This paper examines two Sinhala films, Sunil Ariyaratne's Sarungale (1979) and Gamini Fonseka's Nomyena Minisun (1994), that demonstrate the ambivalence of the Sinhala socio-political establishment towards the Tamil other. However, while Ariyaratne's ambivalence is discriminatory and victimizes the Tamil minority, Fonseka's recuperation of Tamil militancy provides the potential for change in a post-conflict society.
InSarungale, Ariyaratneemploys a perspective in which intra-ethnic violence (caste-based violence amongst Hindu Tamils) is juxtaposed with inter-ethnic, communal violence between Sinhalese and Tamils. In so doing, the film justifies anti-Tamil violence experienced by Nadaraja, the Tamil protagonist. However, by casting GaminiFonseka, an icon in Sinhala cinema in the role of Nadaraja, and by using the popular genre of melodrama, Ariyaratne elicits the viewer's sympathy towards the victimization of Tamils. Indeed, it is this type of vacillation towards Tamils, and by extension the Tamil national question, since the 1950s that gives rise to Tamil militancy and the armed conflict of the 1980s.
Regarding Sri Lanka's armed conflict, much critical attention has been paid to the state's violent suppression of resistance, and considerably less scholarship is devoted to the state's complex relationship to Tamil militancy. Indeed, the reincarnation of former combatants as new stakeholders in the government has challenged static definitions of militants, an identity often conflated with "terrorists". At the same time, however, the state has made arbitrary distinctions between militants by requiring rehabilitation of some cadres and not others.
My argument, then, consists of ·two claims: on the one hand, the ambivalence of Sarungale illustrates the discriminatory power of majoritarian politics evident even in its progressive aesthetic expressions. Indeed, it is this form of discriminatory power disguised as humanism that leads to total war. On the other hand, NomiyenaMinisun represents a productive form of ambivalence as the film captures the state's mutable position vis-a-vis· the Tamil militant movement, an inconsistent logic that gives a faint ray of hope for post-war reconciliation in Sri Lanka.