Sri Lankan police on Saturday recovered the stolen 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.
The gold-plated replica, which was stolen from his house on Wednesday, the day of his funeral, was recovered from the overhead luggage rack of public bus No:177 plying between Kollupitiya in Colombo to Kaduwela, a suburb.
It was apparently spotted by the cleaner and driver of the bus and handed over to the police.
The wide media coverage that the theft got, enabled its recovery.
The man or women who stole it had used the short span of time when the mourners’attention was diverted to the coffin as it was being closed at the end of the Roman Catholic service. But he may have panicked when the theft was on radio, television and the print media that evening and the next day, and dropped it off in a public bus.
Importance of Golden Peacock
The Golden Peacock trophy was close to Lester James Peries’ heart as it was the first ever international award he got in his 50 year remarkable career as a film maker. He received it at the New Delhi International Film Festival in 1965 for his 1964 production Gamperaliya (Change in the Village) based on a story by the renowned Sinhalese writer Martin Wickramasinghe.
After the loss of the replica was discovered it was thought that it might have been stolen to be sold to private collectors overseas who would pay huge sums to get the trophy, which was the first ever international award given to a Sri Lankan film.
Lester with a replica of the Golden Peacock ,his first international award given at the New Delhi film festival in 1965
Original Too Had Disappeared
Strangely, the original Golden Peacock made of 18 carat gold 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 because that was the maximum purity of gold that could be taken out of India at that time.
Later, at the 31st. 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. He got it as part of his Lifetime Achievement Award..
It was this replica which was kept in a glass casket in his house on Dickman’s Road (now Dr.Lester James Peries Mawatha) in Colombo.
The theft of the replica is causing concern about the safety of other memorabilia in this house.
Peries had won many international awards, though he made only 20 feature films in his 50 year career.
Award Aplenty But Little Or No Material Gain
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 (most of them did actually) were reluctant to make a second one with him.
“They would do one film with me, make money and disappear into the woodwork,” Peries 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 given to him. It was kept by 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.