Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek) (2002)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Mani Ratnam. 

Starring:    Madhavan (G. Thiruchelvan), Simran (Indra), Prakash Raj (Dr. Herold Vikramsinghe), Nandita Das (Shyama), J.D. Chakravarthi (Dhileepan), P.S. Keerthana (Amudha), Delhi Kumar (Ganesan), Pasupathy (LTTE fighter), Bala Singh (Shyama's father), Master Suraj (Vinayan), Master Kethan (Akhilan).

a civil war in Sri Lanka separates a mother and her baby girl, who is adopted into an Indian family;  the girl insists that her adoptive parents take her to Sri Lanka to find her biological mother

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

Mankulam, northeast Sri Lanka.  A pretty Tamil girl named Shyama is getting married today to a man named Dileepa.  Devanatha, father of the bride, is happy that his girl is getting married.  At night it rains and thunders. 

The next day Shyama tells Dileepa that she is praying to have a baby soon.  Her husband says he doesn't want any children or, at least, not until peace returns to the country. 

One day the couples play down by the river.  All of a sudden, they hear soldiers coming their way.  The couple hide behind a large tree.  The soldiers have a tank with them.  Dileepa tells his wife to run home to her father.  She doesn't want to leave him, but he says she must go.  He has to stop these soldiers from advancing through their area.  She runs away and he follows the soldiers. 

Shyama is pregnant.  There are battle sounds heard in the village.  People start panicking and want to get out of the village.  The people tell her to get on the refugee boat and go to India.  And again she refuses to leave.  Her father has to keep after her to get her on the boat. 

It's a very rough voyage to the coast of India. 

Refugee Camp at Rameswaram, India.  Shyama is about to have her baby at the refugee camp.  The women around her grab her and take her into a building.  Shyama gives birth to a little girl. 

A few years later in Chennai, India.  A little girl says her name is T. Amudha and she's in Class 5D.  Her father is Thiruchelvan.  Dad is a writer, an engineer and short-tempered.  His writer's name is Indra, which is her mother's name.  Every day, all of Tamil Nadu wakes up to her mother Amma's "Good Morning" television show. 

Amudha has two brothers:  Vinayan, who she fights with all the time, and Akhilan, who is always telling on Amudha.  Her mother's father is T. Ganesan, who is a retired Tahsildar (a revenue officer).  Then there's her father's sister, Kamalee, who brought up Thiruchelvan. 

The bane of Amudha's life is her Tamil teacher, who she calls:  "My Hitler."  Amudha has an excess of energy and is always getting into trouble with the teachers. 

Today is Amudha's ninth birthday.  Mother tells father that they decided that they would tell Amudha the truth on her ninth birthday.  So her father tells Amudha that she wasn't born to them.  They adopted her when she was a baby.  Her two brothers were born to them.  Amudha gets a tear in her eye.  She runs away until she falls down. 

Amudha says her skin is darker than that of her adoption mother.  She then asks who are her biological parents?  No answer.  Amudha says that they should have told her when she was older. 

Amudha disappears from school.  The family searches for her with no success. 

Mother gets a call from a policeman who tells her that her daughter Amudha is at the Perambur Railway Station.  The family drives down to the station.  Mother is first to find her daughter.  The family takes Amudha home with them. 

At home mother really balls out Amudha.  She believes she has brought up Amudha with love and care, and she wants to know why Amudha would just run away from the family.  She asks Amudha if she brought her up to be so selfish, only thinking of herself?  She cries and Amudha tries to console her mother saying over and over again that she is sorry.   

The two brothers tease Amudha about being adopted, so she asks at the dinner table where is her biological mother?   The adoptive parents don't know.  The biological mother gave Amudha to them and then she went away.  The mother was at the refugee camp at Rameswaram.  Amudha cries.  She wants to know why did her biological mother give her away?  And she has quite a few more questions for her adoptive parents. 

Her biological father now tells Amudha the story of how she came to them.  The father, still a bachelor, saw Amudha as a baby and decided that he wanted to adopt her.  And through this process of adoption, he met a girl that later became his wife. 

Flashback.  Thiru rides his motorcycle and Indra rides her bike trying to keep up with him.  She says she saw his story in a magazine and she liked it.  She asks Thiru why did he use her name Indra as his name?  She says he used her name because the name is lucky. 

Later, Indra asks if the baby girl in the story real?  Thiru says yes, and she's at the Red Cross Center.  She wants Thiru to take her to see the baby.  So, they go.  Thiru likes the little girl, and Indra likes her too.  Indra picks the name Amudha for her name. 

Sister Kamalee says that Thiru is a fool for saying he will adopt the baby before getting married.  She also complains about the dark skin color of the baby. 

