By Halik Azeez
Renowned film director and producer Chandran Rutnam was recently arrested and imprisoned by the Mirihana Police on charges of possessing explosives. The incident occurred after explosives and detonators were discovered at the film director’s former residence in Nugegoda.
Rutnam was subsequently released and all charges were dropped. But not before he had to spend the entire Vesak Poya Weekend locked up in a cell while everybody else was on holiday.
Chandran Rutnam is one of Sri Lanka’s most respected film makers. His most recent project, Road To Elephant Pass stirred many hearts and was a bold statement for peace and reconciliation. He is known to be unafraid of taking risks and strongly believes in a united Sri Lanka.
Rutnam has also worked with Steven Spielberg on the movie Indiana Jones; Temple Of Doom. He is also the president of Asian Film Location Services; a private business that boasts to have worked with great names such as George Lucas, David Lean, Carol Reed, John Boorman, Regis Wargnier, Deepa Mehta and John Milius. He is currently busy with many projects and is lending his expertise to help the Indian International Film Awards, which will culminate tonight on a grand scale.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Leader Rutnam elaborated on his recent real life nightmare…......
Q: What exactly happened? Why were you arrested?
A: I had rented the house in question a few years earlier but had vacated the premises one and a half years ago. My former landlady took over residence after I had left. One day she called me crying saying the police and army was at her place trying to arrest her and to please help her. So I said I’d talk to them. The police then called and asked me to come to the Mirihana police to discuss the matter. This happened on May 21, I was out of town so I said I will come and see them when I come back which was on the 26th. On that day I went in during lunchtime after telling the people at my office that I will be back shortly.
At the station, they told me that they were about to arrest the lady because they found seven detonators in the garden or some such place. At this point I interjected and told the police that we had used mild explosives and detonators in the making of our movies for the past 30 years. All these equipment was used under the complete permission of the Ministry of Defence. But I stated that we had thoroughly cleaned out the house in question upon departing it.
Some years ago a similar incident occurred, when an ex-employee went to the police with similar tales. The police then searched my house and found nothing. However, I had no intention of seeing my old landlady get arrested for the possession of equipment that I could very well have a license for since there was always the possibility that they could have been left behind due to an oversight. So I asked the police time until Monday (it was the Vesak holiday at the time) so that I could produce the necessary permits and documents.
But at that point they arrested me, and I had to spend the remainder of that night in the Mirihana jail. When, on the next morning they produced me in courts, I was shocked to hear the charge had escalated to the possession of offensive weapons whereas it was previously for the possession of mild explosives. But all I could ask for was time till Monday so that I could produce the necessary documents. The judge didn’t grant me bail. And I was imprisoned until the 31st. I had to spend the whole of that lovely Vesak Poya weekend in jail.
Q: What was it like? This real life drama. Being imprisoned?
A: I was confident and unafraid since I was not guilty. My wife was working hard with forces outside to get me out and I had a lot of confidence in them. I observed the station there for future reference and I made a lot of friends with people who were locked up with me. There is a certain brotherhood among the inmates of a prison. Even though I would rather meet them under better circumstances, I tried to make the best of it. I read a book. I spoke to people, and tried to while away the time.
Prison is completely the opposite of what I had thought all my life. Spending time behind bars completely changed my perceptions about prisoners. One generally tends to assume that all of them are bad people and put them all in the same mental basket. But they murdered someone when they were 19 and now they are 30, you know? There has to be some sort of prison reform. There are people in there because they couldn’t pay a 500 rupee fine.
All this costs the people, the government. I am not an expert on these things; I am just looking at these things from a layman’s perspective However negative the experience was, many positive things also happened. For instance, I did not know I had so many friends till I came out and saw how many people were concerned about me. I definitely do not want to go through this again, but looking back I have no regrets that I spent four days in jail. Life is what you make of it, and I always believe in taking things positively. Another positive thing was that I lost four pounds of weight!
Q: So it is true about the explosives?
A: We use explosives sometimes for our films. Usually we create small scale explosions which we then magnify using CGI and other special effects. All explosives are obtained and used with permission from the Ministry of Defence. We usually make it a point to use up all the explosives we possess before a project ends because there is nothing we can do with them afterwards.
Q: Some members of your family went on record alleging that the said explosives had been planted to implicate you?
A: I don’t want to hypothesize on anything. I am a guy who puts things behind me and moves on with life. I am not interested in going into these issues as I am busy with my work. As I said, I take a positive attitude to life. What has happened has happened. I have my share of enemies and I know that I am not loved by everyone! There are a few people who would like to see me in worse situations. So given a choice, I would take the Welikada prison over Kanatte (cemetery) any day.
Q: Tell us how you were treated, being a renowned filmmaker who has done this country’s film industry a great service…...
A: They treated me extremely well, I cannot complain about anything. The Mirihana Police treated me very well. The Welikada guards, jailers, doctors and most of all my fellow prisoners treated me with a lot of respect and politeness.
Q: Will this incident have an effect on your future in this country? Will it change things?
A: I have been talking a lot with friends and family. They have been very distraught over this. I was in the US for 38 years before moving here and some are of the opinion that I should move back. But this will not happen. We were all stressed during this trying time.
This incident will not change my patriotism, what was done was done by humans. This can’t reflect badly on my country. I don’t intend on running away. I will live and die here. ~ courtesy: The Sunday Leader.lk ~