This evening at the ICES Colombo we saw a very powerful movie: DEMONS IN PARADISE, directed by Jude Ratnam. I am so very grateful that the director invited us to attend its first screening in Sri Lanka. I hope it gets shown and discussed everywhere.
Dayan Jayatilleka always said that the healing process and reconciliation will start not with accountability hearings a la Geneva, but with the arts.
This movie holds a mirror before us all. It forces one to look squarely at the violence that each of these island’s communities is capable of inflicting, supporting and enabling, not only on other communities but on each other, within one’s own community.
Starting with July ’83, via a train journey of escape to Jaffna from mob violence in the capital city which the government of the day did nothing to stop, Jude Ratnam ‘turns the searchlight inwards’ and confronts the horror that the LTTE visited on other Tamil militant groups and innocent civilians, and the Tamil community’s tolerance, and even support of it. A former Tiger, now a middle aged man says in bewilderment, “I can’t understand our community. How could they give us Coke while we were killing our own people?”
It is a courageous self-examination of a dark past which has not been attempted before.
The movie also features an interview with the photographer who took the iconic photo of a naked Tamil man just before he was beaten to death by a laughing Sinhala mob. He was asked what he felt as a Sinhalese when he took the photo. The photographer says that he knew right from wrong, and all he could do at that time was to take the picture so he could tell that story to society at large.
The movie shows emotional moments of great humanity that humbles and offers hope.
This film holds us accountable, individually and collectively. For all that we have done, and not done. The director’s honesty compels us to be honest in turn. This is truly a movie of healing, through a journey into unimaginable violence at the heart of our communities and our own culpability in not confronting it.
Jude Ratnam did. And in doing so, he began to heal us all.