18 October, 2019

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‘Flying Fish’ And The Constriction Of The Arts

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

I met Sanjeewa Pushpakumara last year in a little art cinema off the Champs Elysees at the showing of Asoka Handagama’s Ini Avan. It seemed he knew me from his days as a student or a journalist. A pleasant, articulate yet understated young man, of less taciturn intensity than Handagama, he debated Ini Avan with me. He introduced me to his Professor who was a member of the Jury at Cannes. Sanjeewa also turned up at a reception we hosted at the Embassy. Sanjeewa now owes a great debt to the officials of the Sri Lankan state, who in their generosity have given him and his movie global publicity. Next stop Cannes and then Hollywood perhaps?

The hysterical reaction of sections of the State and uncivil society to the movie Flying Fish and the French Film Festival raises many questions and all of them disturbing. I haven’t seen the movie but then again nor have those who demonstrated against it. While I cannot praise or condemn the film, I do note that it has won many international awards, mostly in Asia and one in Russia. If a movie has been repeatedly acclaimed by cinema critics in diverse parts of the world but is excoriated by the Sri Lankan state apparatus, then it is logical that the latter is out of tune with prevailing aesthetic and critical norms and standards. In other words, the hysteria reveals that there is far more wrong in places over here than with the film itself.

Let us however, assume that everything that those who condemn the movie say is correct. The answer is to have a vigorous discussion and criticise the film deploying the accepted canons of film criticism, not suppress it; still less hit the streets in raucous protest and lynch dissident artists, writers, translators and critics in the state media.

Even better, the authorities should encourage and facilitate the making of international class movies which convey the message that the state alleges ‘Flying Fish’ has not done but should have.

If young filmmakers and artists cannot explore our dark violent past, reflecting –and reflecting upon– the tragedy we lived through, embracing the common humanity of all the protagonists with all the frailties that implies, how then can reconciliation take place?

Flying Fish

Over the past year or two there has been a remarkable efflorescence of the Sri Lankan (mainly Sinhala) cinema. Just count the number of movies that have won awards at international festivals. There is a New Wave of post-war Sri Lankan cinema. Add to this the award-winning works of fiction (chiefly in the English language) by young Sri Lankan writers.  Is this new wave in the Arts to be stifled by the sensitivities of officials who decide which subjects are sacrosanct and which treatments taboo?

If the narrow minded Public Performances Board has itself approved a movie – and one recalls the stern editorialising in the state run Daily News against the hidebound conservatism of the ‘Censor board’ in the early 1970s—which other authority can revoke it and under which ordnance, law and article of the Constitution?  A minor official was quoted in the state run Daily News as saying that “art for art’s sake” cannot be permitted. Oh really? Since when and says who? Is there an official arts policy in Sri Lanka which governs all artistic creation and production?

State propaganda also has it that the film Flying Fish is not in consonance with the country’s culture. Where is that culture codified? Who decides on what the country’s culture is and isn’t and who gave them the mandate to do so? What kind of culture would it be if the arts are suppressed? How can one conceive of culture without the arts and art without the freedom of the artist to create? One can well imagine the fate of the Sigirya and the Isurumuniya art if these Taliban-type cultural police had served in ancient times.

Has Martial Law been declared in the Arts in Sri Lanka? If the ‘Defence authorities’ whatever that may mean, exercise a veto over the arts, what do they NOT exercise a veto over in civic life? Where do they get the Constitutional and legal right to do so? How does one classify a society in which such a de facto veto exists? Behind an increasingly illiberal democracy are we headed to the type of ‘mixed regime’ which in Latin America of the 1970s was termed a ‘State of National Security’ or a ‘civilian–military junta’?   Is a ‘civilian–military junta’ already operating alongside or within the democratic state; more manifest in the former conflict zones but increasingly influential in the island as a whole?

