Six Years for Siddhartha
Screening a movie for a continuous 100 days at local theaters is no
easy task. It is even more difficult to break records set by previous
movies in the process. Sri Siddhartha Gautama, the movie revolving
around Prince Siddhartha's life before attaining Enlightenment, has
achieved this double feat.
Gagan Malik and Roshan Ranawana as Prince Siddhartha and
The movie received a record revenue of Rs 2.6 million within the
first 10 days that it was screened. Around 388, 000 patrons have watched
the movie within the first 22 days. Produced by The Light of Asia
Foundation Chairman Navin Guneratne and prominent hotelier and former
Consul General of Sri Lanka to Los Angeles, Venezuela and Colombia, Jeff
Goonewardena Sri Siddhartha Gautama stars an array of local and Indian
artistes. Gagan Malik, Anchal Singh, Ranjan Ramanayake, Anjani Perera,
Gautam Gulati, Roshan Ranawana, Saranga Dissasekara, Dilhani Perera and
Wilson Gooneratne play prominent roles. Renowned filmmaker Chandran
Rutnam is the main adviser to the project. Here we bring you some
excerpts of an interview with the film's director
Attorney-at-law Saman Weeraman.
Q: Sri Siddhartha Gautama completed 100 days of screening in
theaters on May 3. It has shattered many records during that span.
Saranga Dissasekara and Anjani Perera as Channa and Queen
A: Sri Siddhartha Gautama is a project that has been in
discussions since 2007. The audience have appreciated our dedication and
effort in making a movie of this nature. I am grateful to all those
people who have been with us and helped us in the six years that we put
aside to make the movie.
We did not have any control over the records set by the movie. It
mirrors the feedback of the audience. We are grateful to them for the
enthusiasm they have shown towards our production.
Q: Recently a few Buddhist monks have criticized some of the
facts included in the movie through the media. Share your views about
A: I am grateful to those Buddhist monks for the feedback.
They have a right to make comments about the movie. However we presented
the script to a panel of 26 Nayaka Theras chosen by the 2600th Sri
Sambuddha Jayanthi Council. We described each scene and even projected
each picture via paintings to them for around four and a half hours.
Director Saman Weeraman
We edited the script according to their ideas and screened it to them
during the pre production stage before taking it to India. We made some
changes there too according to their advice. I believe that we have
sought the Maha Sanga's advice at every stage while making the movie.
The first edited version ran for around three hours and 40 minutes.
However we had to shorten it by another one hour and 40 minutes. We had
to pay a lot of attention to what we considered essential to be
projected on screen. That is why we informed the Maha Sanga that they
can request to view the movie for free from the first day that it hit
the screen. Around 18, 500 Maha Sanga and Buddhist monks have viewed the
film during this period. Many of them have praised our effort.
Q: It is also rumoured that the Light of Asia Foundation
depends on foreign funds.
A: The Light of Asia Foundation is a non profit local
organization based in Sri Lanka focused on the advancement of Buddhism
throughout the world through audio visual media. Sri Siddhartha Gautama
is one of its most ambitious projects.
The Light of Asia Foundation together with the National Film
Corporation and BMICH Foundation held a Buddhist themed international
short film festival in 2009. We incepted the Cinema Dansela concept by
showcasing films free of charge. This was funded by Guneratne and a few
locals who wanted to put their money into a worthy cause.
Oshadi Hewamadduma as Sujatha
We screened 141 Sri Lankan and 85 foreign short films based on
Buddhist themes at the festival in 2009. We picked 13 local productions
and 10 foreign films out of the lot and presented them with awards at a
gala event held at the Presidential Secretariat. President Mahinda
Rajapaksa graced the event. The Light of Asia Foundation has been
organizing this event every Vesak. We have had around 839 Buddhist
themed short films taking part in our competitions. 316 filmmakers have
been felicitated at the event. We haven't borrowed a single cent from
any foreign country for our work.
Q: How did you find funds for Sri Siddhartha Gautama?
A: Guneratne used his personal wealth to fund the movie for
the past six years. Many foreign producers wanted to be part of the
project, but they wanted to impose conditions on us. Later Jeff
Gonewardena and Kanthi Perera joined hands with us.
Guneratne even mortgaged his personal property for 60 million to fund
the movie. We did not have enough money to fund the publicity campaign.
A few sponsors helped us out during that process.
Q: Is that why you did not even have posters about the film?
A: Gunaratne and I have discussed about this concept. We did
not want to see fragments of posters connected with Sri Siddhartha
Gautama on walls or found in gutters. We believed that the movie is
powerful enough to create a buzz and that it will become popular through
word of mouth. 14, 50, 000 have watched the film so far.
Anchal Singh as Princess Yasodara
One Indian producer even quit the project because he wanted huge
posters of the movie adorning the walls of his organization.
Q: There is a rumour that there is also an attempt to make an
English version of the film.
A: We were hoping to make the film in English when we embarked
on the project in 2008. I was the General Manager of the National Film
Corporation then and proposed to make a movie about the life of Prince
Siddhartha till his Enlightenment to Guneratne.
A foreign producer was willing to join up with us at the time. Our
first choice for the director was Shyam Benegal. Chanran Rutnam who was
with us as our adviser even then.
We could not agree on the conditions brought on by foreign producers.
Therefore we decided to postpone the international production. I
heralded the local production as its director.
There is hope for an international production under this theme. It
may be a production which takes Sri Lankan cinema to the world. However
Gunaratne has already requested the president to donate Sri Siddhartha
Gautama to all the Buddhist countries free of charge.