A Gun and a Ring
Touching upon controversial social issues that affect the Tamil diaspora, independent Canadian-Tamil film ‘A Gun and a Ring’ has been impressing audiences in various film festivals around the globe. ‘A Gun and a Ring’ premiered at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June 2013, and was nominated for the Golden Goblet Award at the festival. It has since been screened at film festivals in Montreal, Louisville and Hamilton, and the Cinerockom International Film Festival where it picked up four awards. With the film set to premiere in London this weekend, Tamil Guardian spoke to director Lenin M. Sivam about his inspirations for the film and the way the war and Tamil struggle has affected him and the world he has grown up in.
Lenin M. Sivam
TG: Tell us about your inspirations for the film
After watching the Channel 4 documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ in 2011, I was in a state which it took me a good two weeks to recover from. I came to Canada when I was 18 and pretty much grew up here, but even for a person like me the impact was very intense, and it struck me that even though we as diaspora, we have technically escaped the war, we will never be able to escape the memories of it. So that created the theme of my film, realising that the effect it had on me must be universal, that the effect of war is always going to be with us –the diaspora. There were so many frustrations, anger, helplessness that I was feeling; when I started writing the script that was the emotional state I was in and that triggered the whole thing.
My name itself is Lenin; I was named after the Russian revolutionary. Back in the 70s my father was a young man and he was frustrated with the Sri Lankan government and the ethnic conflict and how the Sinhalese majority was marginalising the Tamils – his way of protesting was to name us after revolutionaries hoping that one day our generation would find our own independence, Eelam.
Three years after I was born was the declaration of Father Selva, and then the war started, my life has pretty much been with the war all along. I grew up in a Tamil nationalist family and I realised that this is part of me, part of my life; the war itself brought me where I am now. I thought that I needed to tell this story, tell my frustrations and my anger, about the people and what we have experienced. I wanted to capture the emotions of the impact of the war on the diaspora, through my characters. I wanted the six characters to be impacted in various ways, similar to how I have been impacted, and to show how the war continues to impact the next generation too.
TG: The film is based in Canada and focuses on social issues affecting the Tamil community there. How much of these have you observed or witnessed personally?
Well I have been observing and witnessing various ways in which the war and immigrating affect our community. Some of the arcs are real, some are made up but they are all based on the disconnect that people fall into when they are forced to uproot their lives and flee to a new country.
For example there is a gay character whose father is an ex-fighter in the Tamil struggle. For the father, the fight never ended, he is still struggling and he takes everything as a war. He thought he was settled when he had a house and his son went to university, but then the son turns out to be gay, which he took as another roadblock in his life. The way he handled it and the way he forced his son to denounce his love which led to the suicide of his partner, it’s supposed to convey the difference in the mentality of the older generation that immigrated here, and the younger generation born and raised here. It’s about the generational gap which is characterised mainly I think by a communication breakdown. The attitude towards homosexuality is just one example of that breakdown – you cannot reason with the father in any way to accept his son’s sexuality, because that’s the way he was brought up.
TG: Certainly, issues such as homosexuality could be controversial. Did you face any criticism for portraying those issues?
I did face a lot of criticism, for example for portraying love between a Sudanese refugee and a Tamil refugee, I was criticised for glorifying interracial marriage. Actually my intention with that arc was to portray a relationship between two survivors of genocide, the internationally recognised Darfur-genocide, and the unrecognised genocide of Tamils by Sri Lanka. Despite their cultural and racial differences, and even language barriers, they understand each other and relate to each other because of what they have suffered.
On the irony of the film’s success in Shanghai, Lenin jokingly adds:
Sri Lanka has been hiding behind China, especially at the UN, and here is my film about the Tamil genocide going to the biggest film festival in China and being nominated for the biggest award, which I guess was quite remarkable.
Wrapping up the interview, Lenin says:
This is an honest film, with my honest feelings. My producer was touched the same way. About a hundred people were involved in this film and the same emotions were shown by everyone. It was the same when we screened the film in Toronto and Paris, and the film is very personal to us as the Tamil diaspora.
‘A Gun and a Ring’ premieres in London on Saturday, 22nd February, 6pm at Cineworld Wembley. See more details on Facebook.