When the bureaucrats and auxiliary mobs target the French Film Festival, who looks bad in the eyes of world opinion, the French or the Sri Lankans? Who then is playing into the hands of the separatist, pro-Tiger Tamil Diaspora, Sanjeewa Pushpakumara or the xenophobes in the Sri Lankan state and Sinhala society? A few months ago, the target was the American Corner. Then it was the German foundations (one of which set up in Sri Lanka at the invitation of the then Minister of Local Government, R Premadasa, in 1965). Now it is the French film festival and the French embassy. Do the Sri Lankan state apparatchiks, propagandists and ideologues think that this will not shift opinion against us in those societies? Do they think that this will generate a positive attitude towards us in the state and governmental structures of those countries?

How then should an intelligent Third World government under scrutiny or worse, siege, from a superpower or big powers, behave towards critical, dissenting art and artists? Leonardo Padura is one of the most celebrated novelists today. I am a fan, having been introduced to his noir detective fiction by my friend the Ambassador of Portugal to Paris, an activist in the Portuguese Revolution of 1974, who had earlier served as Ambassador to Brazil. Leonardo Padura’s novels are sharply critical of all aspects of contemporary Cuban social, institutional and political life. His books are translated into English and published in New York (I picked up most of my collection at the Grand Central Station). Padura’s books include cynical retrospective asides at the Cuban war in Angola which lasted 12 years and involved 300, 000 troops, in an eminently just cause. Is he in exile in Miami? Has he been denounced by the Cuban armed forces or war veterans? Is he in and out of Cuban jails? Are the Cuban police investigating him? Is he reviled in the Cuban state media? This is what Slavoj Zizek, described as ‘the most dangerous philosopher in the West’, has to reveal:

“Leonardo Padura’s Mario Conde police procedurals…provide such a critical view of the Cuban situation (poverty, corruption, cynical disbelief) that one cannot but be shocked to learn not only that Padura lives in Havana but that he is an establishment figure who has received major state prizes”. (Slavoj Zizek, ‘Living in the End Times’, Verso London 2011, pp. 58-59)

It is not that the Cuban regime is less patriotic or anti-imperialist than the Sri Lankan (the former actually fought the imperialists). It is not that it is less zealous in its defence of national and state sovereignty. It is not that its armed forces are less valiant or respected (having made a revolution, defeated counterrevolutionary invasions, fought in Africa and even been stationed on the Golan heights defending Syria). It is that it is an intelligent and genuinely courageous, confident state, which embraces and promotes creativity in the arts, and knows that its prestige is enhanced far more than its stability is threatened by creative expression in music, literature and cinema.

*Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka also served in 2007-2009 as a member of the Jury of the TIME FOR PEACE Film and Music Awards launched in New York in 1994.

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    [A satire such as Puswedilla staged not late at night on a campus or bohemian coffee club but at the city’s leading theatre tells me that however distorted and devalued our democracy it isn’t a dictatorship or tyranny that we live in.

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/puswedilla-politics-and-provincial-elections/%5D

    Dayan Jayatilleka does not know whether he is coming or going !!!

    All one has to do is to read his previous column on Puswedilla which proudly proclaims that Srilankans are not living under dictatorship or tyranny & now that “Flying Fish” Dayan has been Knocked n Grounded outta his slumber does he accept that it is not “Democracy” that he is living in ???

    Dayan twists n turns as per his convenience & hence lacks credibility.

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      Absolutely Right!

      I am still to see someone who would so shamelessly sell pseudo “convictions” as well as Dayan does.

      He wrote a whole article praising MR as the best President Sri Lanka could have hoped for – that was in gratitude for the Paris seat. He went as far as promoting the notion that we should shun the Western values and should instead get in bed with Libya, Iran and the like. Now he wonders “Has Martial Law been declared in the Arts in Sri Lanka?” Is the implication that he is willing to overlook Marshall law in general, except when applied to the Arts?
      First he condemned as “civil types” anyone who disagreed with MR regime – now he is after the uncivil types as in “hysterical reaction of sections of the State and uncivil society.”
      First, he screamed foul claiming accountability hearings were strictly off limits given the sovereignty status of the nation. Then recently he was quoted saying “accountability is indeed a moral imperative” to placate and impress an international interviewer, faking civility.
      Dayan has no convictions – just a single minded ambition for another ambassadorship, no matter how that can be achieved.

