Love in the time of Corona | Daily News


Love in the time of Corona

An appreciation from Down Under on cinematic masterpiece by Ashoka Handagama

In the month-long lockdown in Down Under as a means of avoiding Corvid19 (Corona), I had the random privilege of watching the recent cinematic masterpiece written and directed by Asoka Handagama titled Beer Without Alcohol; a mobile-phone lockdown cinema concept as stated in the main title page.

The film is structured crisply focusing on four young, middle class, Sri Lankans who have become homebound lockdown prisoners. The film is made using selected captured frames limited to 20 minutes using Skype generated footage recorded by a mobile phone camera. However, the resource restrictions have not made Handagama a prisoner to his creative impulses to present viewers a nicely crafted cinematic masterpiece which we can continue to watch discussing the meaning of life, loneliness and the search for love.

Excellent dialogues

The film evolves on four characters; a young couple, a depressed youthful man whose wife has left just before the lockdown, and another friend, a female character. These four characters socialise over Skype. The plot is centred around consoling the young man whose wife has left him due to hearing gossip that he had an affair with the partner of the couple.

The short film is based on excellent Sinhala dialogue by Handagama and the appropriate subtitles by Shashini Gamage make it easy for English viewers to watch the movie to understand the complex Sri Lankan nuances interjected into the film depicting some issues faced by the middle-class Sinhalese youth. Beer Without Alcohol begins with a young couple (Samanalee Fonseka and Indrachapa Liyanage) and the single female friend (Nadi Kammalweera) consoling their friend (Rukmal Nirosh) who has now become a lonely lockdown victim as his wife has left him.

The film can be discussed and analysed using several theories without limiting to Lacanian content or analysis of Sophocles’ Antigone as identified in a review written in Sinhala by critic Eric Illayapparchchi. As I have training in sociology, I thought it is worthwhile to analyse Beer Without Alcohol using the concept of Liquid Modernity by Zygmunt Bauman and to do a sociological analysis of the film. But it should be a separate discussion.

Constant change

In Bauman's words, "various forms of modern life may differ in quite a few respects – but what unites them all is precisely their fragility, temporariness, vulnerability and inclination to constant change…" In my view, the themes highlighted by Bauman are represented in Handagama's work as an integral part of the plot.

Handagama's new work reminds me of a nicely crafter One-Act play by Chekhov, and the surprising end of the film with a Joycean epiphany that we read in the stories of The Dubliners. By referring to Anton Chekhov or James Joyce, I did not mean at all that Handagama was influenced by these two authors. Indeed, great cinematic products, like good literary work, remind us universal experience captured and represented by talented artists.

When the entire world is engulfed by untreatable Corona pandemic, what we commonly saw over social media and news was how sole individuals or families coped with singing, dancing or cooking and representing how they used the time and overcome boredom. However, Handagama has used his creativity to produce a well-crafted masterpiece and bestowed it upon a larger audience to watch it free of charge on YouTube.

Undoubtedly, Beer Without Alcohol would inspire and encourage many hundreds or thousands of young and old filmmakers to follow the path established by Handagama and come out with a new genre of cinematography using hand-held mobile phones and frames captured from Skype conversations.

Lyricism and creativity

Finally, we also discover Handagama's ability to write excellent lyrics as an integrated element of the film sung by Samanmalee Fonseka with a beautiful melody supported by Indrachapa Liyanage’s strings on the guitar. I have quoted the selected English words appearing as the sub-titles to indicate the lyricism of Handagama's creativity as a poet/lyricist.

You came like an illusion of the truth

Entangled in my eyes

A love that I did not believe in

You set fire to my mind

At a moment when I had forgotten myself

You entered the sky of my mind

You shone like a comet

You faded leaving darkness behind…

When there is no such thing in it-self

Why did you appear like a truth?

It is only a painting I drew in my mind

I was captivated

That is the wonder…

Undoubtedly this short film by Handgama, compared to his other cinematic masterpieces, need to be considered, recognised and discussed at a level how we watch and review the works of world-renowned filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Luc Godard.I invite all those who may be still subjected to COVID-19 lockdowns or not to watch this marvellous creation on YouTube. It is easy with a few keystrokes by searching the title of the film.

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