According to IMDb “The Movie [Methagu] shows the true events that happened in Tamileelam to suppress Tamil ethnicity and it is talking about how and why Tamil leader Prabhakaran emerged in the Tamil freedom struggle in the Indian Ocean Island nation Sri Lanka.” Not all events are true as I explain.
According to Wikipedia “Methagu (transl. His Excellency) is a 2021 Indian Tamil-language political thriller film based on the life of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The release of the film was postponed several times due to legal issues, but finally had the digital release on 25 June 2021.”
The movie really concerns Prabhakaran’s early life up to the murder of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah. It cost US$80,000 to produce and credit is given at the end to many persons from all over the world for helping produce it.
The film, however, is effectively banned in Sri Lanka by arresting persons in possession of a copy, presumably because it has been released by “Thamileela Thirai Kalanjiam.” Many of my students (born after the events of the film had taken place) have seen it and pass it around hush-hush on thumb-drives. Given the mixed opinions among them or reluctance to give an opinion, I had to see it – which I did when I went recently to visit my children in California.
The film has several flaws. I will mention only some in this review.
Only the person acting for Srimavo Bandaranaike has given her name, Lizzie Antony. She is a Tamil Nadu actress. All the others have only one name, presumably a pseudonym. The one acting for Prabhakaran, is Kutti Mani! They all want anonymity I think because our government is so vindictive.
While that is ok, what is not is that many of the actors do not fit the characters they portray. It should have been easy to find actors who look at least a little like the characters they portray. Prabhakaran’s father with a full head of hair at age 80, Veluppillai, is balding when Prabhakaran is born and has the same hair some 25 years later. Only Prabhakaran’s mother is seen to age with dignity as the film progresses.
SJV Chelvanayakam who nearly always is in a cream-coloured suit and had a full head of hair to his end, is bald when he signs the BC Pact, and is seen in a checked kurta instead of the white verti-national that he occasionally wore with no collar. Bandaranaike’s suit seems out of a Hindi movie just like the kurtas worn by actors. His kurta has a collar. However, he is presented in good light, but unbelievably speaks ungrammatical English in the badly written script in discussing racism with Srimavo: “Up to where this racism will lead to, is not known to me.”
Alfred Duraiappah in real life had a green Fiat. In the movie he has a silver Ambassador presumably because that is what they could get in India. India does make foreign cars now and probably did not make the relevant Fiat model from the 1970s.For other inconsistencies, see the photos shown. I will move on to historical errors.
I knew Alfred personally. Although I did not respect his politics, he is maligned a lot more than he deserves. His political position was to work with the government to get our rights. It is a legitimate position. We did not like that because it was a horrid government. We who were young then regarded all who sucked up to Srimavo as traitors and that is enunciated by Prabhakaran in the movie.
The movie narrates that Duraiappah would do anything for office whereas the fact is the people of Jaffna elected him Mayor. He was a suave operator. When an uncle of mine, K. Nesiah, wrote a harsh editorial in The Cooperator about him, the next time he saw my uncle waiting for a bus, he stopped, offered him a lift, made good conversation, and told him “Sir, next time you write please be kind to me.” It is difficult to write against a man like that. As Mayor he built up the new market whereas the FP when it controlled the Council was good only at making speeches. I sensed that, after he developed Jaffna so much, people did not object to his giving away shops for a charge saying that when a cow does good work threshing the rice paddy it would eat a little. But we the youth did not buy such arguments.
Where he went wrong is that he held out to the world that Srimavo was popular despite what she did to us through Standardisation. It was a time when imports were stopped. We in Jaffna, practically everyone, desperately needed bicycle tyres, then manufactured only by the government’s Kelaniya Tyre Corporation. Alfred as Mayor had complete control as they were sold through the Cooperative Stores. We lined up at the Mayor’s office and got him to give a chit to the Coop authorizing the sale of two tyres. In exchange we had to pay Rs. 2 and sign the SLFP Membership form. When I stood in line, he saw me and came out saying “Hello Young Hoole” and gave me the authorization without my having to join the SLFP. It was widely said that Srimavo was so impressed with the torrent of new members as Tamils were joining the SLFP in droves, she gave him jobs to distribute which he did for a charge. There were other stories among the youth like how he arranged a dancer living at the railway crossing on Point Pedro Road South of Hospital Road for Anura. Anyway, the youth were furious and the sale of jobs undid him. Sirimavo it was said was shocked that he lost the 1975 election despite getting so many members.
