20th February 2000

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Kala korner

By Dee Cee
A meaningful event

Nostalgic memories and a declared commitment to save Sinhala cinema from its present crisis were the highlights of the Presidential Film Awards held recently.

The screenings of old films gave film fans an idea of what they looked like in the old days.

There was more nostalgia on the Awards Night itself. Some of the pioneers, whose names most of us could not even remember were honoured. The oldest lyricist, D. T. Fernando, for example, was a forgotten name. How many remember, that he wrote the songs in 'Asokamala', the second Sinhala film screened in 1948? Another 'neglected' person P. L. J. Nandanakirti (he wrote lyrics for the popular Jayamanne films 'Kapati Arakshakaya' & 'Veradunu Kurumanama' (1948) & 'Peralena Iranama', screened in 1949) gained due recognition when the award for the Best Lyric Writer for 1998 was named after him. So was the popular music director B. S. Perera in whose memory the award for Best Melody for 1998 was presented. Many of us still hum 'Shantave Preme' and 'Duka Sepa Nithi Perale' , his creations.

Firm commitment

Judging by his address, Chairman Tissa Abeysekera means business. He is determined to save the Sinhala cinema and he outlined the policy he hopes to adopt. Tissa believes in quality and not quantity. "But that does not mean we should make films which are beyond the average person's head. Neither should we seek popularity by promoting low taste. The challenge is to be with the masses and take them to a higher plane," he said.

'Let me be reborn here'

The chief guest at the awards ceremony, Dr. Lester James Peries accepted that the cinema is facing a grave crisis. "This is not peculiar to Sri Lanka. Every country has faced this situation. Cinema being a combination of three factors - it's a commercial entity, an industry and an art form - it is a difficult task to reconcile all three," he said.

But Dr. Peries has enough faith in the cinema and the country. "I owe my life to the cinema. I would have been an exile if I did not come back to my homeland and got back my identity," he reminisced. And of the future he said: "I'd like to be reborn in this country even with all the problems around us. There is no other country like Sri Lanka."

Achievement Award

Young filmmaker Prasanna Vitanage was rewarded at the Presidential Awards with the 'Vishva Keerti Award' for bringing the country international recognition by winning the Grand Prix at the Amiens International Film Festival recently with his much talked about creation, 'Purahanda Kaluwara'.

Nominees for Once-in-a-Lifetime Award

Renowned filmmaker Dharmasena Pathiraja and accomplished actress Punya Heendeniya were the nominees for the Swarna Sinha Award - the once in a lifetime award for their contribution to Sinhala cinema.

'Pathi', as he is fondly called has been in the film scene for over 25 years starting with 'Ahas Gawwa' (1974). Punya hit the limelight with her award winning performance in 'Gamperaliya' (1963) though she had earlier acted in Sirisena Wimalaweera's 'Ashoka' (1955), L. S. Ramachandran's 'Kurulu Bedda' (1961) and 'Sikuru Tharuwa' (1963), also directed by Ramachandran.

For men, women in distress

The Centre for Gender Complaints (CGC) directs people to find legal help to problems based on gender

By Nilika de Silva

It's a woman's world, and all that is required, is that she knows it. Even the state machinery has 'got its act together', with the setting up of the Centre for Gender Complaints to provide free legal services for any person, man or woman who has a grievance.

Founded as a unit within the National Committee on Women, itself a component of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Centre for Gender Complaints (CGC) directs people to find legal solutions to problems based on gender.

If you've got a plaint to voice, then all you've got to do is to contact the Centre, at 175/34 Nawala Road Narahenpita, either by phone, mail, or in person and seek redress.

Depending on the problem, the centre first discusses the problem and then selects the form of redress taking into consideration the options at hand.

With the services of legal officers available for consultation free of charge, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, to receive, inquire, investigate and try to redress complaints, all you've got to do is get the weight off your chest.

It is interesting to note that although the Centre is connected to the Ministry of Women's Affairs, it is not only women but men too who can send in complaints, since the only criterion is that the complaints have to be gender- based.

"We have had varying types of complaints and the numbers coming in have increased," legal officer P. Pathiranage said.

From May to December 1999, 289 complaints had been received by the centre. The highest number of complaints, 87, had been recorded in September.

The Legal Officer, directs the clients to the Legal Aid Commission, where it is referred to the Women's Bureau or the relevant government authority.

The Chairperson, Manel Abeysekera hopes that soon the centre will be in a position to not only tell people where to go but to give them counselling too.

"We should provide counselling also because they are in a traumatised state," she explained.

The centre has listed all the counselling agencies available not only in Colombo but in other towns as well.

