‘In the name of Buddha’ (Tamil & Sinhalese with English subtitles. 116 minutes)

Written by Amshan Kumar

`What is your name?`

The lady immigration officer in London queries the dazed young man sitting opposite her.  She repeats the question a few more times. He finally replies ` Siva` as if he has invented it. But actually just earlier he had flushed out the fake passport  in the airplane toilet in midair  that had obviously given him a fictitious name.

`Where are you from?`

Again the question is repeated many times by the kind but persistent officer. She spreads a world map across the table as Siva`s eyes rest over the figure of the country he has come from. His tear drops on it and next we see the bomb explosion on a land in Sri Lanka. The true story of Siva is told in flashback. `In the Name of Buddha` the film covers the period until the Indian Peace Keeping Force had its operation in Sri Lanka. It starts from the time the Liberation tigers began their safeguarding attacks against  Sri Lankan army. Siva`s family lives in a small village in Jaffna peninsula of Sri Lanka. His father is a doctor who renders service to those who are wounded by the Sri Lankan army. The Tamil leader applauds him for his services. But he humbly goes about his work in a makeshift hospital. Siva is a student in his final year of MBBS. He is very much disturbed but has not made up his mind to join his father after completion of his studies.

The racial war between Tamils and Sinhalese is not able to bring in a divide between people as it has between the leaders. Siva and his Sinhalese close friend and roommate Mikara save each other when confronted by opposing warlords. But Mikara when he becomes a military doctor is not able to save Siva`s father from being shot dead. The army men are ruthless in their decimations of Tamils. The nexus between the army and Buddhist clergy is clearly shown. That the Sinahalese racism has drawn its sustenance from the religion that advocated peace and harmony is alarming and hence the title of the film.

A Tamil male infant is seen as a potential threat and hence he is plucked away from the bosom of his mother and killed. Siva`s girlfriend Geetha`s mother is gang raped and, horror of horrors, a grenade is inserted in her vagina that explodes. Being the ethnic minority the Tamils look forward for deliverance from the peace keeping forces that arrive from the neighbouring country. But no sooner they arrive than they gang rape Geetha. Siva pleads with the Tamil leader to return for peace by following on the footsteps of Gandhi, the non-violent apostle. The civil war continues without hope, killing people on both sides. The lady officer who listens to the gruesome tale from Siva sheds tears. The tattoo mark she bears on her arm reveals her as a victim of Nazi power. By that the film successfully forges a parallel between the Tami ethnic strife and  the most dreaded genocide of history.

The film is a powerful indictment of state terrorism on its own subjects. Amidst bombs and gun fire we see men and women writing in pain amidst mutilated bodies lying zigzag on  land and water. The film in its narrative strikes a balance between the kind and the bad among enemies. If Mikara is a representative of a sympathetic Sinahalese then an officer of IPKF is shown reprimanding his cadre for ill treating the Sri Lankan Tamils. The film doesn’t gloss over certain factual realities. The LTTE leaders are unwavering in their decision to continue war and they have not shown any hesitation in drafting children to fight for them. Gun totting children are found everywhere. In a chilling scene a child who had lost his mother in war fires at the rapists and dies as a martyr.  The film doesn’t give much importance to Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran. His excesses have not been portrayed but he appears merely as a shield. Critics who couldn’t bear the portrayal of cruelty perpetrated by the State on the minority Tamils had of course found fault with its partisan approach.

The film was made with the avowed aim of spreading the awareness of the ethnic war of Sri Lanka. It is unfortunate the film couldn’t be distributed worldwide immediately in the years that followed its completion. Considering the fact that the film was mounted on a big budget a well known star cast perhaps could have carried on the film farther bestowing it with more visibility.  Shiju, Jayasurya, Soniya and Jyothi Lal have played their roles convincingly.

Rajesh Touchriver the director has provided an even pace to the film by restricting the main story centering around a few principal characters. He is equally good in orchestrating huge crowds. Sai George has written the script of the film produced by him and K.Shanmughathas . Cinematography by Jain Joseph and Raja Ratnam and editing by Ranjan Abraham and Sanjeev Mirajkar are the other credits. One cannot associate with the film the kind of amateurishness found in the Sri Lankan Tamil film over the years. In every corner when killing is not taking place danger is potentially lurking. The film shows men and women and children marching out in a serpentine que, unable to stay in their own turf. They began to settle in many countries around the world. Siva was one of them.  People like Siva escaped the country to provide succor to their families with their earnings as well as to narrate their woes to the outside world.

In later years,  those  who left the country  during tumult and conflagration  were subject to  strong criticism by Sri Lankan Tamils who stayed in their homeland. They were accused for choosing a comfortable life style in developed countries. But not all found prospects of good living. Also they faced lifelong identity crisis. Anyway  in those troubled times emigration was seen as a sensible option.

The film was made in 2001. Documentaries with graphic descriptions of violence committed on Tamil population were not too many at that time available to outside world. Since the film was made much water had flowed under the bridge. Indian government owned the sending of troops to Sri Lanka as a mistake although in the final war that was fought years later its share in decimating the Tigers was alleged. The film was understandably banned in Sri Lanka. It might not have passed the censors in India without severe cuts that would have mauled its shape and content. Though the fact remains that the film was shot majorly in Kerala which many films with civil war subjects chose by default to duplicate the Sri Lankan terrain.

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