The International Tamil Conference
The real numbers at the conference were much bigger than shown in the movie, and Veerasingham Hall a lot more spacious that the hall they could find in India for the movie. The claim is made that 9 people were killed and they show the police beating up the crowd and killing a conference organizer by stepping on his neck. As the 3-man Commission appointed by the public under Justice de Kretser showed, the police went to arrest an international participant who, having been denied a visa in India, applied in Malaysia and came for the conference that Srimavo wanted in Colombo where she could make it a show piece under her. She was furious and asked the police to deport the man. Alfred played no part in disrupting the conference as claimed in the movie. The police while going in a jeep to the venue, found people seated and listening outside the hall. The Jeep was driven into them, and the public reacted by overturning the jeep. The police fired into the air, the electric wires dropped on the galvanized pipes placed to control the comings and goings of the crowd. Those in contact with the pipes were electrocuted. One of the 9 was my dear OL mathematics teacher at St. John’s College, Mr. Sigmaringam who ran home in panic and died of a heart attack. There was an attack by the police insofar as they drove into the crowd and beat the crowd when they threw sand at the police but no attack so savage as depicted in the movie. No conference organizer was killed by ASP Jaffna stepping on his neck as depicted.
Correcting accounts like this in the movie is difficult, perhaps fool hardy, because as someone once asked me, “So are you saying the police were nice?”
Pon Sivakumar bombed Duraiappah’s car while he had his regular tea at Premier Café across my home on 2nd Cross Street. A scene in the movie shows Prabhakaran plotting and saying we must hit back. “Who?,” they ask. They think of Srimavo and then she being big they think of a Traitor. When asked which traitor, Prabhakaran says Duraiappah. But then, instead, Sivakumar (a friend of mine) is sent to kill ASP Chandrasekera.
Sivakumar wears a clean, white, long-sleeved shirt and tie which I doubt he ever wore except for his OL Identity Card photograph. Although he dropped out with the OLs (before or after passing I do not know) an A-Grade school principal told me very seriously that he had entered the university but rejected his seat to engage in the Tamil struggle.
In the movie Sivakumaran goes to shoot the ASP, the gun misfires and he eats cyanide and dies promptly. In truth he went to rob a bank, something went wrong, and the police bank guards gave chase and villagers not realizing who he was joined the chase. Recognising that his capture was inevitable, he ate cyanide (I believe in Neerveli) and died 3 days later in Jaffna hospital.
The movie scene from 1974 shows, as part of Sivakumar’s reading, the book “Bourne Ultimatum.” It is a 1990 novel by Robert Ludlum. I do not think any of them could read English at that level. It is how nationalist myths are made.
The finale of the movie is where Prabhakaran murders Alfred. Respectable histories question if indeed Prabhkaran was the murderer of Alfred.
In the movie Prabahakaran’s supposed sister Kayal is molested by a police constable whom she kills by banging a pot on his head. I am not aware of such an incident.
A Buddhist monk, presumably a general figure for all racist monks, says very offensive things of Tamils. He says that he wants Tamils not to obey the Sinhalese but to fear them. He adds, “The weapon of education must not be in Tamil hands. Tamils are educated and working for the government. If this goes on, we will be their slaves. We must first reduce the close relationship Tamis have with Tamil Nadu. Tamils are strengthened by this relationship. If this continues, we will have no land. Are we to commit suicide? We must stop Tamils studying.”
Srimavo agrees and this is the precursor to standardization. The real story of Standardisation is far more complex than that, although some crazy Sinhalese people might have thought like this.
Prabhakaran invents the slogan “Student’s Sakthi is very big Sakthi. If education goes, a generation goes.” Hearing of the real incident of the burning of the Hindu Priest by Sinhalese mobs in Panadura, Prabhakaran asks “Why do we not hit back?”
I can go on. But with so many errors and truths mixed up, I will not repeat all aspects of the narrative.
In a democracy censorship is to be eschewed. A free discussion will bring out what aspects of the movie are credible and what not. In sum, the government has over-reacted by banning the movie, even that banning being not by a formal gazette but through fear by arresting persons in possession of the movie. That enhances the arbitrary powers of the police. That will only increase the value of the movie and make more people want to see it. Indeed, if I had not seen the movie to write this, many young people will believe all that is in it. Whose good does it serve?