Indra is supposed to marry another man in an arranged marriage.  Kamalee is happy about that.  She tells her brother that she thinks Indra is in love with him.  She suggests that her brother elope with the girl. 

Thiru is going to adopt Amudha.  He has his sister and T. Ganesan witness the transaction.  There's a glitch, however.  The bureaucrats says that they don't allow unmarried people, especially men, to adopt babies. 

So Thiru goes over to Indra's house and asks her if she will marry him?  Later Indra comes over to Thiru's home.  She tells Thiru that he only noticed her because he wanted to adopt a baby.  He grabs Indra and hugs her tight.

Thiru now asks Indra's father if he has his permission to marry his daughter?  Yes.  So, the couple marries and they adopt Amudha.   

Back to the present.  Amudha asks her grandfather what is her biological mother's name?  He answers:  M. D. Shyama.

A mother calls Amudha's mother and asks if she knows where her son is?  No, she doesn't know.  Then Indra thing that a missing boy might be with a missing girl:  her Amudha.  Thiru asks the boys where is Amudha?  After a slap in the face, the older boy says that Amudha ad Pradeep went on a bus to Rameswaram. 

The night is coming on and Amudha and Pradeep are still on the bus. Amudha tells her fellow traveler that she's going to Rameswaram to meet her real mother. 

They arrive in Rameswaram and learn from the clerk that Shyama did give birth to a baby girl in 1991, but the mother is no longer here.  The kids ask where did the mother go, but there is no record of that. 

Amudha's adoptive family arrive in Rameswaram.  Pradeep meets them and says that Amudha is by the shore.  Her father and mother walk over to the shore to get Amudha.  She tells her adoptive father that her mother is not here.  Thiru promises Amudha that he will take her to find her mother. 

 

Intermission.

The family is taking a flight to Sri Lanka.  At the airport lots of fans greet Thiru, but one man, Dr. Harold Vikramasinghe, an orthopedic surgeon, is there saying that the family is his responsibility. 

Thiru gives a speech before a crowd.  Amudha sits on a bench in the nearby park.  She starts up a conversation with a man in a wheelchair.  She asks him if he is a Tamilian?  Yes. 

The doctor and Indra have to go looking for Amudha.  They find her with the stranger.  They take her away and the stranger  now leaves the park too.  Amudha recognizes that she has the stranger's book with her and she runs after the man.  The man is across the street from the park standing there.  When a military vehicle comes close to him, he runs into the street and ignites his bomb that kills him and destroys the military vehicle and the people inside.  Amudha is knocked down by the shock wave and has a bloody nose.  The doctor with the family examines Amudha and says she's okay. 

Tomorrow the family will drive to Mankulam to find Amudha's biological mother. 

The family takes a bus going to Mankulam.  Over a loud speaker the message to the people in the city park is that the army is moving towards Kilinochi and will be here within half an hour.  The army will shell the area, so they tell the people to leave Mankulam and head eastwards.  Refugees are swarming out of Mankulam.  But the Indian foreigners are asking around for where does Shyama live?  A man sends his son to show the family where Shyama lives. 

The government army is after the Tamilians.  In with the refugees is the Indian family.  They meet a woman named Shyama, but she is not the right Shyama. 

Now rockets land around the refugees killing some of them.  The people panic.  Now the good doctor shows up to help the family to safety.   The doctor takes the Indian family to his Aunt's house.  The family stays the night at the Aunt's house.  In the morning the doctor and Thiru look for biological grandfather Devanathan's house.  When they find the house it is in ruins. 

Amudha goes off on a walk of her own.  She runs into some girls her age who carry automatic weapons.  Amudha gets scared and starts running away.  The girls let her go, probably knowing by the color of her dark skin that she is Tamilian too.  Amudha runs all the way back to Aunty's house. 

The doctor and the writer now take a walk in the countryside.  They talk about the civil war between the government and the Tamilians.  Thiru asks loudly why can't they all live together peacefully?  Walking along peacefully, they run right into a group of Tamilian rebels.   The two civilians are pushed around by the rebels.  The doctor says that his friend is a famous Tamil writer!  His name is Indra!  Thiru stars shouting out with one of his poems.  One of the rebels recognizes the poem and he recites it along with Thiru.  And now some of the rebels recognize Indra.  So now the hatred of the rebels transfers over to the doctor who is Sri Lankan.  Indra starts speaking up in praise of the doctor who came with his family only to help them.  In fact, the doctor is taking them to meet a woman named Shyama.  The leader knows Shyama and asks why are the two men asking for her?  Thiru explains that they adopted Shyama's biological daughter, and the daughter desperately wants to see her mother. 