Gender discrimination occurs in many spheres, leading to domestic violence, sexual harassment, injustice in employment and promotions, resolution of land disputes, maintenance, divorce, guardianship, financial difficulties, and foreign employment.

Among the many complaints are instances when even after the courts accord custody to the mother, fathers use force and take away the child.

Women being harassed while in employment abroad is also a common problem.

This could extend to sexual harassment as in the case of one client who had been forced into prostitution while she was abroad.

The Netherland Embassy supported the establishment of the Centre, while the UNDP has supported the Ministry.

Dramatic simplicity

"How can one make a film (to be more specific, a Sinhala film) without glamorous stars, a music score, romantic involvements, hilarious situations and fights?"

Prasanna Vithanage provides the answer in 'Purahanda Kaluwara', the acclaimed film which brought honour to the talented young filmmaker and Sri Lanka by being chosen the best film at the Amiens International Film Festival last year.

The film has no stars, in that sense of the word, it has no music score at all, (instead we hear Pirith and other stanzas being recited at appropriate times), the boy/ girl situation is only by the way, and there are no fights. Then what is there to see, someone may ask. The answer is: a most absorbing and powerful cinematic creation, a human story.

'Purahanda Kaluwara' does have 'stars', but just two. One is Prasanna Vithanage, script writer and director. The other is Joe Abeywickrema, proving that he is the greatest actor we have. 'Actor' may not be the right word, because he doesn't act, he just lives in the character, of Wannihamy, the innocent but sharp Dry Zone villager who cannot be bought. He is genuine. He is human. He is determined and he is stubborn. Being blind makes his role even more convincing. The number of words he speaks right through the film is minimal. Possibly that makes his performance even stronger.

It's no wonder Joe was selected best actor at the Singapore International Film Festival for "the simplicity and maturity of his performance in the role of a blind man whose nobility and honour transcends the depth of his personal sorrow".

The theme in 'Purahanda Kaluwara' is a familiar one in today's context. Prasanna takes us to the Raja Rata. We hear the sound of gunfire. The land is bone dry. Wannihamy collects water from the village 'wewa'. He predicts rain in four days. The story turns out to be the tragic one of a young soldier being killed and the sealed coffin being delivered at his village hut - a common occurrence today. That's what happens to Wannihamy's son, Bandara too. But the old man refuses to accept that he is dead. He is all the more convinced when the daughter reads out a letter sent by the young soldier which was received after the body is buried. Wannihamy insists he will come back to finish the work in the house he has started to build and to see that the younger sister is settled.

What is more important to everyone else is the 100,000 rupee compensation Bandara's family is entitled to. The 'grama sevaka' (cleverly played by seasoned stage actor Mahesh Perera) is keen to see that the money is collected as soon as possible so that he can collect his share (he claims he has given a loan to build the house). The married daughter (Nayana Hettiarachchi) and her husband (Harshajith Abeysuriya) want to plan a grand 'pinkama' in the memory of the brother, knowing that in the process they too will benefit. The son-in-law- to -be (Linton Semage) also sees a more comfortable start to his married life if he can collect his share. The younger daughter (Priyanka Samaraweera) tries not to get involved. The schoolmaster (K. A. Milton Perera) also puts in a word. However, Wannihamy is firm. He does not want to put his thumb impression to the papers.

Prasanna's talent is in weaving this simple theme into a most interesting and arresting film. He has picked up little incidents which strengthen the character of the villager. For instance, when the village monk comes to see Wannihamy with his 'dayakas' and announces that they have decided to put up a bus shelter in honour of their village hero, Bandara, (obviously wanting a big contribution from Wannihamy when he collects the money), the old man listens and quite casually tells them that whoever had put up a memorial like that, it was indeed a good deed.

The way Wannihamy treats the 'grama sevaka' whom he feels has an ulterior motive, is typical of the strong villager who means business. When he listens to the plans by the family to get the compensation, he is angry and hurt and plans his own strategy. He wants to make sure that Bandara is dead. He decides to open up the coffin.

The audience at Alliance Francaise auditorium where the film was screened from a VHS transfer could not fully enjoy the cinematography by M. D. Mahindapala but they got a glimpse of his fine photography.

In keeping with the title of the film, he captures the 'purahanda' (full moon) dramatically. In fact, he is the third 'star' in the film.

A melancholy mood runs throughout the film only changing at the end after Wannihamy, feeling relieved and obviously happy he didn't sign the papers, comes to the 'wewa' to collect water and hears a gang of boys enjoying themselves bathing. Wannihamy is moved. A smile appears on his face. It begins to rain.


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