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Fiftieth anniversary of The Godfather and Chandran Rutnam’s anecdote



A redone version of the 1972 record breaking masterpiece The Godfather is now being screened in local cinemas as it is in other countries.’ Re-dusted’ (my coinage) as films are, which methods are beyond me to elucidate, the now screening film is the same as the original release of fifty years ago with same stars, music score and all.

As you well know The Godfather is based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 bestseller of the same title with the screenplay for the film written by him and Francis Ford Coppola (b 1939) who directed the film, the first of a trilogy, the two sequels being – (1974) and (1990). The excellent cast was headed by Marlon Brando, face made larger jowled to portray the patriarch Vito Corleone, focusing on his youngest son Michael Corleone played by Al Pacino, who moves from reluctant family outsider to ruthless mafia boss. Also starring were James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duval and others with Diane Keaton, the only noteworthy woman in the long film.

Paramount Pictures obtained the rights to the novel for $80,000 but found selected-as- directors refusing. Finally, Francis Ford Coppola took on the job. The film premiered at the Loew’s State Theatre on March 14, 1972, and turned out to the highest grossing film of the year earning around $280,000 million at the box office. It also earned universal acclaim, and high praise especially for Brando and Pacino; Brando’s sinking career getting a much needed uplift and being offered starring in Last Tango in Paris and Apocalypse Now.

At the 1972, the film won , (Brando), and (for Puzo and Coppola). In addition, seven other Oscar nominations went to Pacino, Caan, and Duvall for , and Coppola for . The film is now regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, especially in the gangster and crime genre. In 1990 the American Film Institute ranked The Godfather as the second greatest film in American cinema to Orson Well’s Citizen Kane.

Rutnam’s missed opportunity

Chandran Rutnam phoned me a few days ago to let me know that The Godfather was being screened in local cinemas in celebration of its Golden Jubilee and then related this very interesting anecdote which I requested he send me written down. I thank him for obliging and shall give below his story in his words – hot hot as it were. (I dare not refer to horse’s mouth!). So here it is, title and all.

“I turned down an offer that I should not have refused.”

“Living in Los Angeles in the sixties I attended the extension course on film-making at the University of Southern California. My major was Film Editing. During this time I associated with a group of young film students and enthusiasts. Among them were Tony Bill (who later produced the Academy Award winning film “THE STING” starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman) and Francis Ford Coppola who had recently graduated from the University of California in Los Angeles.

Our families spent numerous times together as we sought our destinies. As an aspiring filmmaker, who had the luck and good fortune of having worked as the Standby Prop man next to the great Director Sir David Lean on the movie, “Bridge on the River Kwai””….I had bought the rights to the novel by Dr Richard Spittel titled “Where the White Sambhur Roams.”

One evening while my then wife Judy and I were having dinner at Francis and Eleanor’s home in Hollywood, we discussed a documentary I had made of the elephants of Sri Lanka. At that time I mentioned that I had bought the rights to Dr Spittel’s novel and that I was looking for a producer or director who might be interested. Francis immediately said that he could direct it. I laughed it off and mentioned that I would need an experienced, known director to make it happen.

Francis had at that time not directed a feature film. I now take the place of being the only person to “…turn down an offer that I should not have refused.”

Francis of course went on to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, directing the three Godfather movies, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and several other award winning motion pictures. While shooting the film, “You’re a Big Boy now” in New York in 1965. he invited the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.S, Mr S. Gautamadasa and me to the location shoot. It was a wonderful experience.

We are happy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s Academy Award winning masterwork, THE GODFATHER, now showing in cinemas in Colombo.”

(End of emailed anecdote)

Another facet of Rutnam

Chandran Rutnam sent me a slim book of his poems some time ago. I casually flicked the pages until I came to lines such as:

“Have you been back to the scene where you spent your youth?/.. where your first love had been?” And also “Death looks at me with a smirk/ And calls me to a long journey.”

To me they were somewhat reminiscent of the Metaphysical poet John Donne – his simple and earthy direct lines of conversation.

Rutnam’s poems of around fifty short verses carry separate titles but are collected under the book title Underground Windows. Most of them are love poems; many regretful of time’s

passing and written from a lodging, the windows of which opened onto the exit of an underground rail station. He dedicates the book of poetry to “Nihara, the young girl that I married. These verses were influenced by events that happened long before she was born.” Even his Introduction to the book is in poetic format. Likewise the back cover carries a tribute penned by Ranga Chandrarathne, also in free verse.

The poems have poetic value and thus add another positive facet to this many faceted film director/producer and business entrepreneur. Who will ever forget Rutnam’s brilliant films: The Road From Elephant Pass and According to Matthew. Several other films such as A Common Man, Dheevari are his productions. He collaborated with Lester James Peiris in Wekanda Walauwe.

Woman film director of repute

I feel compelled to write about Sofia Carmina Coppola (b. 1971), youngest child and only daughter of Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola who has already distinguished herself in the Hollywood film scene and is internationally recognized. She starred in The Godfather as an infant and then as Mary Corleone in The Godfather III. Graduating from script writer and film actor she moved to directing films and has met with great success. Her first directorship was Virgin suicides in 1999. In 2004 she won an Academy Award for Best Screen Writer of Lost in Translation, and in 2006 Palme d’Or for Best Director of Marie Antoinette which, even to a mere film goer like me, emerged as a film produced with great sympathy and sensitivity, the queen successfully portrayed by Kirsten Dunst in the film. Sofia Coppola has already won five Academy Awards, six Golden Globes, two Palmes d’Or.

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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7



It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts



She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue



KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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