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Monday, 6 May 2013






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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 Prince Nanda

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 Prajapathi

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 this situation.

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.


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