peacetime economy began to flourish, and filming movies in Sri Lanka seemed anideal way of advertising “Brand Sri Lanka”, as well as stimulating the local film culture.The relationship between Mehta and Sri Lanka was symbiotic and highly beneficial toboth parties.The Midnight’s Children film nevertheless faced troubles in the form of a call from Iranto halt filming in Sri Lanka, and an informal Indian boycott when no local distributorswere initially found to screen it. These types of disputes have monopolised thediscourse on the film and diverted attention from matters regarding its content, as wellas from the fact that the filming location of Sri Lanka was highly problematic in the firstplace.
Tea time with war criminalsMehta wanted to avoid filming again in India where possible, and the production teamof
Midnight’s Children did not even seek permission to shoot the movie there. Prior tofilming, Mehta entered discussions with Sri Lanka’s government to seek permission.Such interactions are usually coordinated through the National Film Corporation of SriLanka, under the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, which is in charge of theisland’s small film industry and of overseeing the country’s production of foreign films.In this case, however, Mehta was granted support directly from President MahindaRajapaksa.
When Mehta met with Rajapaksa in 2010, his government had just emergedvictoriously from three decades of war with the Tamil secessionist movement.Rajapaksa was riding a wave of ethno-religious triumphalism and nationalism,securing his dynasty and helping expand his clan’s powers. By the time Mehta arrivedfor talks at the Presidential Palace in Colombo, there was already robust evidencesuggesting the Sri Lankan Armed Forces had perpetrated war crimes and crimesagainst humanity in its pursuit of an absolute war victory. The Sri Lankan ArmedForces are accused of having bombed churches, temples and other civilian facilitiesfilled with Tamil refugees. The Sri Lankan army also stands accused by the UN of having repeatedly and intentionally targeted Tamil hospitals and civilian makeshiftsettlements with heavy weaponry, causing thousands of civilian casualties. Casualtyfigures are still debated, but aid and human rights agencies have established that tensof thousands of Tamil civilians perished during the last months of the war, and thathundreds of thousands more languished in internment camps in the north, or as thegovernment called them, “welfare villages”. It was clear that international mediaorganisations, NGOs and foreign governments, including the Canadian government,had already started to question the narrative of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the time international aid workers were evicted from where thefinal stages of the war took place. For Mehta, based in Toronto, it would have beenalmost impossible to miss the weekly protests of the large Tamil diaspora in Canada.Like many earlier Sri Lankan governments, Rajapaksa came to power on an ethno-religious nationalist platform during the short period of ceasefire. His coalition