I watched a Burmese movie named Ponna Yi Ka (Pali for Ponna yeik, or “white lotus”) today on Youtube. The movie stars Htun Eindra Bo, who plays Ma Thet Shay, whose name literally means “long life”. The storyline is set in colonial Burma (not entirely sure which years). Throughout the movie, I saw many intriguing cultural and historical beliefs that the Burmese have of that specific time period.
Firstly, many of the characters have English names. Thet Shay’s alcoholic father is named Johnny (he incidentally kills Thet Shay’s mother while drunk), while the rich woman and her daughter whom Thet Shay works for are named Isabella and Rebecca respectively. Apparently the Whites (bo) are highly regarded by some, as the “evil” mother-and-daughter duo try to imitate a White lifestyle, refusing to eat fermented fish paste (ngapi) and other Burmese food (they eat English cakes and drink coffee instead). The “good” characters (including Thet Shay’s love interest, Nyo Yin) of the movie all adhere to a traditional Burman lifestyle, quite coincidentally, as if an attempt to portray that living a traditional Burman life reflects one’s goodness. Although I believe that the movie is by far, one of the best Burmese movies I have watched, I couldn’t help but notice the stereotypical portrayals of ethnic groups. Mehmet the Indian (although Burman, has a stereotypically “Indian” accent of Burmese and acts quirky), who loves Thet Shay, attempts to sexually assault her. On the other hand, Hla Phay, a Shan medicine man, proposes to marry her at knifepoint and acts as the lover of a woman in Rangoon. Perhaps this may merely be coincidence, but it could also be subtle attacks at those who fail to follow the Burman lifestyle (Bama hsan-gyin). The movie did stay true to its time, for the most part. One fashion idiosyncrasy I noticed (perhaps not) was that the wealthy Burmese men wore their sarongs (paso) with belts.
Not to say that the movie was at all poorly done. Considering filming techniques in Burma are still underdeveloped, the movie was immaculate. Aside from a few cheaply done special effects, the portrayal of Thet Shay’s life is a spectacular window into the lives of women in Burma. It’s an excellent look into the universal values of Burmese people (especially what the elderly ones say to Thet Shay) and their devotion to religion.