Witty social lessons from Indu’s Merry Wives

By Marisa de Silva
Indu Dharmasena is back. This time with a brand new comedy "The Merry Wives of Colombo", inspired by none other than Shakespeare's 'Merry Wives of Windsor'.

"This is not a modernised version of the Bard's work. Instead, it's pretty much left as it is, because most of what he wrote is relevant even in today's context," says Indu. At most, the play is localised, in characteristic Indu style, to bring it a bit closer to home.
The main thrust of the play is to eradicate various pre-conceived notions that people have about others, merely because they either behave in a certain way or belong to a certain social class etc. says Indu. For instance the view people have of rich wives of businessman, that they are only interested in 'partying' and have no brains, is a total generalisation of women belonging to one sector of our community.

The story revolves around the wives of two wealthy businessmen and their relationships with their husbands. Tammy Kahapituwa (Marissa Jansz) and Madhu Alewathura (Chanella Fernando), are good friends and confidantes who accidentally find out that they have received love letters from the same man, none other than John Sabagedara, an MP (Michael Holsinger) and philanderer, who considers himself god's gift to women! They then plot to teach him a lesson he'll not easily forget.

The plot thickens however, when their husbands Rajive Alewathura (Indu Dharmasena) and Nigel Kahapituwa (George Cooke) are tipped off about a 'rendezvous' organised by their wives and Sabagedara, by a trouble making gossip Upeksha, (Krys Sosa). Rajive goes into a jealous rage. However, Nigel totally disregards the gossip, as he's confident of his wife's fidelity and attempts to calm down his friend. But it's of no avail because Rajive is determined to go to great lengths to catch them in the act.

Our local Shaggy, Saliya Silva, (19) too will make his debut in Indu's plays with his rendition of 'Strength of a woman'. Saliya says he began his singing career when he was quite young, but switched to the distinct of Shaggy style after the star visited Sri Lanka a few years back. He readily agreed to Indu's request to take part in the play, he adds enthusiastically.

Apart from the women's characters being stereotyped according to their lifestyles, men too are often generalised, says George Cooke, who plays Nigel. "Through this play we try to portray that not all men would believe everything that's said about people they love," he said. “There are all types of men. Some like Rajive and some like Nigel. People shouldn't have the notion that all men will react to certain situations in the same manner. The play, therefore attempts to show a mix of people and how they respond to various situations.”

Marissa Jansz, the better off of the two wives, explained how her 'husband' wasn't all bad and although he was quite a workaholic he did have time to spend with her. Most importantly though, she says that they trust each other. What she hates though, is men like Rajive who are overly possessive and jealous and try to shower their wives with material goods, thereby concluding that they are good husbands. "Many social norms as to how a woman or man 'should be’ need to be shattered and there shouldn't be any set behaviour code for either sex," she adds passionately.

Michael Holsinger plays the part of the philanderer who has supreme confidence in his irresistibility to the opposite sex. Little does he know however, that he's usually the laughing stock of those who see through his lies. "The superior abilities such people want to portray is actually a sign of their disability," says Michael. "We see people like Sabagedara everywhere, at our work places, amongst our friends and family etc.For their own sake it's good if they realise their follies and try and change their ways," he added.

Chanella Fernando's character should be the picture of happiness but, sadly isn't because although she has it all, materially, emotionally she has very little to live for. Her husband seems to be always working and making money, expecting her to sit at home amidst all her possessions and look pretty. Chanella hopes that through better communication between couples like these, they could eventually come to some kind of resolution of their problems. She's not implying that men should have a 'no care' attitude but maybe, a balance between that and that of a 'green eyed monster' portrayed by her own stage spouse, she says smilingly.

Adding colour to the play is the hilarious 'Girly' group, ironically a restaurant owner, played by none other than Koluu himself, Sabagedara's sidekick secretary, Gehan Cooray, the husbands' loyal friend and hypochondriac friend Dayan Dias Abeyegunawardene and Rohan of Rumours, entertaining the audience with a colourful fusion dance.

'The Merry Wives of Colombo' will go on the boards at the Lionel Wendt on May 9,10 and 11 (the 10th night is presented by Lofac).

Cannes honour for Lester once again

Veteran filmmaker Dr. Lester James Peries's film Wekanda Walauwa (Mansion by the lake) has been selected for the 56th Cannes Film Festival to be held from May 15-25. This is the fourth time one of Dr. Peries's films will be shown at Cannes, the others being Rekava (1957), Baddegama (1981) and Kaliyugaya (1982).Wekanda Walauwa has been selected out of competition; only six films were selected under this category this year.

Wekanda Walauwa tells the story of an upper class Buddhist family in the late nineteen eighties. The cast comprises Malini Fonseka, Vasanthi Chaturani, Sanath Gunatileke, Paboda Sandeepani, Ravindra Randeniya, Irangani Serasinghe, Senaka Wijesinghe, Asoka Rodrigo, Nuwan Liyanage, Ranjith Rubasinghe and Elson Diviturugama.