      One needs to demonstrate some, even if only feeble, backbone and conscience at some point in life.

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        Backbone! This one has no bones at all.

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        Sorry. By all accounts he does have one bone. The front bone!

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        WELL THEN HE LISTENS TO HIS CONVICTIONS AND DOES NOT FEAR TO SHARE IT, COMPROMISE ON JUSTICE TO SAVE HIS OWN A*** !!

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      Ha, ha, ha, I am so glad that more and more people are beginning to notice how this slimy fish twists. Tomorrow he will be back to ‘Sri Lanka is a democracy’.

      We have had more than 30 years of this monkey jumping from one side to the other and the best part is that he thinks that no one can see what he is doing. He will be known as the master of posturing.

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      Don’t be so darn silly. The ‘deep state’ coexists with and within the democratic state. The processes run parallel. Take Turkey or Pakistan. Read up on dualism …or better still, dialectics and dialectical contradictions.

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        I say old chap. My doctor said that this ‘deep state’ sounds like a ‘conspiracy theory dressed up in respectability’. I told him not to be silly and that this ‘deep state’ explanation was made by none other than “*Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka also served in 2007-2009 as a member of the Jury of the TIME FOR PEACE Film and Music Awards launched in New York in 1994.”

        He remained silent and thoughtful for a while. The gave me a meaningful look and left. I think he is beginning to believe me now. Thanks so much for your help.

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          This fellow will not let it rest. Now he says that the ‘deep state’ is a dressed up version of ‘the illuminati’and is being used to shift the crimes of real people onto some imaginary ones. He says it is of the same strain as the dark tales one hears about ‘free masons’ and ‘the new world order’. Basically he sees it as a conspiracy theory.

          I do not think so because I am an illumiati and a free mason and since these things are true then I see no reason why your “DEEP STATE” cannot exist. So in Sri Lanka let us say the ‘illuminati’ or what shall we call them, lets just call them the “party” or for the tamils “PAATTI” (Grandmother) so according to you the party/paatti coexists with and within the democratic state.

          But what happened to the democratic state that was co existing with the Deep State/party/paatti? It looks as though we have gotten a muddled red riding hood where the paatti turned feral wolf and ate up the democratic state what old fellow?

          Oh my head! This damn full moon and its going to be chains tonight if I am not careful.

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        and the shrink wanted to know all about dualism and what these two things were and all that nonsense. He warned me not to dabble in all this dualisms and marxisms and other isms.

        He said dualists were mad people who believed that the world had two parts and he said that nondualists were mad people who believed that the world is one part only.

        He said dialectics and dialectical contradictions were good excuses for saying anything that one wanted to say and doing anything that one wanted to do and that they were very helpful to politicians. He said it would be good for instance to justify ‘beating up and killing Tamils to keep them in their place’. He also said that I was ‘regressing’, supposedly going back in time psychologically.

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      Dayan Jayathilake is Anglican. He is fighting for that. That is why his this FLIP FLOP behaviour. If he can help, every thing is OK.

      He says something, In the next article he says the opposite.

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    Dayan is a person who sold his soul to MR for a chance to experience the cafes of Paris at State expense with the access granted to an Ambassador.

    HOWEVER IT IS CLEAR THAT A PSYCHOTIC IMBECILE WHO HAS RISEN TO THE LEVEL OF HIS INCOMPETENCE HAS TAKEN OVER THE COUNTRY FROM MAHINDA.

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      Man, I need more than the fingers of one hand to count the times I’ve spent in Paris as a boy and in my teens, well BEFORE I became ambassador.

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        Wow!what an accomplishment in life, and how interesting to find a Marxist theoretician boasting so much about having been in Paris(courtesy of old man’s CIA connections?) a haven of capitalist narcicism.

        You reveal so much through your “writings” that you appear intellectually totally ‘naked’ these days.

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      Truth, no fish will fly just for a trip to Paris. This one is always struggling to stay in the water, because without water it will shrivel up and die while with water it swells up and says “look how great am I”, all the while hoping yearning ‘beseeching the gods,’oh why wont someone say how great I am,’why won’t they give me at least the Goebbels prize’, ‘why did not the UN make me the Secretary General’, ‘Why wont I be made the foreign minister’, ‘I should be the president after all I am a PhD you know’.

