12 August 2008
The long awaited showing of ‘My Daughter: The Terrorist’ took place on Monday 11th August to a fully sold out mixed audience at the ‘The Frontline Club’, a media club promoting independent journalism. Following the controversy courted by the film, not least for the Sri Lankan Government’s attempts to block showings globally at numerous film festivals in addition to the reported death threats against the producers, the crowd was in an expectant mood. The film itself was directed by Norwegian Beate Arnestad during the period of the ceasefire between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.
The crux of the film is centred on the lives of the two protagonists; a pair of female Black Tiger cadres known by their nom de guerres Dharsika and Puhalchudar. The Black Tigers are famed, all be it notoriously, for their use of suicide bombing as a military tactic against the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. However, the stigma associated with suicide bombing, especially since 9/11, has often meant the method itself rather than its cause has been a matter of discussion. With full permission of the LTTE, Arnestad attempts to investigate an example of these causes and discover what it is that drives the Black Tigers into what they do.
Through a series of conversations with the two soldiers, Arnestad delves into their personal experiences, both as civilians and as cadres during the long running conflict. By visiting various locations which allow them to relive their experiences, the viewer learns about the regular problems endured by the women in particular, and the Tamil population in general, at the hands of the Sri Lankan forces, such as regular aerial bombardment of civilian areas. Additionally, by interviewing Dharsika’s mother, the film tries to explore the impact on the families of LTTE cadres. The interview is very open in content despite the emotions it evokes in her mother and as her mother reveals, Dharsika’s involvement coincides with the death of her father in an aerial bombing.
The film is extremely powerful and certainly achieves its aim in seeking out the inner feelings of the two women. They are candid in their knowledge of their likely fate yet they unflinchingly describe why they hope to be involved in such a mission. Their words and expressions are heartfelt and reveal their thorough determination and commitment to the cause yet simultaneously demonstrates their indisputable human nature with the revelations of their hurtful memories and tears at occasions. The trust that Arnestad gains with her protagonists is shown through their use of humour at regular intervals as the film progresses. The personal suffering and the genuine retelling of their stories gradually begin to develop an unwitting sympathy in the viewer, who feels their pain, yet is conscious that it contradicts their stand against the use of suicide bombing as a military means.
Amongst the interviews with the soldiers, the producers have made a significant effort to maintain an unbiased standpoint with video clippings of past suicide attacks such as the attempt on President Kumaratunga, and the result of the Colombo Central Bank Bombing.
Following the show, a question and answer session with Arnestad took place in which she was frank about how she went about her project, taking great care to not reveal the help she received and the reasons she picked these two women. Significantly however, whilst not supporting them in their stated missions, a note of the ‘state terror’ taking place was mentioned in tandem with pointing out that the majority of targets were in fact military as oppose to civilian.
The film would be highly recommended for anyone interested in exploring the intentions and beliefs of a Black Tiger, rather than paying sole attention to the interpretation of the mainstream media into such actions. Despite the fact that the film does contain some strong and graphic imagery, one must note that it is with this that the emotions of the women can be put into perspective.