Aksharaya: anatomy of a controversy
Handagama after receiving awards for his film Thani Thatuwen
An email sent to international film industry professionals interested
in Sri Lankan film was circulated on May 1, asking to band together to
protect freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.
The film co-produced by French Heliotrope Films and Be-Positive of
Sri Lanka concerns a prestigious family that is shaken after their 12
year old son (Izam. Samzudeen) is involved accidentally in the murder of
The affair causes a sensation, all the more as the boy's mother, a
magistrate (Piyumi Samaraweera), happens to be in charge of the case.
The boy is given shelter by a security guard (Saumya Liyanage) of a
Through media interviews on TV, the boy witnesses his mother giving
instructions to the police to apprehend the murderer. This event impacts
the psychological balance of the boy.
He losses faith in his overprotective mother and becomes attached to
the guard's daughter.
The tension reaches a peak when, in a moment of cathartic confession,
the mother reveals the secrets of her family's morbid past. 'A Letter of
Fire' was in competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival in
The prestigious San Sebastian Film Festival called the film, "A
powerful melodrama by an unclassifiable moviemaker."
Handagama who has won several national and international awards for
earlier films May Magay Sandai ('This is My Moon') and Thani Thatuwen
Piyabanna ('Flying with One Wing') said that Aksharaya had already
received formal approval from the Public Performance Board (PPB) but
other non-related authorities of the film sector in Sri Lanka wanted to
stop the movie.
Handagama claimed that at first, the film was to be released with an
"adults only" rating but now Government authorities were denying him the
copy of his release print.
"Film Corporation authorities unnecessarily held back release of my
print and the certificate necessary for distribution of the film,
Handagama said. "I received information that the Cultural Affairs
Ministry and the Women's Affairs Ministry are trying their best to ban
the film - using several tactics now."
"This is a violation of freedom of expression, right to information
and all other nationally and internationally guaranteed declarations
relating to human rights," Handagama added.