Sanjeewa Pushpakumara’s critically acclaimed anthology film Flying Fish (ඉගිල්ලෙන මලුවො) is set to have its first official screening in 2022.
Initially premiered in Colombo in 2013, the film was subsequently banned by the Government under claims that the film “insults the security forces” – and now, nearly a decade after its initial release, the film will finally be screened for the Sri Lankan public.
Speaking to the director about these past few years, where he has gone on to make several other incredibly successful feature length films, one of which is his latest film Asu (ආසු) in 2021 which was selected to be a part of the 34th Tokyo International Film Festival, he shared that despite all this, the past few years have been an incredibly painful experience, not only for himself but for everybody who was involved in ඉගිල්ලෙන මලුවො.
Noting how he himself could not return to Sri Lanka for many years, leaving to Korea to complete his master’s, he explained how similarly, his cast including Kaushalya Fernando, Gayesha Perera, Sampath Jayaweera, Manohara Nanayakkara, the rest of cast, and the film’s crew had to experience difficult times as a result of being part of the project.
He shared that back when it was banned, he heard that the film was banned from a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, but he never received an official letter, following which he and his family were subject to intense scrutiny by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), grilled them incessantly.
“For a filmmaker like myself, who is from a remote part of this country, I wanted nothing more than to screen my film to my home audience,” said Pushpakumara.
“Even though it was a painful experience, I did not give up my fight. Despite my film having received numerous accolades from around the world, something always felt missing because as a filmmaker; something feels amiss if you aren’t able to show your work to the audience you know, the audience you grew up with,” he added.
Finally, having lived away from Sri Lanka for the longest time, on an occasion where he returned to Sri Lanka, he was once again asked to come and answer some questions regarding the film and its contents – following which the CID, having determined that it is not in any way discriminatory of the forces, had nothing to do with the Libertaion Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the file on the film was closed and it was made free to be released.
Pushpakumara then submitted the film to the Sri Lankan film censor board where it received its certification for release.
While all may appear well and the film’s journey has received its happy ending, it is important to remember how the work was treated upon its release. Speaking about the support he received at the time when he was thrust into the middle of controversy, he noted how there is no strong civil society in Sri Lanka. “Much of the activism here is on behalf of friends. There is no ‘public’; there are only teams who will stand for their friends if they are to face some inconveniences, but there is no real pursuit of justice,” he said. He did note, however, that while there were many who did not extend their support, there were those who did and he is grateful for it.
The filmmaker also shared that yet another reason why he wished to screen this here officially was because what little people have seen of the film has been leaked footage which was a rough cut of the film, entirely without any post-production efforts, without the picture quality, sounds, or any of it that was fine-tuned. He said he has an idea of how these visuals got leaked but he has since put it behind him and is now looking forward to releasing the film as it was intended for the viewers.
Sri Lankans can look forward to getting their first official glimpse of ඉගිල්ලෙන මලුවො, and the director noted that he has his fourth feature film, which is currently in post production and is the first official collaboration for Sri Lanka with Italy as it is being co-produced with the Italian Cultural Embassy. The film is titled Peacock Lament and stars Mahendra Perera and Sabeetha Perera, the latter of whom has been incredibly selective of her film appearances as a veteran actress and has chosen to lend her skills to Pushpakumara’s upcoming project.