KOCHI: PABLO Neruda, the renowned poet, is revered for his romantic poems and soul searching verses that touch the heart of many. However, a deeper look into his life would reveal many incidents that paint a different picture of who he was. The Dawning of The Day, the sole Simhala movie at IFFK, explores one such incident.
The film, directed by Asoka Handagama, had its Indian premiere at the film festival. It narrates the days Neruda spent as an ambassador at Ceylon in the 1920s and how he sexually assaulted a woman belonging to a lower caste there.
The Dawning of The Day is a fictional account of the real incident. There was a palpable shift in how the audience viewed the Chilean Nobel laureate over the course of the movie. In the beginning, they were mesmerised by his poetic imageries. But towards the end of the 1-hour-48 minute movie, the darker shades of racism in him and the assault of a nameless woman from the Sakkili community, considered untouchable locally, changed this. The angry cries of the Sakkili woman humiliated by the great man transforms his romantic fimage into a grotesque one.
Asoka expressed disappointment at not being invited to IFFK. But he is happy that the longest work of his career has found a spot in the fest. “The Dawning of The Day was selected earlier to Bengaluru International Film Festival. But they removed the movie citing its explicit scenes were not in line with festival rules. Though I am overwhelmed that it was screened at IFFK, none of the cast and crew was invited to the fest. Nevertheless, even if I had been invited, I wouldn’t have fully enjoyed the screening as the economic crisis in Sri Lanka would have still bothered me. The film is not an effort to tarnish the image of Neruda. It reveals the truth he disclosed before his death,” he said.
The incident that the film is based on occurred in 1929 when Neruda, in his 20s, was nurturing himself as a poet. In his autobiography The Complete Memoirs, he has penned a few lines describing the woman who used to clean the latrine at his house and how he ‘got a strong grip on her wrist’. These lines made Asoka start his research for the film in 2000.
“His mentions clearly states that he raped her, though he did not phrase it exactly like that. It was a stench to his popularity — a fall from being called most acclaimed poet of 20th century by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As it happened decades ago, I was not able to trace the whereabouts of the Sakkili woman. With time, that particular caste had also vanished. After reading his memoir, I came across a protest by women in 2018 against the government’s move to rename the airport in Santiago in Neruda’s name. This prompted me to create the film. Though he was a communist who strongly protested British imperialism, the man was a patriarch,” says Asoka.
Actor Rithika Kodithu Wakku played the Sakkili woman in Asoka’s movie. “To be with a strange man and get sexually exploited by him is humiliating. The role was challenging; It took me days to get myself out of it. The woman rushes towards the ocean after the assault, to purify herself. While acting that scene, I was cleansing myself in seawater,” she says.