      This is the typical 70’s Sri Lankan Man. There were a whole bunch of these around talking Marx and madness and thinking that they were the creme on the cake.

      This is not psychosis. I should know. There are plenty of psychotics here. But nevertheless it looks as though he is losing it. His flip flops are getting frantic.

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    The land of the Frog eaters , where the ex LTTE is well entrenched surely wouldn’t use its taxpayer funds to promote Srilanka.

    Would they?.

    Francophile Dayan may find this movie artistic and in good taste, after a few glasses of Cheap French plonk.

    But the great majority of the inhabitant poopulation take it serious and are angry , when their Armed Forces are insulted , and rediculed.

    If they don’t it is the biggest insult to the thousands of brave soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to eliminate the LTTE, and gain the peace and freedom that was taken away for thirty years.

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      whats so insulting to the armed forces K A Sumansekera (Leela) it jsut shows the way humans behave and so many movies have been made depicting army/terra behaviour from the 2nd world war to the Vietnam war

      Its a known fact that prostitution flourishe big time in a’pura (the holy city) during the war,its also a known fact that humans have a need for sexual release and armed conflict just seems to increase it (perhaps thats a way of releasing their tensions,maybe a psychologist can confirm it)

      The movie does not in anyway glorify the LTTE at all!

      So tell me Mr Sumansekera (LEE POTTE LEELA) do you want everyone to say that the Armed forces in SL were sainlier than Gautama Buddha himself?

      or is that what your handlers ask you to write

      bTW: tell me have you paid back all the money to those who invested in your LEE POTTER scheme?

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      How are the Armed Forces insulted by this movie?

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    How many of us who are commenting here have watched the movie? I am dying to watch it, after hearing the gentle Sinhala female voice in the trailer.

    If one has not seen the complete movie, how can one comment on it? This is exactly what is called prejudice! Are we a prejudiced lot, including the author?

    Time can be better spent elsewhere in more fruitful pursuits.

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    Leaving Dayan’s previous views aside for the moment, the sentiments expressed in this post are right on. The authorities are getting so paranoid that virtually anything is enough to set their fears in motion – to the detriment of us all.

    More of these types of critiques from folk like Dayan should be welcomed.

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      Peter,

      That would be true, if the critiques have genuine, with well meaning intentions rather than mere transitional ploys to leverage every and any opportunity entirely for self- promotion. When the intent is vile, even a good deed turns to naught, if not worse!

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        You mean no one should admire an autobahn because they were built by Hitler?

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          David,

          Yep!

          It is not unlike autobahn; and it is not unlike what passes as development of the North — if the intent is vile, even a good deed turns to naught, if not worse.

          You were spot on! You do see things clearly, I will admit.

          Now, see if you could also convince Rajasingham, the veterinarian who frequents this space volunteering “wisdom”, deluded that the training he has had gives him some extra-ordinary abilities.

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            I was merely asking a question. So do you also contend that therefore we should not use autobahns because their builder was evil? Not use medical techniques that were created for war? Not use the internet because it was created to coordinate nuclear war? Can you expand on this line of thought?

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              David — Reasonable question indeed!

              Autobahn turned out to be “good” only because Hitler’s intent was cut short. Incidentally the autobahn was not Hitler’s initiative – my understanding is that Hitler merely took over an on-going project for his nefarious intent. Nevertheless, the argument still stands stand that autobahn ended up being “good” only because Hitler’s ill intent was stopped-short.

              Similarly, Internet turned “good” only because it was wrestled away from its original intent and channeled to good use. As for war-time medical techniques, the intent in any case was to do good, within and despite the atrocity of war, and so there was no bad intent in developing those medical techniques per se – to that extent, it may be somewhat off-target here.

