The rights of movie-goers

BIRD OF PASSAGE

Of the staggering protests, fasts, self-immolations, assaults, arrests, claims, counter-claims, travel claims, per diem claims, grandstanding, dillydallying, diplomatic duplicity, horse trading and other activities that accompanied the watered-down US resolution on/against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC in distant Geneva, the event that disturbed me most was this one.  DNA India of 20th March 2013 reported under the headline “Tamil film industry fumes against Sri Lanka”, the following:

“The Indian Tamil film industry will put a stop to exports of Tamil movies to Sri Lanka if the UN doesn’t charge Colombo with “genocide” of Tamils,” a known filmmaker said on Wednesday.

“If the union government does not take a favourable decision on this issue, then we don’t mind breaking all ties with Sri Lanka,” the president of the Film Employees Federation of South India said. “We will ensure no Tamil films are screened there,” he added.

This was followed by a report on Zee News on 2nd April 2013 that the Tamil film industry in Chennai participated in a day-long fast to demand rehabilitation of Sri Lankan Tamils and an international probe on war crimes. Not to be outdone, the secretary of the Sinhala Buddhist extremist organization Ravana Balaya, Iththepane Saddhatissa called for a ban on Indian Tamil movies in Sri Lanka on 8th April 2013. I was under the impression that Buddhist monks were not permitted to watch movies according to the Vinaya rules but perhaps that’s outdated.

At any rate, the two sub-continental neighbours are now poised for the War of the Movies, not to be confused with the War of the Roses that took place many centuries ago on another island far away.

The South Indian Tamil film industry seems to be well tuned to the immense losses that will be suffered by Sri Lankan audiences if they are deprived of watching brave lovers (Sundar and Sneha) fight against the machinations of the evil land and gold grabbing zameendar (Suman) in “Murattu kaalai” or of applauding the super hero (Aadhi) singlehandedly challenge hurdle after hurdle put in his path by the duplicitous politician (Suresh) to prevent him from marrying beautiful daughter (Poorna) in “Aadu puli”. It would indeed be a major disaster not to follow the progress of amnesiac hulk (Ganesh Venkatraman) through San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles trying to prove his love for the heroine (Shobana) while succumbing to the charms of an ABCD (Kalpana Pandit) in “Panithuli” or not to cling to the edge of the seat for the action packed thriller depicting fearless cop Prabhakaran (Vishal) disguising himself as a gym teacher to save estranged sister (Poonam Kaur) from revengeful gangster enemies, while winning the heart of his sister’s beautiful friend (Sameera Reddy) in “Vedi”.

The proposed embargo/ban will seriously affect Sri Lankan movie theatres, whose revenue has already gone down considerably with the advent of TV, pirate DVDs and streaming. This move in all likelihood would result in them going entirely out of business. The advertising revenue of several TV channels in Sri Lanka will also be substantially reduced, if Tamil movies were not to be screened.

To make the Tamil Nadu embargo more effective Bollywood and Hollywood might take a cue from Kollywood and stop exports of their movies to Sri Lanka as a retaliatory measure too. Imagine, a Sri Lankan audience not being able to watch secret agents (Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor) romp through half a dozen countries to save India from nuclear disaster in “Agent Vinod”, or be entranced by hero (Shahid Kapoor) falling in love three times over with heroine (Priyanka Chopra) in three different time periods in “Teri meri kahaani”, or root for suitors (Akshay Kumar and John Abrahams) competing for the post of richest son-in-law in the masala caper “Housefull 2”. Of course, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis making out in “Friends with benefits” or Cameron Diaz’ award winning performance as the amoral, gold-digging “Bad teacher”, are hardly of the same league, but will also be sorely missed.

For any good tit-for-tat to work, a retaliatory measure needs to be accompanied by another retaliatory measure. In this case, the Sri Lankan film federation would have no option but to deprive Indian film goers of enjoying Sinhala films by also instituting an export embargo. Unfortunately, the same strategy is unlikely to work for the US, since audiences there hardly know that a country called Sri Lanka exists, leave alone are familiar with its iconic film industry.

Kollywood, Bollywood and Hollywood need however to be aware that Sri Lanka is very protective towards its own blockbusters. Many local film producers will breathe a sigh of relief when they hear that there is no overseas competition that would threaten them from making more of their own. I have compiled a personal list of the decade’s top five Sinhala box office hits that Indian audiences will especially feel deprived of not seeing, if these mutual embargoes take effect:

Rae Daniyel Daval Migel 3

The sequel to two other movies of the same title, this is a story of a Jekyll-and-Hyde character who operates as a criminal by night and plays hero by day, thought by most critics to give near faithful portrayals of several uber powerful political figures in the current regime.

One Shot

A heroic “might makes right” Robin Hood who fights for the oppressed against unbeatable odds, winning the heart of a corrupt politician’s daughter after killing her evil father right before her eyes. According to a critic, “he saved the day by performing a stunt even Tarzan would be envious of”.

Anjalika

Rich England-returned boy falls in love with poor village girl, much to the despair of the rich father and rich childhood sweetheart. Poor village girl is kidnapped and presumed dead but comes back to life during the rich boy’s visit to Malaysia, where his father has managed to ferret her out of his way. Happy ending as the lovers unite but critics wonder which rich Sri Lankan father would spend money on an air ticket to Kuala Lumpur to get rid of an unsuitable daughter-in-law-to-be, rather than buying her out with a measly sum of money or hiring a contract killer.

Leader

An underworld bad guy kills a not-so-corrupt politician whose daughter is the only witness to the dastardly act. The macho bodyguard, Leader, hired to protect her turns out to be her muscleman fairy godfather and romantic interest rolled into one and, of course, saves her from the evil underworld killer. Critics consider this an intriguing example of the magical realist genre in the Sri Lankan context.

Aba

The story of an infant prince whose ten uncles want him dead because he’s prophesied to kill them all when he grows up. Therefore the queen, his mother, manages to smuggle him secretly away to be raised by rural foster parents, after faking his death. The uncles eventually discover the ruse, march into the idyllic village, which has sheltered the prince, and massacre every child in the village. However, the hero fortunately manages to find a safe hiding place and eventually becomes king of Lanka, after killing his uncles. A historical narrative of murder and treachery that should make a Buddhist society proud, this movie has been considered monumental, stirring the patriotic sentiments of powerful political figures.

As it becomes clear, it would be a great loss to Indian film goers to miss out on these much acclaimed Sinhala blockbusters, just as it would be for Sri Lankan film goers to be deprived of the aforementioned Kollywood, Bollywood and Hollywood masterpieces. Unless the Oriya or Bengali film industries are prepared to step in and fill the void by sending Oriya or Bengali movies to their Sinhalese brethren. The Tamil-speaking peoples of Sri Lanka are going to be badly affected either way.

The US should be forewarned to work on a Resolution urging, nay calling upon the Sri Lankan and Indian governments to conduct an independent and credible investigation on the violation of fundamental cultural rights of movie goers in these two UN member countries and to provide unfettered access to, nay encourage them to extend invitations to the UNESCO High Commissioner of Cultural Rights in Paris to support this process.

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