Having missed the screening of Ini Avan at the EU Film Festival last month, D and I were quite pleased to see that it was being screened at Savoy. So we set aside our Sunday (23rd) to catch the 1.30 screening at Savoy, Wellawatte. Responsibly, I checked the showtimes and D and I made it to the cinema at a respectable 1.15.
Upon requesting tickets from the counter (in Sinhala, so there was no question of this being a language-related misunderstanding), we are told that the film (Ini Avan- we specified a few times) has a special screening time of 3.00pm and that we would have to come back. I ask them in turn, why they can’t update the website to that effect and they say that the information conflicts with the other screening times- which, if of course untrue since each film/EAP theatre has a dedicated page. Fine we say, and ask to buy tickets now. They refuse to sell, saying that ticket sales only open at 2.00pm. Fine, we’ll be back before 3.00pm.
So after mulling around Colombo for an hour and a half, D and I return with A in tow. The three of us head to the counter inquiring for tickets and the same seller has the audacity to (very rudely) laugh at us and say ‘oh it’s actually at 4.15′.
Of course, I lose my cool. I explain to him that when I very clearly inquired (regarding the film and the website times) he insisted that the screening was at 3.00pm, when he could have easily just sold us tickets for the 1.30 that we originally asked for. There’s not paying attention and then there’s making a sheer mockery out of your customers- especially given that they refused to sell us tickets for the 3.00pm screening saying it was too early.
So I ask, do you really think people have nothing better to do than to keep coming back every couple of hours to the cinema according to the whimsy of the sales staff? Then they laugh at us and say,
‘Well I asked you to come back for the 3.0opm Hobbit screening since it didn’t look like you were the type to see a Tamil film’
Because, your appearance as a visibly ethnic stereotype matters when the cinema staff decide for you what film you should be seeing and what they sell you tickets for. Especially when you dare show up to see a Tamil film without making your best effort to highlight your ethnicity as a qualifier to watch a film in your mother tongue.
A sharply asserts in Tamil, that she is indeed Tamil and asks what he meant by that.
They find it acceptable to laugh at us in response, a sneering sort of laugh that has everything to do with the fact that we are women and they somehow are making a joke of us. They won’t event let us buy tickets for the 4.15- once again apparently, it is too early. The manager is apathetic and completely unhelpful, laughing along with his clever salespeople.
Then they say (and they are finding this hilarious) ‘Well you could always go to Concord (in Dehiwela) it will be 4.15 by the time you get there.’ Snigger.
They clearly don’t want us to 1. make a scene 2. see this film.
We leave to Concord and get there by 4.00. What do you know, they got that wrong too (or lied). The film started at 3.00.
That was 4 hours of our afternoon wasted, out of what I can only interpret as some form of bad joke, deliberate misinformation and absolute disrespect to customers coupled with some sort of negative twist of ethnic and gendered differentiation. I might be reading too much into this, but the unapologetic and snide attitudes of those employed at Savoy, doesn’t have me in a particularly forgiving mood.
Utterly appalling customer service by the Savoy staff aside (rest assured, I will never return to Savoy), Sunday’s incident highlights a greater quandary.
I would like to inquire how many of us make a conscious choice to dress Tamil or Sinhala everyday? Should A be embracing an ethnic stereotype of sari, pottu, flowers in her hair finery? Should I be highlighting my mixed-heritage with some form of indication to both to satisfy judgment on what film I am ethnically and linguistically qualified to see? If you don’t speak English/Sinhala, does that mean you will be redirected to seeing a film in your own language because you don’t look the type of person who can watch an English/Sinhala film? Would the situation have been different if we were three men who perhaps would not have taken the mockery lightly?
Nascent Tamil language cinema in this country is still at a fledgling stage and I encourage you all to support local film making, especially when artists are attempting to draw attention to extremely important social issues that require greater attention. The predicament of ex-combatants in Mullaitivu, which is addressed by Ini Avan is one of particular relevance to present day Sri Lanka, being at the stem of manifold social integration issues ranging from attempts at illegal migration to social exclusion and economic marginalisation.
Post 2009, amidst all the problems and challenges that remain conveniently undiscussed, we can only hope to look forward and do our part in building a lasting foundation for reconciliation and integration.
However, when you go into a cinema and someone is still making a bluntly unfounded judgment call about your ethnicity and its relevance to what films you may want to see, one must really wonder if any progress has been made, and deliberate how much further we have left to go in changing people’s petty attitudes towards differences.