In 1983 a film was shot in Mandalay that still resonates with the Myanmar public more than three decades after its release—in fact, it is replayed on TV almost repetitively this time of year.
Thingyan Moe, meaning ‘the Thingyan rain,’ was an instant classic on its first showing in 1985. Something about the deep yet tragic love between a penniless pianist and a young woman from an affluent family had an enduring impact on people, perhaps because
the scenes took place amid Myanmar’s favorite holiday, Thingyan Water Festival.
Listen Thingyan Moe song here with the original singer and actress performed in 2011.
Three or four years before he landed the part of Nyein Maung, the pianist, Nay Aung was driving a taxi in Yangon for 5 kyats per hour. Mulling its success, he said, “As an artist I cannot expect the people to be hooked on a film or not, to be this or that kind of successful. First, if we are to do a movie then we need to devote ourselves fully to the personality of the character, and people will give back a good reaction.”
The three Myanmar Academy Awards behind Nay Aung hint to the heralded career he has enjoyed in the industry: 1982, 1985, and 2010 were the winning years, the first accolade for his first ever film. Thingyan Moe won best picture, best cinematography, and best director, Maung Tin Oo. The film’s success was also thanks to the people of Mandalay, who supported the production during the month and a half of shooting.
This was important, Nay Aung stressed, as a large part of the film is set in 1959 and shows Mandalay’s famous sights and culture. The two main characters, Nyein Maung and Khin Khin Htar, decide to elope, but the mother of one of the musician’s students falls ill and he takes them to hospital. Htar’s mother brings her home and forces her to accept an arranged marriage. After her former love plays the piano at the wedding, he hits the bottle. Fast forward to the early 1980s and it is now their children who are falling in love.
The film is still popular because “Thingyan is part of the Burmese culture to this day,” finishes Nay Aung. Writer Myo Ma Nyein and real-life pianist U Thein Maung inspired his character while the film was based on the popular Thingyan Moe song by Inzali Maung Maung, explained Nay Aung.
“Thingyan is something every Burmese person loves,” he said. “There’s always a small rain just before the festival, so the flowers bloom and everyone feels the smell. When Thingyan is getting near people are very happy to hear the sound of traditional instruments and smell the padauk flower. It’s not because of me—if there was any other actor in my place, people would still love this film. I’m really lucky and glad to be part of the film. I also thank my teacher Maung Tin Oo.”
From his fellow cast members Nay Aung said he learned much about acting and the importance of details, even down to acting a certain type of drunk depending on the whiskey the character gulped. As part of a wave of acting talent, he has developed
Myanmar’s film industry.
“Our film industry is not low rated,” he said. “We are trying to reach our goals.”
Although his young grandson occupies most of his time these days, Nay Aung will star in another two films over the next couple of years.
“I will produce artistic works until my heart stops. I’m still singing up till now, but if you cannot produce the voice anymore, then don’t continue, stop it, no matter how famous you were. If you feel no longer capable then don’t take [film parts] anymore. As the new generation enters the industry, the old will have to disappear. Don’t be afraid of it, but disappear beautifully.”