The two dozen-odd people who stayed behind after watching Dheepan at PVR Juhu, Mumbai, at the Mumbai International Film Festival on Saturday were treated to a brief but lively interaction with the film’s lead actor, Antonythasan Jesuthasan. In this Palme d’Or-winning film by Jacques Audiard, Jesuthasan plays Sivadhasan, a former Tamil Tiger who assumes the name Dheepan and forms a pretend family with a young woman and a girl so that the three of them can flee Sri Lanka and gain asylum in France. Apart from a brief glimpse of war-torn Lanka at the start, the film unfolds in a rough, gang-infested neighbourhood in Paris where Dheepan is allotted a home.
Jesuthasan spoke in Tamil, and the answers were relayed to the audience via an interpreter. “I’ve been living in France for 22 years,” he said. “But when I meet the press, I like to speak my own language.” Though Dheepan is a French, a majority of the dialogue is in Tamil. Jesuthasan’s fluency in both languages—added to the fact that he’s a published author—meant that Audiard relied on him to translate the original script into Tamil.
Jesuthasan revealed that his own life story is quite similar to that of the character he plays: he was a soldier for the LTTE and came to France as a refugee. He still lives there as one, he said. The only thing that’s changed is that too many people recognise him after the movie, and he can no longer travel ticket-less on the subway. Perhaps to allay the fears of a worried few who might have thought Jesuthasan took the same extreme measures that Dheepan does in the film, the actor added that the way he handled himself in France was very different from the way his character did.
Inevitably, there was a question about whether the film had any message for humankind. “I know that a film does not have the same impact as a politician making a speech,” Jesuthasan said. “Still, I’m happy that I can share the struggles of my people through this film.” Asked about the rather surprising climax of the film, he said that though it might seem happy on the surface, he felt that there could never be a happy ending for any refugee. He mentioned the current refugee crisis in Europe, and said that in this sense, he felt Dheepan had come along at the right time.
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