A gold plated replica of the Golden Peacock trophy which the late Sri Lankan film maker Lester James Peries had won at the New Delhi International Film Festival in 1965, was stolen from his house on Wednesday, the day of his funeral.
The Golden Peacock was the first ever international award that Peries got in his 50 year remarkable career as a film maker.
The replica had been kept by the side of the coffin during the Catholic funeral service in his house between 10.30 and 11.00 am. As the coffin was being closed at the end of the service it was noticed that the replica kept beside it was missing.
It was kept next to the coffin because it had great significance for Peries. He had won innumerable international awards in his long year career, but the Golden Peacock was special because it was his first ever international prize, given for his 1964 production Gampereliya (Changes in the Village).
“The police are looking into videos taken on the occasion but are yet to zero in on the thief,” a source said.
There was a huge gathering of fans and admirers, priests and family members in the room where the body was kept.
It is suspected that it might have been stolen to be sold to private collectors overseas who would pay huge sums to get the trophy, which is the first ever international award given to a Sri Lankan film.
Strangely, the original Golden Peacock had also disappeared. It was with the producer of Gamperaliya Anton Wickramasinghe of Cine Lanka when it went missing. Till date, the mystery of its disappearance has not been solved.
The original was made of 18 carat gold, which was the maximum amount of gold that could be taken out of India at that time.
Later, at the 31 st.India International Film Festival in New Delhi in 2000, the Government of India compensated Peries for the loss of the original by giving him a gold plated replica.
Lester James Peries in the last phase of his film making career
This was kept in a glass casket in his house on Dickman’s Road in Colombo.
The loss of the replica is causing concern about the safety of other memorabilia in this house. His house is full of these priceless ones.
Peries had won many international awards, though he made only 20 feature films in his 50 year career. But he had never been materially compensated by the film world or even the governments for that matter.
His films had made money for their producers and distributors but he had to struggle to find financiers even to raise Rs.150,000, which was the average cost of a production in the 1950s and 1960s.
Peries was thought to be commercial risk given his penchant for making unostentatious, realistic and meaningful cinema.
Even producers who made money through his films would be reluctant to make a second one with him. “They would do one film with me ,make money and disappear into the woodwork,” he told his biographer Kumar de Silva.
Even the 18 carat Golden Peacock which had been awarded to him as the creator of Gamperaliya was not with him but with the producer. And tragically, that too “disappeared”.
Peries had died here on April 29 at the age of 99 after a short illness. He was cremated with State honors at the Independence Square on Wednesday in the midst of thousands of his fans, colleagues in the film world and distinguished people, including Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the renowned film maker from Kerala.