The issue of the Sri Lankan Tamils has remained a sensitive topic in Tamil Nadu. And it continues to stir the emotions of some of the people in the state, as we saw in the controversies sparked by the release of Amazon Prime Video’s The Family Man season 2.
The protests against the new season of the show started shortly after the makers released the trailer last month. The trailer showed the rebels of the Tamil Eelam movement trying to carry out an attack on Indian soil in conjunction with the Pakistani ISI. And the plot idea did not sit well with some Tamil nationalist political parties in Tamil Nadu. Even before watching the full series, some assumed that the series would hurt the feelings of Tamils around the world. There were even calls for the central government to ban the show.
The second season of The Family Man 2 has been released and surprisingly everyone seems to have little to complain about. In a way, the show has brought attention back to the Sri Lankan Tamil case, which had seemingly disappeared from the radar of global discourse. And Samantha Akkineni’s Raji brought back the painful memories of the alleged war crimes committed during the civil war that ravaged the island for about three decades.
The protests against films about the civil war in Sri Lanka are not new. You can read it here. But at the same time, there are a few highly regarded films that revolved around the human cost of the bloody war and how its impact resonated in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. These movies gave us memorable Sri Lankan Tamil characters that made us smile, think, laugh and cry.
In Thanali, Kamal Haasan plays a Sri Lankan refugee living in Tamil Nadu. He suffers from multiple phobias, caused by the childhood trauma he suffered in his homeland. We see no bombs explode, no frightened faces or bloodshed, but Kamal’s realized performance appeals to our imagination. He makes our eyes look good not only by recounting his trauma, but also by making us laugh too hard with his cute joke. The film was directed by KS Ravi Kumar from the script of Crazy Mohan.
This was the film that gave Suriya his first break and took his acting career to the next level. Written and directed by National Award-winning filmmaker Bala, Nandha tells the story of a child in love. Suriya’s Nandha is sent to juvenile detention center after he accidentally kills his abusive father to protect his stupid mother. And when he comes home, he doesn’t get the welcome he hoped from his mother. His mother sees a monster in him and rejects him. Dejected, Nandha finds a mentor in mob boss Periyavar, played by Rajkiran. Not only is it the story of a son living in exile from his home, but it is also the story of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils who are forced to leave their motherland.
Kannathil Muthamittal is one of the best films in Mani Ratnam’s oeuvre. This film revolves around an adopted child who is born in a Sri Lankan refugee camp in Tamil Nadu. She grows up in a happy home with her little brothers and her affectionate parents, played by Madhavan and Simran. And then her parents decide to tell her the truth, because they feel it is her right to know who she really is. And as expected, all hell breaks loose. Little Amudha, beautifully played by Keerthana, demands that her adoptive parents take her to meet her biological parents. And the family goes straight into the war zone in search of her mother (motherland). Through the eyes of the child we see a country ravaged by war and senseless violence. Simran is a revelation.
Nala Damayanthi is written and produced by Kamal Haasan. Directed by Mouli, the film is set far away from the war and tragedies of Sri Lanka. It revolves around the Lankan Tamil diaspora who have made Australia their home. Madhavan stars as a cook who finds himself in a very difficult situation in a foreign land. However, the Tamil people living in Australia lend him a hand and help him turn his luck.
It seems to be a fairly straightforward film about people who want to leave their homeland in search of a better life. But there’s much more to the conflict this film is all about. Aandavan Kattalai by director M. Manikandan closely examines people’s attitudes towards those who migrate to another place in hopes of improving their lives. Vijay Sethupathi gives an effortless performance as a man faced with hardship and exploitation in his own state. And there is a Sri Lankan character who pretends to be stupid so that he doesn’t get into trouble because of his pronounced Tamil accent. There’s a lot you can read between the lines.