Maldivian independent film producers Hulhevi Media have launched a documentary researching the realities behind the traditional romantic epic ‘Buruni Ballad’ from which the classic folk tale ‘Dhon Hiyala aai Alifulhu’ originated.
Shaarif ‘Shaari’ Ali – editor of the documentary – explained that the film is only one component of a larger project – the full extent of which includes the production of the first digital recording of the original ballad and a transcription released in the form of a book.
“Ballads itself are becoming rare and perhaps even extinct today. The ballad involves culture, literature, and perhaps even history. True preservation would be if we preserve it in its original form, and then allow room for further exploration. This is what we have aimed to accomplish through this project,” he said.
The project is funded by the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and is estimated to be worth US$25,000.
The ‘Buruni Ballad’ is a six hour oral history which has never before been transcribed. The story is generally considered to be the Maldivian version of Romeo and Juliet, revolving around tales of romance, black magic, jealousy, and revenge.
In the ballad, the heroine Dhon Hiyala and her lower class lover Alifulhu are driven to commit suicide by jumping onto a giant, poisonous jellyfish after she rejects the advances from the king.
Visiting the past?
The Hulhevi media documentary features the cast travelling to the islands in which the story is based, exploring current day traces of the tale, and gaining the locals’ perspective on the reality of the ballad.
The team of five – Director Ahmed Shafeeu ‘Narcu’, Cinematographer Ibrahim Yasir, Editor Shaari, and cast members Abulho and Mona – travelled to six islands in a bid to explore the roots of the story.
The film begins with a trip to Maroshi in Shaviyani atoll – where the story itself starts, before moving onto Lhaimagu, where the character ‘Fageerukoe’ is said to have originated. The cast then goes to Funadhoo, home to one of the few people in the country who still knows the verses to the ballad.
The team then goes to the home islands of the lead characters Alifulhu and Dhon Hiyala – Hulhudheli and Buruni, respectively.
The film concludes with a trip to Kandoodhoo – where locals show a grave site said to hold the remains of Dhon Hiyala which washed up on its shores.
Noting the interwoven ideas of reality and fiction in the film, Shaari opined that the matter is best left as it is.
“I think we must cherish the mystery in it. It has remained popular for so long precisely because of the mystery surrounding it,” he suggested.
“While some are deeply convinced that the ballad stems from real incidents, others feel it is pure brilliant fiction. People are presently able to make what they will of the story. Let’s not narrow down the room for debate, or take away the magic,” he said.
His colleague Yasir feels that the documentary has piqued people’s curiosity, which may lead to more interest in culture and folklore.
“With this film, we have definitely created curiosity. There may be people who want to explore the truth behind this ballad more in depth. But, as we learned when speaking to the people from the relevant islands, the locals want to protect those places. I believe it would be best if they are preserved as cultural or historical sites by the state.”
The team stated that in future, the documentary may be available for viewing on their YouTube channel, while the book and audio CD will be made available for purchase.
Hulhevi Media became interested in the project as, despite the story ‘Dhon Hiyala ai Alifulhu’ being widely known, few people realise it originated from the epic Buruni Ballad.
Shaari further expressed interest in exploring other historical tales in the Maldives, beginning with the story of Bodu Thakurufaanu – a celebrated local independence hero.
Yasir, meanwhile, spoke of the space for documentaries in the Maldives, expressing concern about the lack of public interest in such film productions.
They expressed disappointment that documentaries remain in the background of Maldivian cinematography, to the extent that there currently does not even exist a category for such productions in the local film awards.
“We aim to cover untold stories and to celebrate unsung heroes. We try to have a human interest element in every one of our productions. Our target is for every production of ours to result in producing a benefit for someone,” Shaari stated.
In addition to documentaries, Hulhevi media also produces videos to assist fund raising events by non profit organisations, public service videos, corporate profiles and commercials.