Three men join hands to make a documentary that draws attention to the plight of fisherman Aung Soe, a man without a nation.
His Burmese name is Aung Soe and his Thai name, Lursan. But he belongs neither to Myanmar nor to Thailand.
Three good Samaritans from Chennai have made a film on this man, who now ‘lives’ in a Kochi police station and is hoping against hope that he will be accepted by one of these countries as its own. Titled Man Without A Nation, the short documentary tracks the 30-year-old fisherman’s life that has lurched from one misfortune to another. “For want of documents establishing his identity, none of these countries wants him. The film is an attempt at drawing international support for him,” says V. Manoj Joy, coordinator of Sailors Helpline, India, one of the three behind the initiative. “We have screened it at the Seafarer’s Club in Chennai and plan to take it to other forums. We will also take it to the Internet and ensure it is watched by the powers that can help Aung Soe.”
The film presents the background of the story that has made headlines in Kochi and elsewhere. Born and orphaned in Myanmar and raised in Thailand, Aung Soe became a fisherman. Prantalay, the trawler he worked on, was captured by Somalian pirates in 2010 and he was held captive for eight months. Using the trawler as the mother ship, the buccaneers made other attacks. As they went about their depredations, Aung Soe and the other captives were forced to serve them.
His ordeal ended when the pirates entered the Indian waters. Noticing a ship of the Indian Navy, the youngster jumped into the sea and succeeded in catching the eyes of the men in uniform. At present in India, he leads a half-existence. His world is defined by the confines of a police station in Kochi. Without documents to establish his identity, he can’t step on Thai or Burmese soil.
V. Manoj learnt about Aung Soe four months ago from a report on Asianet. Moved by the story, he pondered how the ‘homeless’ man could be helped. He joined with his friends, K. Sree Kumar, assistant secretary of Madras Port Trust Employees’ Union, and Prasanth Kanathur, a journalist from Mathrubhumi and a documentary film-maker, and made the film.
The three took experienced film professionals on board, including voice-over expert N. Ramanathan. “We wanted to give it our best. Working on a shoestring budget, we could hire a high definition camera only for a day. All the footages had to be shot in a day. Aware of the film’s goal and its budget, the professionals worked for free or a paltry fee.”
With the experience of having made six documentary films, Prasanth handled the direction and Manoj, who runs a magazine for seafarers, wrote the script.
While narrating his tragic story from childhood to the present, the film captures various moments of a typical day in Aung Soe’s life at the Kochi police station. He is at home in the station amidst the friendly cops, who have bought him a mobile phone. With nobody to call from his phone, he plays games that are installed in it. There are also moments when Aung Soe draws into himself, sits alone and cries. He hungers for a larger freedom.
The film also talks about the efforts to rescue him from his meaningless existence. In this context, Apinya Tajit from Apostleship of Seas, a Thai organisation that works for the rights of seafarers and fisher folks, makes an appearance. “Intervention by Tajit has led to a breakthrough: the Thai company that hired him has finally sent a letter acknowledging that he is a Burmese national and that he worked for them,” says Manoj. “A recent development, will this help? Only time will tell.”