"MACHAN"
Synopsis Based on a True Story

Living on the margins of society, under impossible pressures, a group of desperate slum dwellers find an invitation to a handball tournament in Bavaria. The one way ticket to the West could be the answer to their prayers and a solution to all their problems.

Manoj and Stanley console themselves after their latest visa application is rejected. For barman Manoj, the recurrent denial of his ultimate dream to live and work in the beautiful West is taking a serious toll, his lifelong friend, street fruit seller Stanley, is losing his fight against overwhelming debt, looking after crazy aunts and a young brother on his way to a life of crime.

With their spirits dashed the chance discovery of an invitation to a handball tournament in Bavaria appears to them like a present from the Gods. Even if neither of them knows what handball is, they submit an application to the tournament and soon a mismatched collection of friends and colleagues, creditors and policemen, join together in the unlikely Sri Lanka National Handball Team.

With little thought to the tournament that awaits them on the other side of the world, "training sessions" are understandably minimalist and any excess energy ploughed into internal skirmishing. As the tournament invitation arrives, handball rules and regulations are side-lined; dreams of leaving poverty behind and a better life take centre stage as they march to the German Embassy for that magical visa…

Rejected again! Who the hell mentioned Ministry letters? Why should you need permission from your own government if you've had an invitation from another? Does this mean the end of the dream?

There's always master forger and all-round crook Ruan of course, but you'd have to seriously be scraping the barrel to go to him for help.

The team, now swollen to capacity with the inclusion of a bunch of stranded foreigners, finally gets its much agonised visa and, after painful goodbyes to families and friends, is on the way to the West and a bright future.

The planned quick getaway on arrival is crushed by the welcoming organisers and a change of schedule sees them confronted by an arena full of sport fans eager to applaud the prowess of the Sri Lanka National Handball Team.

70-0. And now? Do they run before the inevitable arrest and an inglorious return home? Or should they fight on to defend personal and national pride at the cost of risking the end of their dream?

 

 

“MACHAN”
LONG SYNOPSIS

Night. A desolate street of Colombo, a sprawling third world metropolis.

A dog squats in the shadows. A leg from the darkness is shaken out vigorously and a furious face appears from the gloom; it belongs to STANLEY, a short, stocky man in his late twenties. His companion MANOJ, an earnest sweet looking youth tries to calm him down. He tells him the soaking is a sign from the Gods, the visas they will both be applying for in the morning will surely come through if he lets it dry naturally.

VIJITH cycles into the light, he teases them about their persistent attempts to leave the country and motions to the bundle of rolled up political posters under Manoj's arm, encouraging them to get back to their flyposting.

The morning after. As Stanley puts together the visa fee selling oranges on the bustling streets, Manoj is preparing for the embassy visit. His family are doing their utmost to help him on his way and are all behind his bid to leave Colombo. Manoj goes down on his knees and worships his parents, fervent hope in their eyes.

Manoj and Stanley, nervous and uncomfortable wait for their turn at the German embassy. Stanley’s pen has leaked all over his shirt. Manoj tries to wipe the stain with a leaflet he picks up. They are called through to an interview room where an officer derides their worth and rejects their visa applications.

Stanley hitches home and walks through his shanty town. He passes his brother NEVIL who is helping to strip the roof of a bad debtor and is dismissive of Stanley’s entreats to attend school. As he arrives home he is greeted by the wails of a little girl and her baby brother. His two old aunties MAGIE and ALICE are asleep and oblivious to the cries. Stanley's sister ESTHER enters the shack, blames him for situation her family is in.

Esther tells her husband SURESH the only way out of their financial mess is for her to go and work in the Middle East. He asks what will happen to their kids whilst she's busy looking after someone else’s? Stanley's name is hauled into the mix, they are in debt because Suresh gave his brother in law money to leave the country which he lost to a crook. There is a knock at the door - the money lender waits outside. He has decided to double the interest the family owes until the money is paid back.

