We don't have the opportunity to see many (or
any) films from Sri Lanka, so In the Name of Buddha is a good
opportunity. While the film is made for a local audience and
uses many of the dramatic and melodramatic styles that are
geared to the sensibilities of audiences from the sub-continent,
it is also Western-audience friendly.
On its release in Sri Lanka in early 2003, many Buddhists
objected to it and other religious groups (including the Catholic
church) protested in solidarity. It was claimed that the film
says that Buddhists were responsible for the long civil war.
Looked at from this vantage point, this does not seem to be
the point of the film at all. In fact, there is a plea for
non-violence with reference to both Buddha and Gandhi.
The film is a vivid presentation of the war with some particularly
grim sequences which include torture, shooting battles, bombings,
brutal rapes and the destruction of a Catholic church during
Mass. The point of view of the film-makers is distinctively
Tamil and is highly critical of the Sinhalese military and
of the Indian Peacekeeping Force which was ineffectual (with
some soldiers indulging in atrocities) during the mid-80s.
But it is also critical of many Tamil strategies. The violence
over two decades took its toll of thousands of Sri Lankans.
The story focuses on an asylum seeker arriving at Heathrow
in 1993 and recounting his story to an immigration official.
This makes the film relevant to current discussions about
intake of asylum seekers. It visualises the dangers they have
lived through, war, families destroyed, life ambitions frustrated,
military atrocities. The film is not as polished as products
from big-budget studios, but it is earnest, grim, emotionally
demanding as well as raising political and social issues.