Film review: [Sri Siddhartha Gauthama] Religiously inspiring and scientifically cinematic

The Nation
By  Ashan Nanayakkara
Sunday, 21 April 2013

Religiously inspiring and scientifically cinematic

Sri Siddhartha Gauthama

This critique is in the perspective of a reviewer rather than a Buddhist. And in the perspective of the reviewer, it is safe to say that the movie Sri Sidhdhartha Gauthama is a masterpiece. In fact, it can be considered the best film based on the life of the Buddha.Having said about it, the name of the movie is not coherent. The movie ends with the enlightenment of the Buddha. The rest of the movie is based on events leading up to the Buddha leaving the palace. In Buddhism, it is referred to as Abinishkramana (Renunciation). Had the creators of the movie been aware of this particular terminology why had they named the movie Sri Siddhartha Gauthama. ‘Gauthama’ can only be used after enlightenment is attained. Having chosen the name ‘Gauthama’ the movie should have focused on the life of the ‘enlightened Buddha’. Instead of that, we only see the journey to attain that Buddhahood (budhdhatwaya), nothing after. In fact, the title ‘Abinishkramana’ would have better served the movie.

The movie starts from leaving the palace by Prince Siddhartha and Channa. And the movie finishes where it started. This is a technique used by modern directors specially, if the movie deals with a serious theme. Director, Saman Weeraman should be commended for giving prominence to the religious value to the movie than it purely being commercial. However, such a breathtaking start is very much tally with an action film. A glamorous start befits a Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movie. In contrast in Sri Siddhartha Gauthama, the ‘renunciation’ (Abinishkramana) is the opening scene. It is has a serious tone (one can say that this is one of the most epic moments in Buddhist history). The Prince leaves the palace to rescue all beings from this vicious circle of life. It is a red-letter day, a holy day, a sacred day. The movie makers had been able to preserve this sacredness sacrosanct sans any impairment. That is how the director sets the sentiment of the viewers to a religious story.

I was fascinated, when I experienced the calm music throughout two hours and 15 minutes. I call it usage of tunes in well-disciplined manner. When Siddhartha leaves the palace, the sadness of that night was reflected from low and lamenting music. The only instance in the movie where music was more liberally used was when Siddhartha weds Yashodara. But here too the music had kept the discipline intact.

History has always portrayed Siddhartha as a charismatic prince who had fulfilled his duties as a prince. Siddhartha was acquainted with all fighting methods, learning of which was mandatory to a Prince. He only decides to renounce worldly comforts after seeing Sathara pera nimithi. But in the movie, I presume, with the blessings of the Maha Sanga, the director has portrayed Siddhartha as unparalleled, introducing him as a calm, quiet and kind man from his childhood. And, in terms of the movie, this man is preparing to leave the palace from the very inception. I totally agree with this approach. The reason being, though Sathara pera nimithi are the reason for the change in Siddhartha, to be able to renounce all worldly comforts one must practice it from his birth. Utmost good faith (uberrimae fidei), great kindness, calm demeanor appropriately epitomized his great qualities and was present in this great personality not just after Sathara pera nimithi but before.

The other theme evident throughout the movie was the adoring love between Yashodara and Siddhartha. They were meant to be together. From a line of previous births, they showed the quality of reciprocity to each other to live for one another. This human motion has been superbly visualized by the director across the length and the breath of the film. There were enough chances to fill Yashdara’s and Siddhartha’s wedding with eye-tiring colors. Nevertheless, again the creator had not overdone the wedding scene. Every time this loving duo was seen together affectionately.

On this point, there are certain parallels to the Bollywood movie Jodha Akbar. In the movie, the director was disciplined enough to suggest the physical activity between Jodha and Akbar in just one small gesture in which Akbar the King touched the hand of Jodha, the Queen. It symbolized not just the genuine love between them but also the talent of the director. I believe that the director in Siddhartha Gauthama is well-ahead of Jodha Akbar. This is why we feel that immense love between Yashodhara and Siddhartha same way it is told in Jathaka stories.

At the end where Yashodhara mourns when her husband leaves the palace, the director has moved the audience too to tears. If I read this movie correctly, that scene was the climax of grief. She cannot ask her husband not to leave. She knows how important the journey is. Therefore, she bears it with great agony. Against this backdrop, one tear drop of Yashodhara in the movie is enough to reveal the whole saga. That falling drop of tear says she sacrificed her loving husband for the betterment of the human race. This is the skill of the director.

As for the cast, we can see everyone has made an enormous effort to justify their roll. Starting from the protagonist, Gagan Malik, the actor who portrayed Siddhartha, was tailor-made for the character. Though all Buddhists do not intend to see their unparalleled religious leader through an ordinary man, as far as the Siddhartha story is concerned, I see no wrong in his participation. Because, he portrays Prince Siddhartha, nothing more.

Above all, this Indian-born actor illustrates Prince Siddhartha’s brilliant qualities not by words, but by simple and subtle gestures. Yashodhara, depicted by Anchel Singh too performed commendably well with her feminine attraction and piety to her husband. Devdattha’s future wickedness, Suddhodhana’s dominant personality, Channa’s obedience to his master, Nanda’s genuine brotherhood, and Prajapathi’s love have been aptly demonstrated by Gautam Gulati, Ranjan Ramanayake, Saranga Dissasekera, Roshan Ranawana, Anjani Perera respectively. Especially, actors like Ranjan Ramanayake, who always prefers to be the hero, has contributed a lot to the film.

In the context of all the above positive points, I have no hesitation to quote great scientist, Albert Einstein. Once, he went on to say that “science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” In this light, the movie can be called a ‘fusion between science and the religion’ after all. That is why this movie has been religiously inspiring and scientifically cinematic.

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