Dusk. Stanley and Manoj sit on the beach, dejected. Stanley thinks about selling his kidney for cash, whilst Manoj absentmindedly rummages in his pockets. He pulls out the leaflet he wiped Stanley with at the Embassy. Stanley squints at it thoughtfully 'Manoj, what's handball?'

PIYAL is in bed, squashed underneath a German woman who is riding him hard, oblivious to his discomfort. He staggers out of the bedroom to be confronted by Stanley and Manoj. They ask him to find out what this German thing called handball is from his 'friend'.

As Stanley bounds down the stairs he runs smack into Suresh who is incandescent with rage, demanding to know where the money he lent Stanley is. Stanley tries to appease him by telling him about the Handball Tournament in Germany. Suresh will not listen, he tears up the notice. On his way home Suresh stops by the Gents washroom, shares his troubles with the Old Attendant.

Manoj, Stanley, Piyal sit on a small stretch of beach drinking beer and struggling to comprehend the handball rules. Vijith observes, amused and sceptical. Their banter is infectious. They come up with crazy names for the team, finally settling on The Sri Lanka National Handball Team. After all, no one else plays handball in Sri Lanka. Three noisy KIDS making a racket by a fire are recruited onto the team.

Vijith is at work on his computer, helping Stanley to compose a letter to the organisers of the tournament. His politician FATHER scolds Stanley for even thinking about leaving Colombo 'the country needs its young people'.

The men go to the post office and bump into JASMEEN. Back home, she wonders how Stanley, of all people, can come up with a scheme to leave the country. She berates her husband NASEEM for making her live like the poor relation to her relatives growing wealthy abroad.

Suresh passes by the washroom on his way home. The Old Man is not there. His stool has disappeared and two men are drilling a hand dryer into the wall. Suresh tells Esther about the hand dryer and the old man, unemployed after 30 years. As Esther tells him she is going to the Middle East, Suresh sits in silence, defeated.

Piyal races up to the bar where Manoj is busy mixing cocktails - he has Germany on the line. They are being invited to the tournament in Bavaria. But they want photographs of the team, in uniform.

Stanley is chasing a man in the busy market of Colombo - he needs money for the "uniforms". RUAN has a hard and crafty look about him; a consummate crook, he owes Stanley money. As Stanley leaves a group of strangely assorted Asian men turn up, angry with Ruan who is stalling on the agreement to send them to Europe by boat.

Stanley, now with a bag full of jerseys and shorts, joins Piyal and Manoj for the first of their training sessions. No-one has remembered to bring a ball. They bicker amongst themselves, the uniforms are rubbish, the wrong colour and too scratchy. Two figures approach; a SPOILT SON and his FATHER - they need to leave Colombo and Vijith has told them to speak to Manoj. After a short debate they decide to embrace them into the fold. A YOUNG POLICEMAN observes them from a distance, as does NESA, a grave digger.

Esther is placing a photograph of her children on top of a small pile of clothes. She plays with her young daughter as she continues to pack. Outside the shack Suresh watches his family; heartbroken, he walks away.

At the beach bar the team are filling out their visa application forms. The official letter from the German tournament organisers has arrived and the mood is jovial. Suresh pulls up a chair, they all look at him but for a moment no-one says anything. Stanley pushes a visa application towards his brother in law.

Suresh walks into his shack holding his visa form, he tells his wife she no longer has to leave.

Manoj is trying to cajole his ever increasing squad to pay attention to the handball rules. Piyal has brought his cousin along, another man approaches on a bike, he is Piyal's cousin's cousin. And then Naseem turns up. A police car approaches and the men fear their scam is about to be exposed until the policemen hand in their visa forms and passports adding them to the overflowing file.

Naseem takes the file from Stanley and marches into the German Embassy, the team members full of hope…

The men sit on the beach at sunset - their visas have been refused on the grounds that permits from the Sri Lankan government were not included with their application.

