Thursday, May 11, 2006

cinema, censorship, and child abuse

asoka handagama's new film ak~;ry (aksharaya) or "a letter of fire" is predictably generating lot of controversy even before it is released. even colombo chief magistrate's court got involved yesterday. (film's website has a stupid flash index with no skip option so if you hate flash or have a slow connection go here)

i personally consider his previous film "thani thatuwen piyambanne" one of worst i have seen with amateurism all around but that is just me. see chandare's take on asoka handagama's work here.

impressions:
film reportedly deal with incest. i have not seen the movie so i will give three impressions by people who have seen the film (or should have before making such statements).
warning: possible spoilers so to speak below.
author of free media movement statement says
the film is an unflinching look at the darker issues of humanity, exploring relationships between mother and son, husband and wife, gender and society, morality and sexuality, of those in positions of power and authority and those excluded from it.
cultural affairs minister mahinda yapa abeywardana says
i think a severe injustice had been done against the child actor who appears in the film, this child who is less than 12 years old was exposed to full nudity of a young woman. then he commits two murders in the film. the film begins with the scene with nudity.
veteran director lester james peries says
film is a serious work, powerful, disturbing (to the faint­hearted), a searing attack on all our 'sacred cows'. critics might find it diffi­cult to read all the sub-texts which are sardonic assaults on marital, sociologi­cal, cultural institutions in the narrative.
facts:
reportedly the public performance board (ppb) (censor board) headed by somarathne balasuriya originally approved the film for screening with an "adults only" rating. however a sort of private screening was held on 19th april 2006 at film corporation to an audience that included culture minister and film corporation chairman asoka serasinghe (a paid up member of buffalo herd). after they raised concerns about child abuse it was referred to children's and women's bureau. officers of the bureau obtained court's permission get the copy of the film on 21st april. yesterday (10th may) court ordered child's mother to allow officers of the bureau to record a statement from the child.

more reports and opinions on the case from daily news, lakbima(site subject to rotten links, so this probably wont work tomorrow), sunday times, sunday leader, ravaya, business standard (some of them from film website's news section as original is not publicly available) . btw a post in moju dealing with this gets several facts of the case wrong in typical fashion by giving credence to unsubstantiated accounts.

is it censorship or a crime?
on 28 the april free media movement(fmm) issued this press release.
i fully agree that,
it is vital that avenues for cultural production is strengthened and expanded in order promote democracy and freedom of expression in sri lanka. the fmm strongly believes that artistic interpretation is an inviolable right of all artistes and media personnel. the space for social critique through film and art forms the basis for the freedom of expression, necessary for a vibrant democracy.
though i would not limit myself to "artistes and media personnel".

but the question is whether this is

an attempt at "curtailment of the freedom of expression, under the guise of upholding public morality, is an attempt to strip away basic human rights from the media in sri lanka."

or

a real concern about child abuse which is heinous crime.

minister certainly overstepped when he supposedly said he would not allow the film to be screened. as far as i know he has no power to ban it. if he exceeds his powers and take the matter into his own hands he may have to suffer the fate of a former minister who tried to ban prasanna withanage’s purahanda kaluwara and ended up paying fines. on the other hand if he doesn't have that power, he is free to express his opinion and to refer the film to the children's and women's bureau.

imo censorship should be limited at most to giving a rating and no film should ever be banned however much we hate it.

also imo child abuse aspect of the case should be decided by the court with no interference by the minister, ngos, or anybody else.

that similar scenes in other films like samanala thatu and suriya arana were not investigated is not a valid argument if court decides it is a child abuse case and allows the investigation to proceed.

main question that the court has to decide in this regard is where to draw the line between photography and films made for the benefit of pedophiles (which most people would consider a crime) and those made for the benefit of others especially if both types appear similar.

15 comments:

daytripper said...

I saw the movie at a private viewing a few months ago, and don't know what all the fuss is about. Certainly, there is no child abuse involved in the little boy seeing his mother naked. They don't even touch each other, and the scene lasts maybe a minute. It's used merely to establish what kind of relationship the mother and son have. The whole movie is based on our darker and more 'unnatural' desires, and situations that arise as a result - pointedly - in sri lanka.

Haven't we all heard the tale about the son of the house, who impregnates or abuses the servant woman/girl who works there. The father who rapes the daughter because the mother is overseas, probably dubai, and he can't control his needs. Sri Lanka is full of such dirty little secrets, but of course no one is willing to admit it, because of our 'culture' and ofcourse because we are such good buddhists blah blah blah put whatever popular spin you want on it.

The stories are in the newspapers everyday, just read Seneka De Silva's police log in the Daily Mirror. Peolple like to delude themselves that such things don't happen here, that it's a bad disease from the western world - yet another good reason for shunning their ideologies etc, but that is a load of bollocks. It's just that the western world portrayed and dealt with such topics through mediums such as film and tv, long before we did.

Handagama's movie is just one way of catching up (as usual) with the rest of the world. There is nothing 'new' or daring about it in that sense. Some bits of it really work, others don't. I think in general all our current film makers are too influenced by French arthouse techniques,'naturalism' and the whole 'gritty realism' trip. Someone somewhere needs to break that mould and adventure into something more mainstream.

finally - good movie? the mother, security guard, and the little kid are good. Ravindra Randeniya didn't impress, so the whole movie is carried by a young and pretty inexperienced cast. I didn't like it very much, although i understand where it's coming from. Child abuse? Crap. I could point out soap operas with more weird stuff in it, than this movie. More like 'we nice, cultured people only do nice films like gam peraliya' hysterical prudery.

