The cinema has always been global- Vimukthi Jayasundara | Sunday Observer

The cinema has always been global- Vimukthi Jayasundara

10 January, 2021

Internationally well-received, the first-ever Bengali language film made by a Sri Lankan film director, Chatrak (Mushroom) by Vimukthi Jayasundara, hit the theatres from last Friday (January 8). The film was screened and received much positive and negative feedbacks at several film festivals worldwide, including the Directors’ Fortnight at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival 2011 and the Pacific Meridian Film Festival in Vladivostok, Russia.

Although Chatrak has been produced in 2011, it has not received a theatrical release up to now as a scene in the film has caused an uproar in India, especially in Kolkata, where the film was mainly shot. As a result, the film was banned from public screening by the Censor Board of India in the year of its production and it was also hailed by many of the critics as one of the most controversial films ever made in Bengal.

Although the second wave of the pandemic was dreadful for many industries in the country, the news of releasing Chatrak is surely a kind of an encouragement for filmmakers and cinema enthusiasts to continue their artistic journeys.

This is a summary of a lengthy discussion the Sunday Observer had with Vimukthi Jayasundara recently about state and fate of Sri Lankan cinema.

Jayasundara is the most fortunate filmmaker of our time who won the Camera d’Or for his debut feature film Sulanga Enu Pinisa (Forsaken Land) from the most prestigious A Grade Film Festival, Cannes in 2005. Before him Mira Niar from India won the same award for her highly acclaimed feature film, Salam Bombay.

Unique cinema language

The uniqueness of Vimukthi Jayasundara’s cinema has always been due to his ability to present his film in a very unique cinematic language that belongs to the cinema itself. Explaining his cinematic language he says “cinema has its own visual language which rarely can be interpreted literally. Cinema is not literature, music, poetry or theatre.

It has its own uniqueness blending with all the other art forms but cinema has a separate unique identity which we cannot experience from any other art forms.

Unfortunately, here in Sri Lanka cinema has been treated as an extended version of every other art form. Especially, the critics backed by leftist’s ideology reduced the cinema into an extended version of literature. They brought the narration (literature) to the forefront in their critique and due to this historical error most of the Sri Lankan filmmakers and cinema lovers have been misread and misled the cinema aesthetics deliberately,”

Jayasundara believes this misinterpretation and lack of fine knowledge of aesthetics of cinema in the country always acted as an unfavourable stance for his films as well as many art house films.

Technology and cinema

The cinema is considered as an art medium developed through the advancement of human civilisation. It is the most celebrated art form around the globe and is considered as a collective victory of human civilisation and technology advancement.

Cinematic expression always developed and evolved in comparison to the technological advancement of the world. Therefore, unlike other forms of art, the existence of cinema has always been global.

The International Film Festival arena is one such platform that is consciously created for this reality to celebrate one of the main characteristics of cinema which is its universality. The Cinema was the most humanistic form to exchange the universality before the dawn of the digitalisation and online era.

In this context, as Vimukthi explains accurately, the Cannes Film Festival became the most sacred place for filmmakers. The ultimate filmmakers of the art house cinema that we have been fascinated about namely Abbas Kiarostami, Polanski, David Lynch, Sathyajith Ray and many others have been recognised and had the connection with international A Grade Film Festival including Cannes. Vimukthi has been recognised by the international Film Festival arena by awarding him one of the main awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005 for his debut film Sulanga Enu Pinisa, it was the most ultimate achievement a debut filmmaker could ever dream about.

Recalling his cinematic journey of nearly two decades, he says winning the Camera d’Or award was a result of a strenuous process of one decade where he spent all his artistic energy to visualise something fascinating. “Throughout my life I knew only one thing. That is making films. I’m not smart enough to do anything else other than making films. At the time, I started liking and dreaming about cinema it was an analogue era.

I dedicated myself more than a decade to explore my own unique visual in cinema. Sulanga Enu Pinisa was the ultimate result of that strenuous exploration and according to that time period I believe I did the exactly right thing.”

However, considering the present situation globally, cinema has come to its next level. The ultimate sacred stance that the ‘A’ Grade Film Festivals had before is now being challenged by online platforms such as Netflix. “Cinema is not physical anymore. It has shifted its mode to virtual arena.

A Grade Film Festivals are not a priority any more for most of the filmmakers around the world but now their main focus is online platforms. The classic example is that due to the global pandemic almost every film festival had to convert into the digital and their physical existence has been threatened. Although, what I have achieved a decade ago had its historical value then and now, today, we cannot look into cinema with the same parameters,”

Global cinema

There is somewhat a tense dialogue in the Sri Lankan film discourse about international film festivals and the films made out of funds associated with these film festivals. Jayasundara’s cinema has always been criticised heavily locally for this matter by both the nationalist camp as well as of critics with a radical leftist practice. Voicing his opinion Jayasundara says, “It is another illusion planted by the critics backed by the radical leftist camp mostly.

Although, they backed by the knowledge of foreign philosophers advocate liberal ideas, they stand in a very narrow place when it comes to cinema. Almost every world-renowned filmmaker who have been celebrated across the world as at today, are recognised by these ‘A’ grade film festivals and most of their work have been funded by these festivals.

Cinema has always been global. It is a universal mode of art and with the drastic technological and social changes have taken place especially within the past one decade, local cinema cannot exist by its own, it has to be global,”

Beyond Sulanga Enu Pinisa

After winning the ultimate prestigious award for his debut, Jayasundara made another three feature films Fallen from the sky, Chatrak and Dark in the White light which represented many A Grade Film Festivals. Being a critical artist about his own artistic existence Jayasundara says as a country, the Sri Lankan film industry, couldn’t prove its developing stance globally. Before his recognition at the Cannes in 2005, Sir Lester James Peiris represented Sri Lanka at Cannes in 1956 with his feature film Rekawa. Jayasundara understands that both incidents are isolated, individual achievements rather than representing a country’s film industry as a whole.

However, he emphasised the fact that if we had a national agenda for Sri Lankan cinema these two isolated incidents could have impacted immensely, to place the imprint of Sri Lankan cinema on the global cinema map. “I achieved the best I could as an individual filmmaker for the country but the rest is up to the film industry and the authorities.

When you step out of the country you are representing not only you, but your country. However, at that that time the authorities couldn’t utilise these golden opportunities to uplift our cinema industry to the global level. Still, we don’t have a national agenda for cinema. This global transitional period would be the ideal time if the relevant authorities can think smart to uplift the Sri Lankan cinema to the next level.”