a gift horse in the throat
Remember that offensive film titled "In the Name of Buddha"
that evoked protests in parliament and from the press and public
after this column raised the issue at the butt end of 2002?
makers of the film claimed their intention was to convey the message
of peace and were making a powerful case for an end to Sri Lanka's
their publicly stated intention, the theme of the film was an obnoxious,
provocative and offensive attack on Buddhists and Buddhism, giving
a new dimension to the searing conflict.
screening the film in the Christian world, they intended to whip
up anger and condemnation of Sinhala Buddhists by portraying them
as an aggressive group, guilty of violence against the Tamil people.
achieve that end, they even distorted traditional Buddhist ceremonies
and rites. I was somehow transported back to that December day nearly
three years ago when I attended the screening of a package of six
short films under the title "Reel Peace in Sri Lanka,"
at the Royal Commonwealth Society last week.
the Name of Buddha" was vulgarly propagandist and grossly partisan.
"Reel Peace" was an amalgam of the grotesquely one-sided,
the subtly provocative and the politically neutral.
the first was a deliberate attack on a religion as an instigator
of violence, the latter, taken as a whole, seemed suspiciously like
an insidious comment on the State as provoking war and therefore
intentions of those who made "In the Name of Buddha" were
The aim of those who originated the "Reel Peace" project
that resulted in these films surely was certainly more honourable.
as the old saying goes even the way to hell is paved with good intentions.
What the UK-based charity Scriptnet intended was to train scriptwriters,
directors and producers who would then collaborate in producing
seven short films and a project documentary that, it was hoped,
would contribute to the peace process.
the aims were to foster "an integrated Tamil and Sinhala media
and to demonstrate to the international community the inspiring
stories of dignity and reconciliation."
Scriptnet says: "During the many years of hostilities, there
was a lot of misrepresentation within the media of the conflict
and the impact that this was having on real situations of the "ordinary"
people of both sides. 'Reel peace' is about producing honest and
representative stories that can contribute to a wider understanding
of the need for social and cultural reconciliation."
objectives, no doubt. Cynics, on the other hand, might ask why it
is that persons with such good intentions did not turn their considerable
efforts to social and cultural reconciliation in an older conflict
and one much closer home- the one across the Irish Sea. That might
have been more meaningful given the social and cultural affinities
and a greater understanding of the ethos, unlike that in Sri Lanka,
which was largely unfamiliar, if not entirely strange, to most foreigners
involved in the project.
are told that during the conflict - the nature of which is not spelt
out at all - there was a "lot of misrepresentation within the
media". We are not told which media but one supposes that it
is the Sri Lanka media that are expected to plead mea culpa and
cover their head in shame.
there is some truth in the observation, why should Sri Lanka's media
be seen as the sole (and perhaps soul) offender? Are we expected
to accept that the western media did not contribute to the exacerbation
of the conflict?
manner in which the western media distorted the conflict, misrepresented
issues, and worse still, displayed a shocking ignorance of facts
has been extensively documented.
fact, I took the London Sunday Times to the Press Complaints Commission
for violating the Code of Practice on its reports on Sri Lanka by
Marie Colvin and its subsequent refusal to publish my reply. The
PCC held in my favour and the Sunday Times had to publish the adjudication.
having castigated the local media - presumably - and having declared
that 'Reel Peace' would present "honest and representative
stories that can contribute to a wider understanding", one
naturally waited in anticipation to see this avowed honesty and
representativeness translated through the medium of cinema.
I waited in vain. If representativeness meant seeing the effect
of the conflict from different perspectives and its effect on a
multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, then one saw little or nothing
the screening finally ended after several technical glitches and
a discussion resulted, I asked why it is that the victims of this
conflict all belonged to one ethnic group.
it that others did not suffer as a result of terrorist bombings
in Colombo and elsewhere? Were foreigners not killed when a civilian
plane was blown up? Were innocent Sinhala and Muslim peasants not
the victims of numerous atrocities? Why was this element totally
missing from the package of films that was screened? There was nothing
whatsoever of the suffering, of the terrible impact of the conflict
on the people of the South and East?
understand that the British Council, one of the sponsors had a look
at the various scripts submitted for inclusion in the package. It
is also said that UNESCO actually saw even the rushes of the films
that were eventually screened.
it not strike either of these two organisations that the package
of films showed a ludicrous lopsidedness after all the high-minded
rhetoric about honesty, representativeness that preceded it and
talk of "demonstrating to the international community the inspiring
stories of dignity and reconciliation."
we to understand that there were no scripts submitted that showed
the impact of the conflict on other parts of the country and other
communities? If not should an effort have been made to encourage
film-makers in the rest of the country also to participate to achieve
that much-vaunted representativeness.
in his right mind would call for curbs on artistic freedom or the
freedom of expression. But there is a need to be more wary of those
who come bearing gifts particularly when such one-dimensional pictures
are conveyed to foreign audiences.
might prefer not to look a gift horse in the mouth. After last week's
experience, one should not only look it in the mouth but the throat
as well. Remember the Trojan horse?