'My film depicts the struggle for dignity by Tamils in Sri Lanka'
Sherine Xavier, a Sri Lankan Tamil filmmaker from Canada, is happy.
After months of struggle with the Indian censor board, she has finally obtained approval to screen her film Muttrupullia? (Is it a full stop?), which deals with the post-war situation in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.
Xavier, image, left, who was in Chennai, speaks about the movie and her struggle with the censor board, in a conversation with R Ramasubramanian.
Why did you make this film?
The ground situation today in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, like Jaffna, Mullaitheevu, etc, forced me to make this film.
I want to portray the situation prevailing in these areas after the end of the war in May 2009.
I want to draw the attention of the people living in India and other parts of the world to the situation in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka after the end of the war seven years ago.
Tell us something about the movie...
There are four plots. One is the story of Adhirai alias Sundari, who is searching for her husband, an LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) cadre who had gone missing in the May 2009 war. She just wants the government to tell her what happened to husband. Plus, it also portrays the struggles of a single woman as she is fighting against all odds to bring up her three children.
The second plot is about the struggles of a male historian who is fighting to hold on to his land.
The third one is about Duma, a woman who is fighting for dignity in life, and the fourth one is about the story of a young woman journalist from Chennai who visits the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka after the war and how she is caught up with the situation there.
The Indian film censors were worried about the name Adhirai (a few months after former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in May 1991, the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested an old man and a young woman by the name Adhirai in New Delhi. The Indian authorities maintained that the couple was a back-up team to assassinate Rajiv if the Sriperumbudur plot failed. Xavier says the name Adhirai is an epic name in Tamil literature and she was also called Sundari).
Where was the film shot and how much did it cost?
The movie cost around Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million)to make and I spent it out of my own pocket. We shot the film mainly in the Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu. We also shot the movie in few places outside Pudukkottai and around 10 per cent in Sri Lanka.
You have now won the battle with the Indian censor board. Can you tell us what happened?
We applied for certifying the film in Chennai on September 12, 2015. The examining committee viewed the film on September 19, and decided to refer the film to the revising committee under rule 24 (1) of the Cinematograph (Certification) rules. The revising committee viewed the film on August 31 and refused certification for the film.
What was the problem?
The revising committee said the film revolves around post-war effects of Sri Lanka, glorifying the bad effects, suppression of Tamils by the Sri Lankan army and that the film will affect their relationship with the neighbouring country. They said the film was a one-sided version, of the Tamil side of the story, and violates guidelines 2 (xii), (2xvi), 2 (xviii) read with 3(1).
What did you do after that?
We went to the appellate tribunal and the film was viewed by its chairman S K Mahajan, and members Bina Gupta and Shekhar Iyer. The tribunal directed the CBFC to issue a certificate for screening of the film for public exhibition with the aforesaid modification on February 1 this year. The committee made the following observations:
'The leading character of the film who is a young mother of three children was a former combatant and her agony and mourning has been depicted and it has been shown as to how the women were fighting to get answers about their displaced husbands.'
'Though at places in the film, the photograph of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran has been shown there were no visuals about any terrorist activity of the LTTE, nor are there any scene of a fight between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army.'
'The film only depicts the lives of mainly the women and other persons after the war had ended in 2009. This, in our view does not in any manner glorify either the LTTE or any terrorist activity, nor is there any glorification of Prabhakaran.'
The committee added that 'in case the film would have glorified the suppression of the Tamils by the Sri Lankan army and would have affected the relationship with the neighbouring country, then the Public Performance Board of Sri Lanka would not have approved the film for screening during the Jaffna International Cinema Festival.'
Have you screened the film in Jaffna?
Yes. Jaffna Chief Minister C V Vigneswaran watched the movie and commented, 'It's a very realistic film and I am happy to watch it.'
What is the ground situation in Sri Lanka today?
I don't want to talk politics, but still I do feel that if not for a regime change in Sri Lanka I would not have come to Chennai, nor would I have produced this film.
There is a slight breathing space. But still, militarisation is a problem in the Tamil areas.
For who did you make this film?
I made this film for my grandchildren. You have to remember the past if you want to protect your future. The film depicts the struggle for dignity by Tamils in Sri Lanka.
How many artists worked on it?
There are a total of 59 characters in the film. All of them are Indians; there are a few Sri Lankan dubbing artists who worked for the film. In fact we shot a few scenes in the famous Kalakshetra dance school in Chennai.
Will you screen this film for the public in Tamil Nadu?
I am trying to screen this film for the public, and my friends in film industry in Chennai are helping me do so.
What about international film festivals, will you be going there?
That is also in the pipeline. But I want to be very specific that I will approach the international film festivals where political sensitivities are honoured. I am very clear on this and I will not knock the doors on all international film festivals.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
I was born in Jaffna and studied in India and Sri Lanka and got my master's in chemistry and then law in the US. I worked in Sri Lanka, the United States, Canada, Sierra Leone and El Salvador. I was posted in India on behalf of the Canadian Red Cross for four years.
I have two children. My basic area of work is in human rights. Presently I am based in Jaffna, but shuttling between Colombo and Canada often.