Vimukthi Jayasundara – the winner of Camera d’Or award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2003 for his debut ‘Sulanga Enu Pinisa’ or “Forsaken Land”– has come a long way as a filmmaker, critic, social activist and teacher in cinema. His Bengali language film ‘Chatrak’ (Mushroom) is now being screened in cinemas. By Susitha [...]


Cinema after pandemic will be more artistic than entertainment – Vimukthi


Vimukthi Jayasundara – the winner of Camera d’Or award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2003 for his debut ‘Sulanga Enu Pinisa’ or “Forsaken Land”– has come a long way as a filmmaker, critic, social activist and teacher in cinema. His Bengali language film ‘Chatrak’ (Mushroom) is now being screened in cinemas.

By Susitha Fernando

Hailing from Southern Sri Lanka, Vimukthi started his career as a journalist, film critic and a writer. Later he attended the Institute for Film and Television at Pune in India and then he studied cinema at the Fresnoy School of Art in France.

In addition to being a filmmaker, Vimukthi has been teaching cinema at the Institute for Film and Television in Pune, Film, Television Institute of India, film schools in Nepal, South Korea, Japan, in Europe and he lectures on aesthetic, films and art at a number of universities in Sri Lanka. Vimukthi spoke to the Sunday Times on his 2011 film ‘Chatrak’ released here recently and  on the cinema and its future in general. Excerpts;

Many filmmakers think that this is not a right time to release movies. Why did you decide to release your 2011 Bengali film ‘Chatrak’ now?

This is the right time for me. I was not doing anything else. I have often run into controversies and some people find my films are  avant-garde  or too artistic. I have faced more strange accusations than most filmmakers.  Whatever the criticism I think this is an ideal time for me. The main reason is that because of Covid-19 lot of foreign film productions are not coming to Sri Lanka . The film I released is an Indian film made in Calcutta. The language is Bengali. There were not many Indian films that came to Sri Lanka over the past few months. Due to many reasons theatres are interested in releasing something in the similar nature. So they invited me and I was happy to give it to them.

Can you describe how a Sri Lankan ended up making a Bengali film?

I  studied in India and I was influenced by Indian films. My influences are not actually coming from Hindi or Bollywood cinema. My influences are coming from Bengal and Calcutta and filmmakers like Hrithik Ghatak  or Satyajith Ray. I also was inspired by Sri Lankan filmmakers like Dr. Lester James Peries, Dharmasena Pathiraja and in Japan Akira Kurasova. My Indian influences are from the same region where I made this film. Because of that when I was invited to do a film in India and I  wanted to make a film in Bengal region. Calcutta was the Colonial capital of India. It is a metropolitan and it is the place where Ravindranath Tagor, Shanthi Niketan, lot of literature and cultural heritage are connected to. So I loved to do a film there.

When an Indian producer approached me and I said I would love to do a film in Bengali. Subsequently I went there and wrote the screen play. In four months the films was written, shot and edited.  Then we ended up being at the  Cannes Film festival in 2011.

How did it really work?

I had an Indian friend. A young filmmaker who had seen my films and loved my works. He said one day, one of his dreams was to invite me to India and asked me to do a film. The film I had done was quiet new to India. Specially art house films. He gave me finance, actors and everything and he facilitated between me and the producers. So they said I am totally free and I wrote something after studying the Bengal and its changes. I observed the city and I observed the region and I spoke to the villagers, intelectuals and the story that inspired me to do was the reality of Bengal region right now because there is heavy emphasis on development. It is almost in the direction of  a highly modern city like Tokyo. It has the potential to become a big city. So that is the story. How can they build something over the old city which is the captial of the past or the Colonial capital which has beautiful English buildings. They are building a city beyond this old city. So the poetry, literature and cinema that belong to the old world of India are going to disappear. So the new city is going to emerge. So between that, an idea came to me. The idea of displacement. How somebody can be displaced from a concept of the inhabitant.

Being a filmmaker from the small island of Sri Lanka, how was it that you  were welcomed by the Bengal region?

I don’t see myself living in an island. I don’t know what does it really means to me. I don’t feel I live in an island at any point because I am so connected. I am connected to the world through my internet and I have lot of friends around the world. So limiting ourselves to an island is our own concept. Even geographical boundaries are in our heads. Where it is otherwise. Its in your head. So why can’t we have a mind that is borderless. As a subject wise cinema is an international language. It is transnational. It does not need to be in a particular certain language or culture. There are no restrictions. It is a borderless language it is a universal language. I see cinema as that because I do not see a border. Its all in our minds and our minds should not have borders.

Last time when you released your film ‘Forsaken Land’ here it created a controversy and you had even to withdrew it. Now you have come with another film. Do you have anything to say about Sri Lankan film culture and the audience?

I am  mature now. When the first time I release the film here, I was just 27 years old and I was young. I did not know much about anything. I just won something in the world and came here and I was like a parachuted man and landing from Cannes or Paris. But I know what is happening here and I have been working in India, Nepal, Vietnam and other Asian countries.  Since I know what is happening here I don’t want to confront anybody. Besides confrontation is useless. There is nothing we can learn from confrontation. Specially people don’t have a memory of fighting. If you struggle against something you want to change you have to have a memory of that struggle. And here we don’t have a memory of a struggle neither memory of anything else. We don’t keep a memory of anything. I don’t think people remember my fighting here in 2005.

I am here today perhaps my audience is reduced compared to 2005. I feel like that. I feel that people don’t want to think anymore. We want to be entertained without thinking. People want to be very easy and cheesy and the world is going through an evolution where technology will take over our lives.

Having being working with other cinemas in the region how do you assess where Sri Lanka stands? Many view that we are far behind compared to other cinemas in the region.

We are far ahead of others. If we don’t require a cinema we don’t need a cinema. If you go to Dubai they don’t watch much cinema. They don’t go to cinema halls. Compared to the money they have, we don’t see many Arabic films are made.  So probably we are the same. So lets go ahead with that. Why do we need a cinema?

So what would be the future of cinema?

The future is going to be online streaming. So we also watch lot of online streaming here. we have youtube. So the younger generation can be very happy about it. If you want to become a filmmaker you can shoot a film using your moble phone and you can get your friend to act and you can upload it on the youtube. Thats it. Anybody can be creative and if you want to become a filmmaker there is a possibility. If your film is good the entire world is going to be able to see it.

What would be the future of cinema specially after the Covid 19 pandemic?

Cinema will become more an art form than an entertainment in future. Cinema anyway used to be an art form and then it became a  popular entertainment. But cinema is going back to its origin of art. For example short films. When I was doing short film there were no young people to do short films. But now most people wants to make short film. The cinema also started with short films. So there is less and less entertainment happening in the cinema. It is something serious.

And going to a cinema will become very luxurious. It is going to be a part of a mall culture where you go and watch a film and its going to be something very expensive. It is like you are going for a concert. Till recent time sit was not like that. But after this pandemic it is going to turn like that.

Entertainment will be online and there will be art in cinema theatres.

Do you like to add
anything else?

I am so happy about what I have achieved over the last few years. I am getting more comfortable with this art and I want to more and more rigorously practise what I am doing. I don’t want to compromise whatever that I know. I don’t care about losing my audience or the fact that people don’t understand my work. That doesnt matter to me because I know where I am heading to and  the right direction. I will have more audiences.  Those who will lose  audiences are those who make films for entertainment purposes.

I am not against entertainment I also enjoy films. But its not going to be easy.



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