In conversation with Antonythasan Jesuthasan, star of Palme D’Or winner film ”˜Dheepan’

dheepan star


Antonythasan Jesuthasan’s personal story ‘Dheepan’ won Palme D’Or Award at Cannes Film Festival

By Manju Mittal

It was the most surprising and a pleasant win. I had spent hours with the director and stars of the most humble, quiet film based on Tamil Tiger refugees titled ”˜Dheepan’. We sat together, talked, laughed, ate and discussed various films and programs at the 68th Cannes International Film Festival which I attended with great fervour and keenness.   Skimming through the program highlights and many movies that I wanted to watch, although time constraints did not allow my greedy hunger to watch and soak everything that Cannes Film Festival had to offer, many an occasions we bumped into each other yet moved away in different directions as I was always in a hurry to reach one venue or the other. Well to have overlooked these very nice people who were always there around me, it was heartening yet most surprising that French director Jacques Audiard’s film ”˜Dheepan’ won the Palme d’Or Award of a tale of a former Tamil Tiger fighter in Sri Lanka’s civil war who seeks asylum in France  in the  guise of a  fake family.

Speaking after the ceremony, Audiard said that it was ”˜important to reflect’ on the current situation, although he wrote the script five years ago, when it wasn’t so critical. He also added ”˜Dheepan’ will help bring awareness about the situation for migrant workers in Europe.

The decision to award ”˜Dheepan’ the Palme d’Or was swift said Ethan Coen, who jointly chaired this year’s jury with his brother Joel, “This was a film about which everyone had a high level of excitement and enthusiasm, Dheepan is real cinema and we feel deeply concerned by what’s happening in the Mediterranean”.

dheepan stars


Proud moment for French director Jacques Audiard  with  actor Antonythasan and actress Kalieaswari Srinivasan after the win

In ”˜Dheepan’ novelist and former child soldier Antonythasan Jesuthasan plays an ex-Tamil Tiger fighter escaping Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war. Antonythasan himself fought for the Tamil Tigers from the age of 16. ”˜Dheepan’ follows former Tamil Tiger fighter Dheepan (Antonythasan ),  a woman Yalini ( Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and 9 year old Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby)  refugees from war-torn Sri Lanka who pose as his wife and daughter in the film.

Antonythasan Jesuthasan lives in France currently and has published two novels, a collection of short stories, three plays and many essays. For the last 22 years he has worked in France as a Cashier in a supermarket, as a construction worker, a room boy and a street sweeper.

I could see both Antonythasan and the director were busy giving interviews after winning the coveted award  for their film ”˜Dheepan’.  I may have overlooked Antonythasan but had luckily made enough connection with him while in France and approached him for a chit chat when back in Sydney.  He gave me his valuable time for this interview:

First of all, Congratulations on being chosen best movie award at the prestigious Cannes International film festival. What a great achievement. How do you feel?

I feel great, I am proud of being Sri Lankan and proud of my country. This movie tells the real story of me. I consider myself fortunate playing title role in the film. It was rewarding when something unexpected happened.

Can you share your experience working with the French director of ”˜Dheepan’ Jacques Audiard?

Working with Jacques has been a great process of discovery, you are exploring all the time. At first, Audiard had no idea about me. When he met me the script had already been written and finished but I helped with more details with names, places and cultural references. It so happened that the character’s experience were similar to what I had gone through when I arrived in France.

Audiard is not very precise about what he wants, first he asks the actors what they think should happen and he tries a lot of variations, then he chooses one version of the scene but he might change his mind again and choose another, overall it was a great experience working with him. He is very friendly and dear to me.

As the winner of an award film ”˜Dheepan’ what contribution do you think the festival makes to the vitality of the world’s film Industry?

The festival is the best place in the world to show a film. It is a place totally dedicated to films and the most effective place to talk about what you see. It is very impressive and unforgettable moment for me and really it made me feel like a true actor and that makes you very humble and respectful.

How would you describe yourself for our readers who may not be aware of your work?

From my childhood I have been intensely involved in theatre, if things had been better in my country I would have become an actor in Sri Lanka. I am a writer. My reading was based upon my politics that was the route I took as I moved towards literature. At one point when there was hesitation in bringing up certain issues in literature, I boldly wrote about them and that made me a writer.

My first novel translated in English as ”˜Gorilla’ was published in 2008. It is the story of an LITE child soldier since I myself lived through this experience and it’s close to my real story. The book also highlights the state of affairs for political refugees in so called developed nations. My second novel ”˜Traitor’ was published in 2010 and my novel was based on the 1983 massacre of political prisoners in Sri Lanka.  My third novel ”˜The MGR Murder Trial’ translated in English was published in 2014. My first film as an actor was ”˜Sengadal’ which released in 2011.

Tell us what you enjoy the most – acting or writing? How would you describe a Refugee?

That depends on which of these capacities are required for, at any given time. But I enjoy writing most. To be a refugee means to live without dignity, one needs to go abroad for this and be one.

When will ”˜Dheepan’ be released?

The film will be released in theatres by the end of August this year.

It was pleasure interviewing Antonythasan  who I had befriended just as a fellow from our own very sub-continent. Little did I realise that his movie ”˜Dheepan’ will win the most prestigious Palme D’Or. Who knows it may go on and win at the Oscars next year. Antonythasan has come a long way from his childhood as he struggled for freedom and faced challenges as a refugee later on, a problem that is becoming huge and quite serious in this current world full of conflict and war.









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