Thursday, October 29, 2009

Suriya Arana

Films with a strong religious theme don’t have a very high success rate or a long shelf life. Think of George Steven’s The Greatest Story Ever Told. At 4 hours and 20 minutes it was dubbed the Longest Sleep-inducing Film Never Sold. It was eventually cut to 3 hours and 17 minutes and finally to 2 hours and 17 minutes but even then it never recouped the money spent to make it. What I object most about this film is that Jesus seems to move through it as if he’s doing tai chi. Even when he clears the money changers from the temple he does it in slow motion. Buddhist themed movies are little better – Kundun (yawn!), Little Buddha (I'll just nip out and get more pop corn and be back in an hour), etc. An exception to this is Somaratne Dissanayake Suriya Arana, Sinhala cinema's greatest success so far. I would go so far to call it a minor masterpiece and it’s a pity it is so little known beyond Sri Lanka.
The story line is an interesting one. Sediris, a hunter in a remote jungle village accompanies his 10 year old son Tikira, on a hunting trip to teach him the tricks of the trade. Other villagers keep clear of the forest because Sediris has scared them off with false rumors of ghosts and yakkhas. The sudden appearance of a monk with a young disciple in the forest becomes a threat to Sediris. His various attempts to remove the monks fail. Meanwhile a secret friendship developed between the hunter’s son and the monk’s disciple, challenging the adults hostility. Inspired by the little monk, the hunter’s son Tikira gradually learns to love animals instead of killing them. Villagers begin to accept the monks despite Sediris’ threats. One day while fleeing from villagers Sediris accidentally runs onto one of his own gun-traps and loses a limb. With two wives and six children Sediris is helpless but the monk he hated and tried to discredit comes forward to help them all and the two boys friendship blossoms.
Senior Sri Lankan monks, those paragons of conservativism and lack of imagination, were outraged by the film and demanded that it be banned. Showing a little monk standing on his hands and wrestling with another boy (and a lay boy at that!) is of course a major threat to the Sangha’s dignity. Monks in Sinhala cinema are depicted the way Jesus is in Steven’s film. The public took no notice, Suriya Arana became the highest grossing film in Sri Lankan history and the monks backed down, eventually giving the film their ‘blessing’ (Others Lead, We Follow). No doubt part of the films success was due to its two young stars, Sajith Anuththara (Tikira) and Dasun Madhusanka (the little monk), the cutest little guys you’ve ever seen and both very credible actors.
Have a look at this scene from the film. As it happens most of these scenes were shot in Meemure, one of my old stomping grounds. How fondly I remember the time I and the former Venerable Pajalo spent in this lovely place. We never saw the leopard. Perhaps she was hiding.


puaykim said...

I think we will ask for the screener and look at bringing this film in for the THIS Buddhist Film Festival in 2010.

Any other good Buddhist films to recommend, Bhante? Thanks!

Sophearath said...

Dear Venerable,

How are you today? Well, just want to share with you an interesting topic on Jesus Outshines Buddha. Please go to the link for the detail.


Anandajoti said...

Dear NUSBS Alumni,

You can see a selection of videos we have shown at our temple here:

They are not all Buddhist, as we also show films about health matters, etc., but many of them are --- and no talking heads.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Sopherath,
I have politely replied to Jonalyn’s comments on the Buddha. It will be interesting to see it my comment is published. Check her wed site later.

Anonymous said...

Dear Venerable,

Would you mind to send your comment on Jonalyn's blog to me ( as it has not been published.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Rahula,
then please send me your email address.