Asoka Handagama was born in the South Central of the Island away from the influences of sophisticated urban city life. He obtained his primary and secondary schooling in a provincial school and went on to study Mathematics at the University of Kelaniya (province of Colombo) where he was awarded a first class honors degree. He obtained his M.Sc in Development Economic at Warwick University in 1995.
Asoka Handagama’s entry to filmmaking was via the theatre and television. His maiden theatrical effort, “Bhoomika”, was to address the seedling emerging ethnic crisis in the Island. The play won the National Youth award for best direction in 1985. His second stage play “Thunder”, was placed second runner up in the Best script in 1987 State drama Festival. The country was a real killing field when he directed his third, and most controversial play, “Magatha”. The play, with its radical theatrical form, bravely questioned the existing judicial system of the country. “Magatha” was shown almost all parts of the country, not only in the theatres, in the paddy fields and work places as well. Among all the controversies, the play won the Best Original Script and Best Director award in 1989, State Drama Festival.
Asoka Handagama’s exercises in the field of TV-art, were unique. “Dunhidda Addara” is a clear land mark in the history of so called tele-dramas in Sri Lanka. It won all nine main awards including the Best Script and Direction, at the OCIC awards in 1994. “Diyaketa Pahana”, his third TV work, added a new dimension to the traditional tele-feature series. “Synthetic Sihina” explored a way to have a post-modern political discussion in the form of a serious episodic tele-play. He exploited the short spell of ‘ceasefire’ ( 2003- 2006) observed by Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam ( LTTE) to shoot his next tele-feature- series, Take This Road in Jaffna, the Northern capital of Sri Lanka to create a dialogue on the root causes of the on-going war. East is Calling, the tele-feature series was on the same theme set in a Tsunami rehabilitation camp.
1996 – “Chanda Kinnarie”
Was his debut effort in cinema. Breaking the rules of so called realism, this film clearly indicated the formation of a cinematic language consisting of hyper-realistic images. The film won the Award for Most Promising Director at the CRITICS’ awards in 1994. It was also awarded Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay at the 1998 OCIC awards. Asoka Handagama’s academic background in mathematics and development economics has stood him in good stead as an artist. Certainly it has helped him tackle the technical intricacies of film, television and the theatre, and to use these forms to maximum creative effect. More importantly this background has enabled him to sort out his priorities as a creative artiste who is conscious of the joys, sorrow and contradictions of daily life around him. Asoka Handagama is acutely aware of the social origins and implications of his work as a film and video maker.
1996 – “Moon Hunt”
These two acute concerns for the technical and the social in the movie making have not made it easy for him in his career. When he made his second film, “Moon Hunt”, he used the experienced Japanese cinematographer Akira Takada because this film needed a specialist lighting camera technique, as the story of the whole film takes place at night. Handagama came in for a lot of criticism from his local colleagues for using a foreign cinematographer. It won 6 main awards from Sri Lanka Film Critic’s Forum awarded for Best Film, Best Director, Best Script, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Cinematography in 2000. Unfortunately for some technical reasons the film did not come out to theatres in Sri Lanka.
2000 – “This is My Moon”
His works started to attract independent film festival audience around the world with his movie “This is My Moon”. Veteran Sri Lankan filmmaker Dr. Lester James Peiris named this work as the landmark film which launched the third revolution in Sri Lankan cinema. It was a bold revelation of impact of the war in rural life in the country. Novel in the form, this minimalist film travelled all around the world, was critically acclaimed at more than 50 international film festivals, and won numerous awards in Singapore, Chonju, Delhi, Houston, Bangkok and Tokyo. The film also gained critical success in Europe, and has been considered as one of “the most outstanding revelations of the decade” by the prestigious French Film Review “Les Cahiers du Cinéma”. “This is my Moon” released in France during the Fall 2002.
2002 – “Flying with One Wing”
Was yet another courageous work by Asoka. This is the first time in this part of the world that the issue of gender politics is addressed in cinema. Having the World Premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival ( 2002), it was adjudged as the Best Asian Film at the Tokyo International Film Festival (2002), Audience Award for Best Film at Torino International Film Festival and many more.
2005 – “Aksharaya”
Meaning “Letter of Fire” was considered as the most controversial work and the most talked about film in his career. Banned in Sri Lanka it raised a fundamental issue of freedom of cinematic expression in Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court. Exposed only to international festivals like San Sebastian, Tokyo, this banned movie in Sri Lanka found its way to the YouTube where it has been seen by more than 3 million people there.
2010 – “Vidhu”
Disturbed by the painful experience he had with Aksharaya struggle, he then went on to make a children movie Vidhu.
2012 – “Ini-Avan”
Is considered as the most accomplished cinematic work of Asoka Handagama. Premiered at Cannes 2012 as one of the films under ACID (l’Association du Cinéma Indépendant pour sa Diffusion), the film has been listed for many festivals including Toronto, Edinburg, Tokyo, Hanoi and many more.