23 May 2024

Wivat Jirotgul’s depiction of the 1932 Siamese Revolution has upset many fans of Khana Ratsadon (the People’s Party) and its founder Pridi Banomyong.

Wivat is the director and producer of the feature-length animated film, “2475: Dawn of Revolution”, which has drawn praise and criticism in equal measure.

Critics claim that the two-dimensional animation distorts the reality of the Siamese Revolution, giving it a royalist-nationalist spin. Supporters, however, say the film is based on records and the personal memoirs of those involved, pointing to a list of over 80 references in the end credits.

The 46-year-old filmmaker says his animation aims to present a picture that is fair to all sides involved, particularly King Rama VII, who he says has been unfairly portrayed in Thai history despite his attempts to avert a bloody revolution and ensure a smooth transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy.

“Many history books belittle the sacrifices King Rama VII made. I just want to restore justice to him. I want Thais to know that he did his best to ensure changes to the political system were as smooth as possible,” the director said.

1 million views on YouTube

After premiering on YouTube on March 13, the two-hour-plus animated film had recorded over 1 million views, drawing nearly 50,000 likes and over 8,500 comments as of Thursday.

Many commenters also left “thank-you” donations to its creators ranging from as little as 40 baht to 10,000 baht. Donations made in US and Australian dollars, British pounds and Swiss francs among other foreign currencies suggested many viewers live overseas.

The film tells the story of the 1932 Siamese Revolution in a modern-day setting, through conversations between a middle-aged librarian and three university students researching Thai democracy since the first Constitution was written in 1932.

The film portrays King Rama VII as the driving force behind Thailand’s political reform, with plans for a constitution to prepare the mostly uneducated population for democratic rule.

On the other hand, it depicts Khana Ratsadon leaders, especially Pridi – late prime minister and founder of Thammasat University – in a negative light.

Pridi’s character in the animation is often depicted with an octopus in the background – a metaphor for the spread of Soviet communism.

Under ‘fascist rule’

The film concludes with the abdication of King Prajadhipok (King Rama VII) and the appointment of his successor, King Ananda Mahidol, at the age of nine.

The animation also delves into what happened after that, including the fight for power among Khana Ratsadon leaders in the early years of Thai democracy.

It blames the new rulers for the suicides of certain princes whose assets were confiscated by the new government.

The film claims the new leaders managed to pass a law to set up a special court that allowed them to “get rid” of their political foes, leading to mass arrests, the execution of 18 individuals and the exile of many political figures, some of whom were fellow Khana Ratsadon leaders.

Many political prisoners, including noblemen and scholars, were sent to the remote Tarutao island in the South of Thailand. “Thailand was under fascist rule for a period of time,” reads a subtitle just before the end of the film.

Filmmaker’s links with the Army

Wivat was born in the southern province of Krabi, where he completed his secondary education before attending Bangkok University in the capital.

His Facebook page lists him as the managing director of Nakraphiwat Co Ltd, a creative production house, and president of Pegasus Creative, a marketing and branding consultancy.

Nakraphiwat Co, whose Nakra Studio produced the animation, was involved in the production of a music video for the song “Duay Rak Lae Phakdi” (With Love and Loyalty) in honor of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn on his 70th birthday in 2022.

The video was made in collaboration with the Royal Thai Army Band and numerous Thai corporations.

Online media outlet Prachatai reported last month that Nakraphiwat Co was paid almost 4 million baht by the Army between 2020 and 2022.

Wivat dismissed the report as a move to discredit the film, saying that about half of the 10-million-baht budget for the film came from his own pocket, much of it borrowed from his relatives and friends.

“I’m happy this project was completed, and though I’m now in debt and may even go bankrupt, I just wanted to get this work done,” he said.

In a recent Facebook post, Wivat insisted that the film had not been funded by the Army or by taxpayer money from any government agency.

He said he was not worried about “distorted reports” as they were untrue. He said he did care, however, about the reputation of colleagues who were involved in the project and was considering legal action against Prachatai.

As for being labeled a conservative, Wivat said he believes that most people have “hybrid” political beliefs that are not totally conservative or liberal – something that also applied to him.

“And if you’re genuinely liberal, you should listen to views that are different from yours,” he said.

Thai PBS World’s Political Desk