Laya Project: A Portrait Of Survival And Hope

It has been 13 years since the release of Laya Project. 14 years since we were on the road documenting and working with local communities, and 15 years since the December 26, 2004 Asian Tsunami. 

After the Tsunami, the days, weeks, months went by. In 13 countries the accumulative death toll continued to rise to more than 200,000, with the Northern Aceh province of Indonesia, closest to the epicentre of the 9.1 magnitude quake, accounting for more than half of loss of life that day. Entire communities wiped off the map within seconds. As the news unfolded in our homes, I kept on asking ‘How does one, after surviving and possibly being the only survivor of a family or community, move forward?’, ‘Where do you begin…?’. 

After having made the film, I am in awe of the resilience of the human spirit, and still question, would I be strong enough to endure that journey they did? I cannot begin to imagine.   

Laya Project is an initiative by Executive Producer Sastry Karra, of whom I had met a year earlier. He is originally from India, where nearly 42,000 people were left homeless and close to 9,000 people died – mostly from the Southern Indian region of Tamil Nadu. 

When I got the call from Sastry, he explained he wanted to ‘give back’ and asked if I was interested in being involved by working with local communities affected by the Tsunami, documenting the people and their music post wave, giving an archaeological importance in preserving ancient musical traditions. I literally dropped everything and embarked on this personal journey for the next 2 years of my life.  

There was no scripted story, and there was very little information available. And even less information after the wave as no one at that time really knew what was or wasn’t there anymore. 

The film became a direct reflection of how we approached making it; there is no chronological beginning, middle, or end. It was and is a journey. We prepped, planned, and researched as much as possible, established local contacts, and on arrival, well… we improvised. We followed our hearts, the music, and the visual stories.

Working as a collaboration between the music and the visuals, the film is a portrait of survival and hope, anchored together by the people and music. 

I traveled with a tight international team of 6 people, from Israel Yotam Agam (Sound Engineer / Composer), Patrick Sebag (Music Producer), from Indonesia was Ernest Hariyanto (Line Producer / Researcher), Cheong Yuk Hoy (Cameraman) from Malaysia, Agung Dewantoro (Cameraman) and Timor Angin (Photographer), also both from Indonesia. 

Then behind the scenes, we had independent producer Joanne de Rozario from Malaysia, and Sonya Mazumdar from India, Producer and Founder of EarthSync.  The end credits of the film scroll name after name for 5 minutes. Everybody on that list, just like myself, is a portion to its entirety. It’s been 14 years since we met and I am grateful for all the lessons learnt, experiences shared, and the friendships that were forged throughout this journey, and remain to this day.

Written by Harold Monfils, Director, Laya Project

Laya Project Anniversary Edition – available here.


IndiEarth is an online B2B platform that connects India’s non-mainstream independent Musicians and Filmmakers to worldwide Media. The platform features a blog, offers value-added services and wider opportunity networks through its partnerships. IndiEarth is an EarthSync Initiative.

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