Prasanna Vithanage, one of the most established filmmakers who has rightly captured the changing social dynamics in the island nation and depicted them cinematically winning the international kudos has returned with yet another movie with a timely theme. At a time when ‘reconciliation’ is the buzz word, his film ‘Oba Nethuwa Oba Ekka’ (With you, [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

‘Artiste cannot be a mouthpiece of a government’: Prasanna Vithange

A filmmaker for every season

Prasanna Vithanage, one of the most established filmmakers who has rightly captured the changing social dynamics in the island nation and depicted them cinematically winning the international kudos has returned with yet another movie with a timely theme. At a time when ‘reconciliation’ is the buzz word, his film ‘Oba Nethuwa Oba Ekka’ (With you, Without You) has shown the bitter truth about the war and the post-war realities.

Speaking about his latest film to the Sunday Times’ TV Times, Prasanna describes how and why the film is relevant to the present context and responds to issues relating to current social and political situations. It is purely a perspective of an ‘independent artiste’ who struggles for the truth.

“Whatever government comes to power our lives will not change. No artiste should be a part of any government. He or she should be truthful to what he or she sees and express it. If you have any affiliation to any government the truth will never come up,” says Prasanna who faced many a battle for his right to expression.

“We must always fight for freedom and it is an ongoing struggle,” says the filmmaker who does not believe that political changes will not always bring artistic freedom.  Quoting the famous Bernard Shaw, Prasanna once noted that the intelligence of the people could be measured from the way people uses their votes. Asked whether what Shaw said was still valid to the present situation the country where we faced two elections consecutively, the filmmaker said that it was still valid and applicable not only to Sri Lanka but to many countries.

“Look at India there are active politicians with criminal records” he says recounting about the results of the recent elections where even those in the remand prison at the time of the elections were elected to parliament. However Prasanna is optimistic about certain parts of the younger generation who are politically active through new media wwwand social media. “However many young people want to get away from this country and they are even ready to risk their lives to do that,” he said.

Asked about political changes that have taken place and with its the future specially with regard to right to the information and freedom of expression which are vital to artistes and the media, Prasanna was critical of some of the proposed laws relating to media. He remarked “We must try to introduce Right to Information (RIT) act as soon as possible,”.

The filmmaker who had been active in issues relating to civil rights is of the view that there should be civil rights movements with leaders who are not thinking about their own future but who can create a genuine platform to fight for liberties.
In cinema too there are vital changes that needed to be taken for the survival of the industry. “We need to repeal the Censor Board Act and change the film classification system.

“For Sri Lankan cinema we need a national policy and without that I don’t see much future,” says Prasanna describing the serious situation the cinema industry facing. He criticizes the snobbish attitude of some of the owners of the multiplex cinemas describing that there is hardly any room for local cinema but Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters. “Most of the cinema complexes are confined to Hollywood or Bollywood,” says Prasanna warning that what happened to South America with the invasion of American cinema will happened to Sri Lanka as well.

Asked about his latest film ‘Oba Nethuwa Oba Ekka’ which deals with the post war realities and how relevant the subject matter is as the war was over almost six years ago, Prasanna responded saying that the theme is not only relevant but paramount. “As a nation we have to move forward with a true reconciliation. We cannot have reconciliation just giving lands but by addressing the grievances”.

“The role of the artiste is to capture the undercurrent that can bring out the hidden truths. And always a good artiste makes us look at ourselves and contemplate about our lives. That is the role of the artistes and that is his unique quality” He is of the view that a country cannot move forward for reconciliation by sweeping the past truths under the carpet.

Inquired about the role of the world cinema where cinema was used as a propaganda tool to glorify war, Prasanna who attempted to uncover some bitter realities of the Sri Lankan war through his cinema said that war propaganda cinema does not last long. But the cinema about the truth and realities of the war would be in the hearts of people forever. “There were even filmmakers like Francis Coppola, Oliver Stone and Stanley Kubrick in Hollywood who have made film depicting the realities and destructions of the war. The propagandist art is short lived as after sometime people discard the propaganda”.

He says that artistes should not be mouthpieces of the government. “The artiste must make his own voice. The truth becomes more powerful and the real artiste is truthful to what he does. It is difficult to find the real truth so what is more important is his own search for the truth”.

Prasanna Vithanage has worked promoting cinema in the war affected Northern and Eastern parts of the country and recently was in Jaffna to unveil the Jaffna International Cinema Festival. He says that in post-war Sri Lanka, the filmmakers in the South could have contributed in bridging the North and the South through cinema by supporting the young and up and upcoming filmmakers in those areas to tell their stories through cinema. “I believe that it is our duty to help the young filmmakers to tell their stories. We have to create a platform for them. Sri Lankan cinema is limited to Sinhala cinema.

And there is a distinguished culture in the North and the East which is invaded by the Tamil Nadu cinema. I even have come across young film enthusiasts who want to join Tamil cinema industry in the Tamil Nadu and follow their cinema dream in the South India”.
Prasanna believes that opportunities must be created for youngsters in the North and the East to make Sri Lankan Tamil movies and he emphasises that the mainstream distributors must support this cause.
“We can never talk about true reconciliation by suppressing the truth,” the filmmaker remarks.

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