Now that there’s freedom of expression : Artistes take up the cudgel | Sunday Observer

Now that there’s freedom of expression : Artistes take up the cudgel

Hollywood actor, Kevin Spacey at The Old Vic Theatre in London once said, “Arts funding is neither charity nor empty philanthropy, it is an investment in our future”.

The fact that Arts and Culture are very important for a country is a topic which has been discussed for ages.

However, it is interesting to note that in Asian countries the governments/officials have failed to identify the importance of funding and maintaining the field of Arts and Culture, despite constant complaints by artistes.

In Sri Lanka, artistes have been facing issues with government systems which sometimes lead to tense situations.

The protest of the artistes at The State Drama Festival held last year, against downgrading state drama and lack of prominence shown by the government, is one such occasion.

Internationally acclaimed film maker, Asoka Handagama expressing his views on how the field of Arts and Culture, especially, the cinema, says that the most important thing that happened during the last couple of years is that there is freedom of expression compared to that in the previous regime.

“Earlier, there were censorship restrictions and movies were banned for no apparent reason. But, now any film is approved subject to a rating, which is a good thing in my view. A complete ban or other restrictions of the kind is not there anymore, and I believe, it is a positive trend and a tremendous development, especially, for film makers,” Handagama said.

Freedom of expression

However, still the government has not understood the importance of Arts and Culture, and attitudes should change, he said. “Arts and culture is vital for the identity of a country. It can be an active commercial industry on its own. Developing the field of arts and culture has multiple benefits and officials should understand that,” Handagama elaborated.

He went on to express, that although the officials have made certain changes, which are beneficial, he is not completely satisfied with the current situation of the country with regard to arts and Culture. “Compared to the previous government this government has actually done something substantial and I would not hesitate to appreciate their effort. As I said earlier, the most important thing, freedom of expression is there now. I am happy about that,” he said.

Revealing how the authorities have constantly failed to provide basic infrastructure for the field of drama over the years, veteran actress, Deepani Silva said, “There is not a single place in Colombo available at a reasonable price nor have the officials shown any interest to build one.” Disappointed with the behaviour of the government towards artistes in general, she questioned why cannot the authorities show the same interest they have for sports. “If the government is planning to build a stadium for sportsmen why not also build a stadium for music concerts, or renovate theatres we already have?.”

Only good thing

However, she said, the tax increase for foreign produced TV films and tele dramas is the only good thing which happened during the last couple of years. Silva, who has been in the field of stage and tele drama for over 40 years said, “For officials to feel the importance of an artiste, he/she should die. Till then they will not realize the significance of such a personality. It is actually pathetic.”

Veteran dramatist and theatre director, Parakrama Niriella speaking to the Sunday Observer was of the view that all they are left with are empty promises.

“Every government, before they come into power say, they would do everything in their power to revive the industry. But, after they come into power they do not even seem to remember the promises they made,” he said.

Expressing his displeasure, Niriella pointed out that their attempts to meet the relevant officials failed repeatedly, and their suggestions have been ignored, after “discussions” with the officials.

“Also, we requested to introduce a system to maintain the artistes. We compiled all the documents needed and handed them over to the authorities, including the President. After they came to power, up to now, we have not been given an opportunity to discuss these matters. They only used us to get in to power like any other government,”he lamented.

Niriella also pointed out that there are young, talented directors, such as, S.I Samarakkody whose work has been selected for International Theatre Festivals, but is unable to participate as there is no one to sponsor them. “They do not have the means to travel abroad. We informed the relevant authorities including the Ministry, but no one has offered to help yet, while the Theatre Festival is to be held in the first week of February,” he said.

Tug of war

Poet, critic and journalist, Buddhadasa Galappaththi said, since it’s not clearly demarcated under which Ministry the Arts and Culture is, has lead to most of the issues faced by artistes. “Part of it belongs to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, while other parts fall under the Ministry of Education. This is bad for the future of this field of study,” he added.

Further explaining, Galappaththi said, due to this confusion there is a tug of war between the two Ministries. “My personal opinion is that it should be under the purview of one Ministry. The confusion will worsen if the officials do not take proper action to rectify it, and would affect the progress of the Arts and Culture,” he said..

He believes, state departments and ministries should be made efficient to cater to people’s needs, if the country is to develop, especially, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. It is a slow-moving and disorganised and the officials are very lethargic. I wrote to them two months back regarding some matter and still they have not responded, nor acknowledged my letter,”he added.

Veteran actor, filmmaker and teledrama director, Sathischandra Edirisinghe’s view was that the authorities/officials of a country should be genuinely interested and understand what they are doing is a service, and not a duty. “It is for the betterment of the country because Arts and Culture is a very important part of any country. If they do not have the empathy, it is obvious that they would not do what they are expected to do,” he said.

He said, the Film Corporation, Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Tower Hall Foundation should collectively make an effort to solve the difficulties faced by artistes.

Edirisinghe feels that a lot has to be done with regard to the welfare of artistes, especially, when they are in a state of difficulty, financially. “For example, Suminda Sirisena, a well-known actor in the country is now in a state where he needs help. The Government should do something in such situations faced by artistes who have contributed immensely to the country’s field of Arts and Culture ,”he said.

Expressing her opinion, Award Winning Actress, Anoma Janadari told the Sunday Observer that one of the main reasons for the country’s’ artistes to face such a pathetic situation is because suitable people have not been appointed to top posts.

Copyright violations

“For example, what does the top management of the State Film Corporation know about cinema? They do not even know of the subject they are expected to handle so how can you expect them to do major changes or any change at all to this industry?,” she questioned. Lack of recognition, appreciation for the artistes is yet another problem which should be taken seriously by the government said Janadari. She said, the government should give an opportunity to artistes of other communities, as well.

However, she said, despite the issues the officials are not yet late to correct the mistakes and step in the right direction to revitalize the industry.

Explaining the direction the government/authorities should proceed in future, especially, with regard to music, a leading music director, composer and pianist in the country, Mahesh Denipitiya said, strict laws should be enforced for copyright violations, since it has been a common feature in the industry. He said, proper retirement plans, and health insurance policy should be available for people like sound directors, media producers, lyricists, music composers and others involved in producing a certain song/creation. Denipitiya highlighted the fact that the lack of an official body to control the industry is a loss to the country. “If there was a main controlling body to enforce the laws/restrictions to the industry, things would have changed immensely. It is something I would like to see in the future,” he added.