Stanley wonders back home; the roof has been removed, the penalty for non payment of rent; dejected, he tells Vijith he will sell his kidney to save his family from complete ruin. Ruan is surrounded by the angry foreigners ready to kill him, their patience has been tried enough, they want a boat or their money back. Vijith appears with a suggestion…

Ruan, the foreigners in tow, approaches the men on the beach. He can forge the ministry paperwork they need; in return he and the foreigners will join the National Handball Team on their journey to Europe.

The group are gathered once again outside the German Embassy. Naseem comes out of the embassy, his face is dark. He suddenly grins and holds up a passport with a visa stamped in it. Now all they need is money for their plane tickets and they're on their way.

Stanley arrives home to find his young brother waiting for him. Nevil places a tin box in his hand, it's full of notes and coins, Stanley is overwhelmed.

A three wheeler chugs painfully up to the entrance of Manoj’s hotel. His entire family spills out, he is treating them to a 'goodbye dinner'. They are impressed by his place of work and look around the restaurant fascinated. People turn and stare. Manoj is embarrassed, they are quite a spectacle. They follow him like a herd, increasingly incapable of doing the simplest of things without instruction. He orders for them and looks around distracted and stressed. The evening is clearly not going as planned. Manoj is not sure if he's imagining it, but everyone seems to be laughing at him.

Stanley crosses the little bridge over the canal, drinking in the final sight of his neighbourhood; he finds Manoj upset outside his home. On the beach Manoj tells Stanley he can’t go to Germany, he doesn’t want to come back and hate his family.

Suresh wakes, he watches Esther sleep; she opens her eyes and embraces him fiercely. He leaves his house, goes to the hotel washroom and smashes the hand dryer off the wall.

In small groups and individually the members of the Sri Lanka National Handball Team gather at Colombo Airport. Everyone appears unsure and vulnerable. Vijith turns up unexpectedly, he has decided to use Manoj's visa.

Munich airport and the guys are in the Immigration queue. Stanley watches the guys being passed through passport control with disbelief in his eyes. The Sri Lankan policeman notices a German official watching them suspiciously.

The German hosts unfurl a sign "WELCOME SRI LANKAN NATIONAL HANDBALL TEAM". Ruan and the Foreigners try to slip off surreptitiously but are called back – the escape will have to wait till the morning.

As the team sit at breakfast contemplating their imminent escape, their host runs in: another team has been delayed and they will have to play immediately.

The crowds cheer, flash bulbs go off, our boys gaze around them bewildered and intimidated. They make a straggly line alongside the German team. What are they going to do? They cannot play.

The referee blows the whistle, the Sri Lankans look around for one last hope of escape, there is none. They get trashed.

Afterwards they lie around exhausted and depressed in the changing room. But Ruan will not accept this, what about their pride? If they do things right and play like a team, they can start their new lives as "somebodies". They agree to stay on.

Back in the arena, and this time our boys play much better, the Germans find it more difficult to score. The elusive goal however remains elusive.

The sad end of a party. Our guys think of home. Suresh tries to talk to his children on the phone. Away from the others, Ruan tries to make an escape; Stanley stops him. The morning after; as Ruan coaches the team, in a cemetery nearby Nesa tells Piyal how he buried his whole family, massacred during the war.

Back in the arena and the team is not doing well. They are still making mistakes and they argue with the referee. Suddenly in a moment of distraction Ruan’s throw trickles into the German goal. It's so tentative and surprising it’s almost a non goal. In the silence that follows the referee signals goal and the Sri Lankans go absolutely wild. The whole team gather in one big bundle in the middle of the court to cheer Ruan, as if they've won the world cup.

The guys walk down the corridor to their rooms. A gentle and tired sense of happiness. They stop at their respective doors. And before they part forever they all thank Stanley.

Morning - the corridor is empty. Four German policemen bound down it, they bang on a door and barge in - the room is empty.

Taking different roads and different modes of transport, our team members make their separate ways towards their new lives.

Stanley, Suresh, Vijith and Ruan head towards England, where there is no f’ing handball.