              Now, how does that fit into Daynan’s criticism of the Flying Fish ban? My point, and several other’s point, is that having known Dayan’s penchant for self-promotion, leeching every available opportunity, often shamelessly vacillating from one extreme to another, this article stinks of another attempt to gain at least a miniscule of respectability back by faking civility. It is not aimed at genuinely promoting democratic values. It is not a true a reflection of his convictions. How do we know that? His own well travelled trail! For instance his recent (unsurprisingly) 180 degree turn-coat statement that “accountability is a moral imperative”, having for the last four years adamantly and extensively debated exactly the opposite! Or, advocating that we shun the Western values and instead get in bed with countries such as Libya, Iran, Uganda.

              If Dayan’s ill intent can be scuttled, yes certainly the opposition to banning may in fact turn to be a “good” deed. However, going by his own history, Dayan’s criticism is aimed at self-promotion, and thus the deed remains unworthy, unless and until Dayan’s principal intent is scuttled.

              Now, here are few more autobahns, much closer to home, that may throw more light: Rajapakse International Airport, Rajapakse International Harbour, Mihin Lanka,… – I am sure you get the picture. Classic examples of how rogue intent can turn good deeds to utter duds – wouldn’t you agree?

              David, incidentally, the last time you responded to one of my comments was with regard to the right and wrong of declaring victory day to commemorate winning the war against LTTE. You made a splendid and astute observation that the JVP victory was a much more wholesome victory given how definitively that was won. I whole heartedly agreed with you, given that the JVP war was brought to a close more definitively and completely, and with no unsavoury and irritating, if not worse, prolongations such as accountability demands, war crime allegations, international attempts at assaults on the nation’s sovereignty, unrelenting intrusion of Diasporic challenges, and what-have-you – getting only hotter by the day!

              You were absolutely right, and on that account I asked if you would support a similar, or more aptly, an even grander victory day celebrations to commemorate the war won against JVP. May I ask you why, after having so valiantly lauding the glorious victory, you refrained expressing your support to celebrating that victory over JVP?

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        Kumar – ” When the intent is vile, even a good deed turns to naught, if not worse!”

        Certainly food for thought!

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      You have a point there Peter. Some things can only be articulated by the court jester. These types of critiques from anyone else other than our very own will have the white vans rolling. And of course to complete the picture we do need everyone piling ridicule on the jester and we really should appreciate the good job that is being done by ours. A good court jester like a good butler is hard to come by. Now if someone will upload the film we can all sit down and watch it and see if it is of any use other than as a ticket to an asylum of a political sort.

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    Let us discuss the film and its banning here, not the writer of the article .Why do some behave like illiterate village women who enjoy by slinging mud at others?

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      It is the Full Moon Punchisingho, it is the moon!

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      Punchisingho,

      There are two issues here – one certainly is the need to discuss the appropriateness of banning the film, and the second, that obviously has escaped you completely, is to contain demagogues with established history from finding room in these civil issues to leverage them for self-serving ambitions and objectives.

      One should not be myopic to the significance of the second issue, which is in fact fundamental to the country’s current state of democracy which gave the necessary latitude for the regime to callously conduct undemocratic practices such as the current banning.

      And, yes, Dayan was in fact instrumental from day one in supporting the regime’s callous infiltration of civil liberties – although now he finds it more opportunistic to sing a diametrically different tune.

      That is what is reflected in the many responses above – not necessarily addressing just the ban issue.

      Given your seeming familiarity with illiterate village women, perhaps that focus on your part had hindered your developing the capacity to see beyond your nose, as it were.

      Incidentally, do you not see the irony in your statement – while advocating others not to “sling mud,” in the same sentence you make a reference to ‘behav(ing) like illiterate village women”. Again, see if you could try to extend your vision beyond that possibly diminutive snout!

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    Dayan Jayatilleke is right. The reason is that we do have a dictatorship behind the facade of democracy. Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, it is slowly but surely revealing itself.

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      What facade of democracy are you talking about? Or are you and Dayan really blind? I have been telling that clown that fascism had grabbed the Sri Lankan State at least as far back as 2009. And now it seems you are waking up!

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        I have no intention of explaining to you what I mean by a facade of democracy. Your arrogant tone may satisfy your ego but does not convince me that you see any other view beside yours.

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