The Film Sri Siddhartha Gautama
wins five of eight awards in Vietnam


Navin Gooneratne and Gagan Malik at the UN Vesak celebration in Hanoi

I met Navin Gooneratne and Gagan Malik on the May 13 soon after their triumphant return from UN Vesak celebrations in Hanoi, Vietnam, where their film Sri Siddhartha Gautama won five of the eight awards presented. It was heartening to see them received at the Bandaranaike International Airport with due honour on their return from Hanoi. The reception was arranged by the Buddhasasana and Religious Affairs Ministry with the Film Corporation too represented. Though Navin and Gagan were very busy with meetings and preparations for the Sirasa Vesak Kalapaya at the headquarters of the Capital Maharajah Organisation where the film would be screened with them present, they had time for me and time enough for Gagan to show me photographs and even have me listen to his interview with Ajahn Brahmavamso. Such is the great goodness and simplicity of these two persons.

Hanoi cheers

For the first time a festival of films was included in commemoration of United Nations’ Day of Vesak. This year the UN selected Vietnam as the focal point country to host its celebration of Vesak. 47 countries submitted films; the categories being feature films, documentaries, short films, animated films and TV presentations all on the theme the Buddha and Buddhism. Of five films short listed, Sri Siddhartha Gautama was adjudged the best film in the category of feature films. The announcement was on May 8. The film won four more awards: for best actor - Gagan Malik, for best director – Saman Weeraman, best editor – Pravin Jayasekera and best music – Pradeep Ratnayake. Other awards were received by South Korean film ‘Four Seasons’ for Best Actress and Best Photography awards. The best animated film award went to a film titled Monkey Hunter from South Korea. Thailand carried away the Best Art Direction for its films Mindfulness and Murder. The best documentary was by David Blundell on Dr Ambedhkar titled ‘Arising Light’. Japan won the best short film award for its The Void and the award for the best TV series ‘Path to Enlightenment’ went to Vietnam.

I asked Gagan how he actually felt as he received his Best Actor Award from a Vietnamese high priest. His answer: "I felt greatly honoured for sure. But I will really win an award when I do a service to humanity and help more people on the path to peace, satisfaction and happiness. I want to convey to all the real happiness of following the Buddha’s teaching."

The awards ceremony was at a huge outdoor stadium with a gathering of people from over 90 countries and of course Vietnamese in their numbers, adding up to about 4000. Many Buddhist leaders and scholars were present, so also Ajahn Brahmavamso, who was interviewed by Gagan. Of the photographs shown me was one of Gagan seated beside the princess of Thailand at the awards ceremony. I was told that the people present loved the film and Gagan was simply doted over. Both completely deserving.

The film in Sri Lanka

Navin Gooneratne said that only 10 percent Sri Lankans have seen the film. Of these, thousands were affected beneficially as reported by persons such as market vendors who said their lives had changed. According to a Canadian medical specialist the best period to influence children is when they are around 10 years of age. Hence this film has to be seen by all children. Navin’s and Gagan’s attempt to get the remaining 90 percent Sri Lankans to see the film is firstly having it screened at the MTV Sirasa Vesak Kalapaya at the Capital Maharaja Organisation headquarters in Braybrooke Place during the three days of Vesak. As a follow up, Navin intends taking the film from Colombo to Anuradhapura in a ‘Vesak to Poson Perahera’ from May 24 to June 14 screening the film each night at a temple en route, needless to say at their expense, charging nothing. Gagan and he intend being present at every screening. Just consider the effort, the time, the energy, the patience needed for this, and of course the money. He mentioned that all their trips in presenting the film even outside Sri Lanka was funded by him and others’ benevolence. He is still has to pay back Rs 50 million spent on the production of the film and its distribution. We do hope the government will step in and assist him since he has most definitely placed Sri Lanka and Buddhism honourably on the world map. As he said, people seeing the film inbibe the idea of the great sacrifice of Prince Siddhartha and his message to humanity.

Gagan showed me pictures of the Dalai Lama and him when the film was screened in Mysore, which His Holiness attended accompanied by 10,000 followers. He said the Dalai Lama asked him to sit beside him having played the role of Prince Siddhartha. "I did not, I sat below him."

Gagan Malik’s message to us in Sri Lanka

Gagan wanted a message conveyed to the people who read this column and hopefully to the government too. "The point is, the movie carries a message - a message of love, peace and compassion. Misconceptions that people may have had such as Prince Siddhartha deserting his parents, his wife, son and kingdom, have been debunked by the film. Siddhartha who could have lived in total luxury and happiness went forth for the sake of humanity; he sacrificed much and suffered terribly so mankind could understand life and if they so desired, follow the Path he showed. You know, he had a choice. That is the most difficult - having to choose. He had to select between his princely life and that of a hermit seeking the truth and a way of deliverance. Sri Lanka is a small country but with this film and the message it carries, it can go to all countries of the world and be acknowledged and respected. We need help to do this. Navin and I and other willing persons cannot make the film have the impact it can in other countries. The government maintains good relations with China, for example. So if it helps us to get the film across to such countries it will have an impact and also benefit the country by making good its name as a truly Buddhist nation. We need support. We are grateful to the Ministry of Buddhasasana and the Film Corporation, but we need greater support."

In the interview that Gagan had with Ajahn Brahmavamso in Hanoi, the venerable monk said: "An excellent and wonderful film. I saw it first in Australia. I knew your film would win many awards. It spread a wonderful message which gets to the heart of people through all senses. It conveys such peace to be won. Congratulations to you people! You have done Sri Lanka proud. You have also reinvigorated Buddhism."


Remember Nan mentioned in her previous Sunday’s article about writing letters to attempt stopping the chanting at the upper level near the Sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura by bringing the kapuralas down to ground level where there is plenty of space for them. Nan did her bit: wrote and register-posted letters to the Most Venerable Head Monk of the Atamasthana in Anuradhapura and the Secretary, Ministry of Buddhasasana and Religious Affairs. Did you, and you and you?!

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