas from 20 January. The movie, starring Sajitha Anuththara and Dinara Punchihewa in the main roles, is a historical drama about a noble woman who is stripped from nobility, forcibly married to an outcast by the monarchy, and fights to keep her dignity.
The movie is very much about the disrobing of a woman, and the humiliation, pain, and indignity that comes with it. The cast includes well-known names like Iranganie Serasinghe, Ravindra Randeniya, Damayanthi Fonseka, and Shyam Fernando, but these characters are mostly aids in setting the scene or providing context, as opposed to being key characters. That honour goes to Sajitha Anuththara, who plays Vijaya, and Dinara Punchihewa, who plays Tikiri.
Set during the final days of the Kandyan Kingdom, Sinhalese noble families plot against the Tamil king, hoping to replace him with a Sinhalese king. When the king hears about this, the traitors are punished, and their women given a choice between drowning and marrying an outcast.
Watching the women jump into a river, one can’t help but wonder just how entrenched the caste system was in our society that one would choose death over being stripped of nobility as well as their clothing – the outcasts in question, Rodis, were forced to be bare bodied. However, it is in those moments that one must remind themselves that the movie is set in the early 1800s, a time when caste and social stratification had a much bigger impact on one’s life than it does now.
When Tikiri chooses life, even though it is one as an untouchable, the Rodi men are instructed to swim across the river – the first to get to her, marries her. Vijaya is the fastest, and marries the terrified Tikiri. The Rodi men surround her as the noblemen pelt them with rocks – displaying just how quickly these men with no choice in their lives, who are insulted, ill-treated, and beaten embrace a newcomer who was with the perpetrators not long before.
Tikiri chooses to marry an outcast, but refuses to be bare bodied. The humiliation and indignity that comes with the forced disrobing of a woman is portrayed expertly by Punchihewa, who clings to any piece of clothing that she can.
The comfort with which other women of the Rodi tribe navigate their day-to-day life while being bare-bodied, in comparison to Tikiri’s visible discomfort, draws focus to choice and agency, especially when it comes to clothing, a relevant discussion today. But it also reminds one that what comes across as choice at the face of it could prove to be far from it upon a closer look. The Rodi women, and even the men, have little to no say in their lives, their destinies, and nor did the noblewomen who are punished for crimes committed by their husbands, fathers, or sons.
Vijaya has no choice when he takes on Tikiri as his wife, even when he has to leave his people after Tikiri’s refusal to be bare-bodied puts them all at risk. And so, the couple leaves the clan – Vijaya promising to re-join when he has made Tikiri one of them. While the film references the historical background throughout, reminding us what was happening in terms of ousting the Tamil king and the colonists’ intentions, it is also easy to forget the backdrop, and be engulfed entirely by Vijaya and Tikiri, who must now make their way through the wilderness by themselves.
The movie has its moments of romance – Vijaya burning his food over the fire because he’s so enthralled by Tikiri’s beauty; Vijaya’s facial expressions that fill the silence maintained by the characters for most of the movie. And in general, the lead actors do an excellent job, and are reason enough to watch the movie.
However, it is not in any way a love story. It is not out of love that the noblewomen choose death over marrying an outcast. It is not out of love that Vijaya protects Tikiri, and chooses her over his clan, his family. It is out of a sense of duty, which the movie leaves untouched by love and romance that one may expect and even dread in Gaadi. It could have easily been a love story – Vijaya and Tikiri falling in love as they make their way in the world. But their relationship, their motives, and intentions are so much more than that, and the director can be commended for not tarnishing it with more romantic or corny elements.
Talking about the movie without going into too much detail poses various issues, but spoiling the movie prior to it being screened at the cinema would be an injustice. A special screening was held for members of the media last week, and the only issue one could have with this is that they can’t return to the cinema the next day to catch all the minute details they may have missed while watching it for the first time. It would also help one form a stronger – or rather, more sided – opinion about the movie, as it engages the audience and tells the story beautifully, but one may find that it lacks a certain vital element that is hard to pinpoint.
This could be subjective, however, and does not take away from the movie. It also doesn’t make it a movie that can be skipped, especially at the cinema. And it definitely has several strong points; besides the work done by the lead actors, it was also a relief to see relatively bigger names not overpowering Sajitha Anuththara and Dinali Punchihewa. Their appearances were vital to the telling of the story, but they are not made to be the main reason one should watch Gaadi.
As mentioned above, Gaadi feels like a movie that requires a second or third watch prior to the formulation of a proper or complete opinion, and in that sense, this “review” fails in its purpose. However, even if the writer is somewhat undecided on if they liked the movie or loved it, there is no doubt that Vithanage’s latest deserves a watch at the cinema, especially as it makes it to local screens a few years after its premier at the 24th Busan International Film Festival in October 2019. It’s been a long wait, but it is worth it.
‘Gaadi’ (Children of the Sun)
Plot: Stripped from nobility and forcibly married to an outcast by the monarchy, a noble woman fights to keep her dignity by refusing to succumb to her destiny.
Cast: Sajitha Anuththara Anthony, Dinara Punchihewa, Ravindra Randeniya, Shyam Fernando, Iranganie Serasinghe, Damayanthi Fonseka, and Mohamed Adamaly
Directed and written by Prasanna Vithanage
Produced by Sandya Salgado, Alan McAlex, Ajay Rai, H.D. Premasiri, and Prasanna Vithanage
Cinematography by Rajeev Ravi
Edited by A. Sreekar Prasad
Music by K (Krishna Kumar)