Fly(ing) with One Wing- Deconstructing gender stereotypes

By Kanchuka Dharmasiri
Ashoka Handagama's film, Fly(ing) with One Wing, wonderfully inverts gender stereotypes. The love triangle - if one can call it so- between the protagonist, her/his co-worker and the doctor is one such instance.

The co-worker is attracted to the main character because he assumes that s/he is a "man" and the doctor because he knows that she is a female. There is a lot of play on the constructed nature of gender and this seemingly clean shaven young man who attracts the attention of one of her/ his fellow workers cannot escape the oppressive chauvinistic system even as a "man”.

There is a lot of debate around Ashoka Handagama's film, Flying with One Wing (1 think it should be Fly With One Wing; otherwise it does not carry the same implications as the title in Sinhala). For some it is a successful venture in Sri Lankan cinema while for some it consists only of one nude scene. A positive sign is that there is so much discussion on the film.

Handagama concentrates on a rather new theme (I am talking about Sri Lankan cinema here). However, it is not about lesbianism as Deepa Mehta's film, Fire, was not about lesbianism. Let us leave off the categorizing and look at the text.

First, let me focus on the scene where the protagonist, the no name "wo/man", dresses her/himself in her/his wife's clothing. (Since this particular person is biologically a female and socially a "man", I will be using both the pronouns, she and he to designate her/him). S/he looks like a "woman". Until that moment, s/he appeared to be a "man".

For me, that instance in the film was striking. The protagonist here demonstrates the constructed nature of gender. This female is born neither a "man" nor a "woman" and from the existing gender stereotypes, s/he chooses the one that is not designed for the biological female.

S/he is definitely empowered by the male attire. It reminds me of one of Vita Sackville West's narratives. In 1920, Vita Sackville - West disguised herself as a man and went to Paris with her lover. She asserts: "I dressed as a boy. I, personally, had never felt so free in my life." Freedom, yes, plenty of it does the character in the film experience, until s/he is discovered to be a biological female: by her/ his co-workers and the mentally deranged doctor.

There is a profound silence in the garage when the fellow workers strip her/him and discover her/his biological sex. In contrast, a little while before s/he is forcefully undressed (a metaphysical rape), the scene is noisy and jovial (from the viewpoint of the workers) and the fellow workers are eager to carry him/her to the washroom. Yet, then, there is a sudden silence (a powerful moment, I thought).

After the apparent victory, the defeated workers come out one after the other: defeated because their "masculine" territory has been exposed to a biological female, a female they cannot look down upon with sarcasm and power (as they gaze at and ridicule the 'women' who are exploited by their boss) - a female whom they considered to be their equal all this time. Hence, they feel insulted by the invasion of their male kingdom by a female.

Thus, she becomes the unruly female who tries to defy her 'rightful" position in society. She is a culprit (not the boss who sexually exploits young "women") because she dares to break the gender stereotypes, because she dares to fashion her identity the way she wants it and not the way that society conditions her and because s/he has taken a conscious decision to empower herself. Consequently, filth is written all over their house, not necessarily, because they seem to be two females living together, but because the protagonist entered a territory that s/he was not supposed to enter.

She becomes the victim again when the psychologically unstable doctor, who performs abortions daily, discovers her/his sexuality. S/he stands as a contrast to the screaming and crying women who come to him day after day. Yet, remember, s/he is a "man" now.

The moment that the doctor encounters her/him, s/he no longer represents the stereotypical, "feminine" woman, but the fact that she is biologically a female makes her the victim in front of the sick patriarch who threatens to expose her.

The film, kept reminding me of Berkerly Pierce's film, Boys Don't Cry. It too was the story of a transvestite and her subsequent rape and murder when the community gets to know about the character's biological identity.

Some scenes in Fly(ing) with One Wing, as where the husband refuses to show his body to the wife, had some sort of parallels with this film.

However, at one point, the overemphasis of the powerlessness of "women" is exhausting (the doctor's scene and the scene with the boss), and makes one wonder whether choosing a male disguise is the only means of empowerment available to a female. It seemed as if "women" were doomed to be victims and that there was no way out for them except assuming the prowess of those who are powerful.

Kumari’s students hold exhibition

A Brush with Art - III, an exhibition by the students of Kumari de Alwis (nee Senanayake) will take place at the Lionel Wendt Gallery on May 10 & 11, from 10 a.m to 8 p.m.

On display will be paintings done by artists from the age of five to over 60. The medium used will be water colours, pastels, charcoal and oils.

Kumari was a student of Gate Mudaliyar A.C.G.S. Amerasekera and later taught the students of his school.

She is a widely experienced art teacher, who taught at St. Patrick's College, Karachi, Pakistan and later at King's Kastel Christian College in Frankfurt, Germany.

Returning to Sri Lanka she opened an art and music school for both children and adults.

This is their third exhibition.


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