The doctor and Thiru comes back to Aunty's house.  They say that they have found Amudha's biological mother.  Daddy says he didn't see the mother, but he met her brother.   The brother asked them to go to the Subramaniam Park, so everyone can meet.   

In the rebel camp, brother tells sister that people from India have come looking for her.  A man and wife have come with their daughter, and the girl is Shyama's little girl. Shyama says:  "I won't see them."  She adds that there are 300 children in the rebel camp and they are all her children.  She walks away from her brother. 

The Indian family waits for the biological mother at the park.  They have a long wait ahead of them.  All of a sudden, the army shows up at the park.  There is going to be trouble.  The doctor tells the family that they must go now, but Amudha says she's not leaving.  She even throws herself down on the ground and fights her parents to stay there.  And now the sounds of battle begin.  Soon the family has to hide themselves in the park.  It's a heavy skirmish between the two opponents in the civil war.  Mother gets hit by a bullet in the arm.  The family has to hug the ground to avoid being killed.  The family then start running toward the doctor's car.  They finally reach it, get in and take off.

Back at Aunty's place, the doctor fixes up mother's wound.  Now Amudha says they should go back to India, because this was all her fault.  The doctor will drive them to the airport.  Mother decides that they should try one more time to go to the park to see if Shyama and her brother are there.  They don't see anyone, so Amudha says they can go.  Shyama and her brother get out of a small vehicle.  The two groups come together.  They sit down on the benches. Amudha gives Shyama her photo diary she made for her biological mother.  Amudha has written down some questions for Shyama.  The first question is why did Shyama leave Amudha behind and go away?  This is emotionally hard for Shyama.  She finally says that she was forced by circumstances to go back to Sri Lanka.  She had no choice in the matter.  The next question is who is her father and can she see him?   No answer.  Shyama eyes become watery.  She says they took Amudha from her a minute after she was born.  "I touched you once with my finger."  Amudha starts crying.  Adoptive mother says Shyama can touch her daughter now.  Shyama starts crying.  She hugs Amudha.  It starts raining.  Amudha asks Amma if they can take Shyama back with them to Madras. 

Shyama says she has work to do in Sri Lanka.  She gets up to leave and Amudha grabs her around her and begs Shyama to come with them.  Or Syhama can take her with her.  Shyama gives the little girl back to her adoptive mother. She says to Amma that she did a good job in raising Amudha.  Shyama comments that one day there will be peace in Sri Lanka.  Then Amudha can come back to her.  Shyama cries hard now as she says goodbye for the last time to her daughter.  She and her brother now leave.  Amudha kisses her adoptive mother. 

 

Nice film about an adopted female child seeking to see her biological mother, while still holding on to her adoptive family.  The story is set against the historical conflicts between ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.  The Tamils fight for their independence from Sri Lanka as a whole.  It takes some detective work to find the biological mother and when they find her, she is deeply involved in the fight for Tamil independence.  P.S. Keerthana (as Amudha) did a good job of acting. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (known until 1972 as Ceylon)

Largest Ethnic Groups by Percent of the Population:

Sinhalese (75%)  --  native to the island of Sri Lanka. Predominantly Theravada Buddhists.

Sri Lankan Tamils (11%)  --  claim descent from residents of Jaffna Kingdom, a former kingdom in the north of the island and Vannimai chieftaincies from the east.  Most of them live in the Northern and Eastern provinces.  Mostly Hindus with a significant Christian population. Many of the Tamils have darker skin colors. 

Sri Lankan Moors (9%)  --  native speakers of the Tamil language and predominantly followers of Islam.

Other groups  -- the Burghers (of mixed European descent), Malays from Southeast Asia and the Vedda people (thought to be the original group on Sri Lanka). 

1948  --  Sri Lanka gets independence from Britain. 

Since independence  --  (from Wikipedia)  " . . . relations between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities have been strained. Rising ethnic and political tensions, along with ethnic riots in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981 and 1983, led to the formation and strengthening of militant groups advocating independence for Tamils. The ensuing civil war resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 people and the forced disappearance of thousands of others. The civil war ended in 2009 but there are continuing allegations of atrocities being committed by the Sri Lankan Military and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during its final months.  A United Nations panel found that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months of the civil war. The end of the civil war has not improved conditions in Sri Lanka, with press freedom not being restored and judiciary coming under political control.

"One-third of Sri Lankan Tamils now live outside Sri Lanka. While there was significant migration during the British colonial period, the civil war led to more than 800,000 Tamils leaving Sri Lanka, and many have left the country for destinations such as Canada, India and Europe as refugees."

LTTE --  The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam  --  this fighting organization organized in 1976 waged a secessionist nationalist insurgency to create an monoethnic, independent state in the north and east of Sri Lanka for the Tamil people.

 

 

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