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Touch and go

Rajesh Touchriver's film "In The Name Of Buddha" recently screened at the Cannes festival, was mired in controversy. The director talks to SANGEETH KURIAN about his work.

IN HIS straw hat and crescent shaped antique chain that hangs from his neck embossed with `peace' and `shanti', Rajesh Touchriver makes an impression even before he talks about his controversial film "In The Name Of Buddha.' (Don't get misguided by his name, he is very much an Indian from Kerala, who changed his original surname Thodupuzha into its literal translation `Touchriver') A postgraduate in visual language and direction from the Wimbledon School of Art, London, Touchriver's film graphically recreates the atrocities of civil war in Sri Lanka through the eyes of a Sri LankanTamil. The movie was nominated for the Best Debut Director category at the Cannes Film Festival.

However, owing to its theme and pressure from the Sri Lankan High Commission, the movie had to be withdrawn after the preliminary round. In an interview, Touchriver explains why he thinks the controversies surrounding the movie are misplaced.

The Sri Lankan Government has objected to the film saying that it is highly prejudiced and offensive to Buddhism. What is your reaction?

One cannot just criticise a film without watching it. In fact, when the movie was first screened at Oslo in November 2002, the Sri Lankan High Commission called for its ban. Following this, the British Government re-examined the movie and cleared it with an Adult certificate.

What prompted you to choose this story line?

One of the producers of the film, Sai George, wanted to make a movie on his Tamil friend who fled Sri Lanka to London fearing persecution. Based on that, I wrote the script.

Did you do any research on the subject?

Yes. I went through BBC's documentary footage on the civil war, read Anita Pratap's "Island of Blood" and of course, browsed the Internet. In fact, it was only after research that I learnt of the magnitude of human rights violation taking place in that country.

Has this realisation led to emphasis on the victimisation of the Tamils?

I am not trying to portray any particular community as a victim or villain. My story is about civilians who are caught between the government and the Tamil extremists.

The protagonist of the film, Siva, flees the country not because he is scared of the government but because he dared to challenge the local Tamil leaders by reasoning them to shun the path of militancy. This is precisely the message of my film — `violence begets violence.What the world today needs is peace.'

Why did you choose the title `In The Name of Buddha,' which seems more like a frontal attack on the Sinhalese?

I have used the title in a generalised sense rather than hitting out at any particular community. I wanted to convey the irony that some strife-torn countries in the world are Buddhists, be it Sri Lanka, Indonesia or Tibet.

Was it at Cannes that your film got international recognition for the first time?

No, the film was adjudged the best foreign film at the Beverley Hills International Festival, in Los Angles, and also at the Newport Beach Festival, California, last month.

When will the movie be screened in India?

I am planning to screen it at the Surya Film Festival in Kerala, sometime in September. A couple of distributors have also evinced interest in buying the film.

What is your next project?

My next project is about the life of the sage Vatsayana, who wrote Kamasutra. The film will explore as to what provoked the sanyasi to undertake such a treatise.

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