Asoka Handagama is one of Sri Lanka’s best known and most controversial filmmakers. His films divide audiences and the critics – you either love them and celebrate his genius, or you hate them and decry his take on incendiary social and political issues.

We began the interview with Asoka explaining how he approaches the creation of a film – what drives him to do what he does. He also speaks about the freedom filmmakers once had to express themselves in comparison to later years, when films were banned and Asoka himself was subject to a great degree of public vilification. I asked him whether after Aksharaya (Letter of Fire) and its violent reception, he thought of giving up filmmaking. Later on, I also point to what Asoka said about filmmaking going back by decades if Aksharaya was blocked, noting that despite its ban, Sri Lankan filmmaking both during the final years of war and after it, displayed no visible signs of retrogression.

I pointed to a central irony – Asoka’s day job is at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka – and asked him whether being within this institution, and in a sense, within the institutional framework Asoka’s films seek to critique and interrogate, had led to any tension at work.

Addressing and highlighting Sri Lanka’s systemic violence during war, I asked Asoka what as a filmmaker he intends to create in a context with residual systemic violence, but is definitely post-war. In this context, we also talk about Asoka’s latest movie, Vidhu, which at the time of the recording and broadcast of this interview was playing at cinemas. The film in Sinhala and English (e.g. Keeping the audience in darkness) had generated early reviews that were critical of Asoka’s dramatic change in style and emphasis on subjects. I ask him whether this surprise and criticism was warranted.

  • Heshan

    Asoka Handagama is a remarkable filmmaker. While many of his films elicit controversy, they never fail to lose the plot. I would say, he is the Sri Lankan version of Stanley Kubrick. Great interview, and looking forward to many more of Asoka’s films! 🙂

    • longus

      But the problem is Heshan, he makes his films in the “tribal” language called Sinhalese which is spoken by the “savage natives” of a country called Sri Lanka. You may not understand the “vulgar” nuances of this language, and also as you know the Sinhalese language is not as rich as your mother tongue English!

      Secondly, a person like Handagama who doesn’t have an anglicised name can’t be expected to be fluent in English in order to be appreciated by you. Lack of fluency in English invariably results in lack of sophistication and works by such people lacks quality as well and are no match for people like you!

      Therefore I would like to advise you to go on watching Holywood movies-especially the Rambo type which shows how good the Americans are in war- which are definitely of better quality than any of the garbage made in Sri Lanka by any of these village educated idiots!

      • Chaari

        longus, don’t be prejudiced,you sound like a person who makes-up their own version of history to racially insult people.I say this because you called Sinhalese a “tribal” lang(this not only shows that you look-down on those who have a tribal back ground but also the fact that you have no proper knowledge of Sri Lnakan history),when in history the Sinhalese had “Clans” not “tribes”, and also because you mocked Handagama’s English and his obscure origins.Anyhow, Longus, I strongly believe it would enlighten you to know that English was a tribal language who’s origins can be tracked back to tribal Germainia,and also try to perceive the world without prejudice,like a civilised individual.

  • Punitham

    Asoka Societies going downhill need filmmakers like you.
    Best wishes Sanjana Thanks for giving an extra ‘stage’ to such
    artistes.