Features

Sudu kalu saha alu: attacking the foot soldier
by Shamindra Ferdinando

Sudath Mahaadivulwewa’s maiden feature film Sudu Kalu Saha Alu-Black White and Ash (Shades of Gray) is a rare audio-visual treat. The controversial movie, categorised as an adults only, implies the period of peace as white and the times of war as black and the intervening period as ash. It is definitely a thought provoking movie, and the director/co-script writer Sudath Mahaadivulwewa and his team achieve what could not have been unintentional—an outright attack on Sinhalese in general, and Buddhists in particular that leaves the viewer shaken.

The movie powerfully delivers the message that the bloody conflict in the northern and eastern provinces (although not restricted to these areas as the recent case of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination in Colombo reminds us) cannot be tackled militarily and that the war has turned Sinhalese living in areas vulnerable to terrorist attacks into a miserable, lot with the focus on the foot-soldiers, their families and the temple.

I said that the movie would leave the viewer shaken but the viewer’s reaction would depend entirely on his/her views on terrorism aimed at demoralising the fighting man and his immediate family and the State.

If the viewer is happy to see the LTTE gaining ground, both here and overseas, Mahaadivulwewa’s ‘work’ would be appreciated, accepted and cherished. It is definitely a successful movie if the viewer desires the Sinhalese, particularly those who braved massacres and years of government neglect, to lose heart.

But the vast majority of Sri Lankans would not like what this movie depicts and I felt humiliated and embarrassed after seeing it on Monday. I paid seventy rupees for a balcony ticket at Jayalath cinema (at Katunayake) owned by my friend Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, MP, and sat through the one and half hour-long movie.There were less than 15 persons including four couples and the last thing on their mind, perhaps would have been the movie. I would not have done that if I did not read Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera’s critical article in last Sunday’s Divaina. I felt that Weerasekera was overreacting and knowing his nationalistic views (not to be confused with racism) I was not surprised. But I was sure the outspoken officer was taking a critical and biased view and was too harsh on the "war movie" as Mahaadivulwewa’s work had been praised by many.

I changed my views after seeing the movie. I felt Weerasekera was accurate in his assumption that the movie ridicules the Sinhalese, particularly the fighting soldier, his family and the temple and is used as a tool to undermine the fighting soldier and discourage village youth from joining the police and armed forces. The attack on the fighting man is two-pronged. It reminds the fighting man of the constant danger of being killed in action (this is understandable) but the conjecture that soldiers’ wives sleep around while their husbands are away is frightening.

In Mahaadivulwewa’s movie, a deserter (Mahendra Perera) returns home to find his pretty wife (Dilhani Ekanayake) having sex with the village headman’s (Jayalath Manoratne) sidekick. The deserter assaults his wife, cries aloud and then embraces her while her lover gets away. The wife, without hiding her face in shame and pleading for forgiveness justifies her tryst by saying that she could not wait for the soldier’s return.

The viewer is treated to the spectacle of a well-built man running naked across the village while the deserter displays what he had bought his unfaithful wife. He places a panty on her head. He then bolts out of the house possibly with the intention of suicide and is knocked down by a heavy military truck and is hospitalised. (Imagine a soldier deserting his unit based in an operational area stopping at a textiles shop to buy his wife panties, braziers and nightgowns). The police arrive at the deserterhome and find his dazed wife (with the panty still on her head coming out of their dilapidated house.

The deserter returns home with his wife and a bus driver (Sanath Gunatilleke) who operates the only bus to and from the isolated village. The deserter meets a colleague holding a higher rank and reminds him that the war has ended. The deserter gestures towards what appears to be a wreckage of an armoured fighting vehicle and declares that the war is over. The deserter is in a mentally unbalanced state due to the accident caused as a result of his wife’s infidelity.

The wife takes to prostitution to look after the family with the bus driver also making some extra money as a pimp. The school principal(Wasantha Kotuwella) engages in business with the help of a Sinhala NGO activist (Irangani Serasinghe) identified as Mrs. Jayawardene and arranges for a girl who recently attained puberty to work at her Colombo house where the girl faces paedophile. The girl subsequently relates how Jayawardena mahattaya removes his clothes and then hers. She reveals where the mahattaya had bit her. Luckily the poor girl, Nona and her mahattaya are all Sinhalese and the Iskole mahattaya who arranges the NGO Nona to employ the girl also a Sinhalese. What a vicious circle. Gunawardena Iskole mahattaya is initially depicted as a man who stands up against the village headman and his sidekick but he turns out to be a monster who sexually assaults a boy who later loses a leg in a mine blast near the army’s forward defence line. It indicates that mines had been laid by the army where they posed a threat to civilians.

Gunawardene also makes money out of a project for a monument initiated by the NGO Nona and is hell-bent on destroying everything a Gunawardene would stand for.

The man who runs naked across the village gets an appointment as a home guard with the help of the crippled village headman. Subsequently he kills the village headman on the temple grounds, where an escaped convict masquerading as a monk lives enjoying the hospitality of the ignorant villagers. After killing the headman, the home guard leaves the village to join the army and on his way to the bus spits on the deserter’s face as he considered the unexpected meeting a bad omen. The deserter is amused. He laughs and asks the viewers why they are not laughing. This brought an end to the movie.

The deserter at one instance ridicules sovereignty and territorial integrity. Referring to the, he says bambuwa thamai.

Sarath Weerasekera says that his article generated a spate of calls. "They appreciate my stand on this movie," he said, accusing Asoka Handagama (Me mage Handai), Vimukthi Jayasundera (Sulanga Enu Pinisa which bagged a Cannes award) and Prasanna Vithanage (Ira Madiyama) of taking a stand similar to Mahaadivulwewa’s. Weerasekera severely criticised Handagama for being a pawn in a bigger game where national interests are mercilessly targeted for obvious reasons. Weerasekera had taken several colleagues to view Asoka Handagama’s movie when it was shown in New Delhi. "I was at the National Defence College and was happy to take as many colleagues as possible to see the movie," he said. "But I was stunned to see the movie opening with a miserable looking Sri Lankan soldier raping a Tamil girl and then the entire village including the Buddhist monk having sex with the same girl."

There had been security forces excesses including rape, executions and degrading treatment of detainees and suspects not only during the war against separatist Tamil terrorists but also during JVP terrorism. But to portray the government security forces as tools of a government hell-bent on targeting a group of people on the basis of their ethnicity is wrong and counter-productive. Many would have agreed with the film makers if they targeted thieving Sinhala politicians, officials and the security forces top brass who continue to benefit from the human misery while turning a Nelsonian eye towards the deteriorating security situation. Unfortunately they are targeting the fighting man, the only obstacle to enemy plans. With young girls left to fend for themselves as prostitutes as a result of war in one way or another, Mahaadivulwewa’s film aims to portray that the war has disrupted family life and we forget that they were refugees returning to their village following a massacre.

 

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