Tina EG said...

so what if a little boy sees his mum or dad naked. it is only human we sri lankans pretend that we never have sex etc etc and try and portray this holier than thou attitude in society. i have a little son and i change clothes in front of him .. big deal!!!! As Day Tripper says we have all these going on in our villages but will not acknoeldge it as it will tarnish the image of the country or like an ostrict stick our head in the sand and hope it goes away. Sri Lanka needs to start looking out of the box and accept that these things happen

ashanthi said...

you know s/nut, luv has broken out all over the blog ... well not quite all over but kinda in particular...

i've noticed that since i declared my undying luv for you & your nemisis, Morquendi, other people have been doing the same...

i am so happy in amongst the midst of the horror that is known as Sri Lanka to have created this

Oh & one other thing ... i remember in the not so distant past you (I think it was Ivap too, though I should expect this :-) scolding me for "ranting & raving" about the epidemic of child abuse in Sri Lanka... i am extremely pleased to note that you are now dealing with this issue.

Keep up the good work...

by the way - are you sure you & buffalo are not related :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey boi
Dont be surprised if this turns out to be a scam deal between the director and the minister, cos this is giving this boring, dull film some un-deserving publicity.(Watched it at the foreign film festival)

-Prabhath

Keshi said...

I havent seen Sinhalese movies in a long time...but I like to watch them...the most recent I saw was Sangita's 'bahu bharyawa...' so u see how out-dated I am with them :)


**this child who is less than 12 years old was exposed to full nudity of a young woman.

thats so wrong...only cos the child was not seeing his/her real mother. I guess it's ok for little ones to see their parents half-naked (not intentionally but at times that u simply cant avoid...).
But in a movie, it's a different situation...I can u'stand the issue.


Keshi.

ivap said...

I for one am glad that this was made and it has generated enough controversy to enter the public mind. It's about time someone pushed the line to highlight child abuse in SL.

Haven't we all heard the tale about the son of the house, who impregnates or abuses the servant woman/girl who works there. The father who rapes the daughter because the mother is overseas, probably dubai, and he can't control his needs.

Have there been any other products by SL 'artistes' of late which focus on the above issues?

sittingnut said...

daytripper:
i appreciate your comment very much.
i fully agree that there is lot hypocrisy in sri lanka. and if this film address that even belatedly that is good. it is after all always good that we see ourselves as we are honestly

i also think that child abuse accusations related to it should be dealt by the court with no interference from anyone as i said in the post.

tina eg
thanks for the comment
Sri Lanka needs to start looking out of the box and accept that these things happen
yes
but accepting that they do happen (and this film probably does that) does not mean we should approve them imo.

in this specific case what we should decide is whether there was an attempt to ban this film due to misguided morality or was there an actual crime. that only the court can decide.

ashanthi:
:-)
i've noticed that since i declared my undying luv for you & your nemisis, Morquendi, other people have been doing the same...
huh? where exactly
i am so happy in amongst the midst of the horror that is known as Sri Lanka to have created this
good for you. but see above
"ranting & raving" about the epidemic of child abuse in Sri Lanka... i am extremely pleased to note that you are now dealing with this issue.
yes i remember but i don't think there is an epidemic. why do you always exaggerate?
by the way - are you sure you & buffalo are not related :-)
lol. no any more than you are related to him.

prabhath:
yes there is always that suspicion, seriously . thanks for reminding.

keshi:
heyy mate!
I havent seen Sinhalese movies in a long time..
well most of them are rather bad so you may not be missing much.

ivap:
nice to see you here
I for one am glad that this was made and it has generated enough controversy to enter the public mind. It's about time someone pushed the line to highlight child abuse in SL.
you are probably right. as other say we should bring it to the open. .

Have there been any other products by SL 'artistes' of late which focus on the above issues?
no. as far as i know.

Keshi said...

well there r some pretty good Sinhalese movies too..but yeah, MOST of em r crap with Jeevan and Ranjan look-alikes running ard the trees lol!

Keshi.

sittingnut said...

keshi
yes there certainly are good sinhala movies. i was too strong in my words above.
-
..Jeevan and Ranjan look-alikes running ard the trees lol!
lol

Anonymous said...

Usually, the nudity issue etc etc, when it comes to works of art, are handled at a different level (Censor board, than criminal court)

But take the perspective of the law; The film is ample evidence that the under-aged child was exposed to the full nudity of a grown woman, (It's all on film now, isnt it? and No special effects were used either) and this could amount to child abuse, effectively creating a case against the director (and everyone else involved)
But it's still funny, because, well, it's a film and as such, is supposed to create a sort of a "virtual reality". Not to be taken "too seriously" (Though, Handagama insists that it is damn serious)

I have a feeling that Prabhath is right, because it doesnt make any sense otherwise.

sittingnut said...

anon at 5/26/2006 1:09 am
agree with most of what you say . thanks for the comment.

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