Recording Sinhala cinema
Sri Lankeya Cinemavanshaya, by Nuwan Nayanajit Kumara. Reviewed by D. C. Ranatunga
N.M. Perera (later Dr.) acted in the first ever Sinhala film way back in the 1920s for Rs. 100 a week. He was then a student of Ananda College and thus became our first paid film actor. He played the role of a prince opposite Sybil Feem, the film’s heroine.

The film, 'Rajakeeya Wickremaya' (also titled 'Shantha') was made in 1925. It was the first of two Sri Lankan silent films, but was never screened in Sri Lanka. The only copy had mysteriously got burnt while being brought to Sri Lanka from Singapore after being screened there. A rival filmmaker was believed to have been behind the act.

Screened in India as well, the film was produced by businessman T.A.J. Noorbhai, and directed by an Indian named Gupta. Detailing these rather obscure facts in his Sri Lankan film chronicle, 'Sri Lankeya Cinemavanshaya', young researcher Nuwan Nayanajit Kumara does not, however, consider this the first Sri Lankan film because it was not screened here. Neither does he consider 'Kadavunu Poronduwa' (Broken Promise) screened in January 1947 the first feature film. He believes the history of Sri Lankan cinema should begin with the second silent film, 'Paligeneema' (Revenge) screened in May 1936.

He has his reasons. "Though 'Paligeneema' is a film restricted to three reels (30 minutes) its content is essentially that of a feature film. It had a storyline. The first Indian feature film (Raja Harischandra-1913) ran only for 41 minutes but it was not considered a short film," Nuwan argues. It was also a silent film and the first Indian talkie, 'Alam Ara' came in 1931. Yet the silent film is considered as the start of Indian cinema.

'Paligeneema' which falls into the category of 'silent films', was directed by the well known Tower Hall singer, W. Don Edward (1901-1952) who, Nuwan considers, the pioneer of Sri Lankan cinema. He embarked on a venture hitherto not tried out by any Sri Lankan. He may have had financial constraints, that made him curtail its length but he not only produced and directed the film, but was its director of photography too. The film was screened at the Gaiety Cinema in Kotahena on May 19, 1936.

Nuwan says that Sri Lankans had their first taste of a movie in 1898 when the Greek-Turkish war and images of some cricketers had been screened at the Public Hall in Union Place. The two 'movies' lasted only two or three minutes. The Boer war prisoners had been shown a silent film in 1901 by a British photographer, A. W. Andree, who, two years later started getting down silent films for public screening at the Pagoda building in Chatham Street. 'Rambles through Ceylon' (1907), the first silent documentary made here, was a British-French co-production.

Nuwan's is a thorough study of the Sri Lankan cinema and he has meticulously documented his research in 15 main chapters and several appendices. It's the result of hard work spanning over two decades. To collect details on 1024 Sinhala films screened from 1936 to 2004, 44 Tamil language films and eight English language films itself would have been a daunting task. He also lists out 22 foreign films which had been dubbed in Sinhala between 1947 and 1969. Most of them were Hindi films.

Nuwan had attempted to include a still from each film, even though some are not of acceptable quality. The biographical sketches (with photographs) of actors and actresses run into 236 pages. Thus, there is now a record of each and every player who contributed to the development of Sri Lankan cinema.
The table of events compiled by Nuwan from 1898 onwards is invaluable.

He has recorded every possible event related to the Sri Lankan cinema year by year thereby providing a complete history in a most lucid style. Not many may remember that Rukmani Devi was the first actress to play a dual role in a Sinhala film. It was in 'Umatu Vishvasaya' (1952). Sesha Palihakkara, better known for his dancing, did the first male dual role in 'Matalan' (1955). Nuwan picks the reputed painters Sarlis Master and G.S. Fernando as the first art directors in Sri Lankan films. They were part of the team that made 'Rajakeeya Wickremaya' (1925).

Nuwan's history of the documentary film starts with Basil Wright's 'Song of Ceylon' (1934) produced for the Ceylon Tea Board. It was commended at the 1935 International Film Festival in Brazil and ranks as one of the most creative documentaries even today. Nuwan has included a complete list of the documentaries made by the Government Film Unit since its inception in 1948.
The publication also includes details of awards won by Sri Lankan films at international level, local film awards, film journals and a list of cinema halls in the country.

Nuwan has been fortunate in getting H.D. Premasiri of Sarasavi Publishers to produce this exhaustive publication. Pushpananda Ekanayake of 'The Font Master' has done a fine job in setting the text and laying out the pages. The printing of the 800-page volume has been handled by Samayawardena Press.

Nuwan has a task for the future as well. He should continue the story of the Sri Lankan cinema. Ideally he should periodically put out supplementary volumes and bring the story up to date.

Well done Nuwan!

A mammoth task
Endangered Elephants– Past, Present and Future edited by Jayantha Jayewardene
All over their range elephants come in-to close contact and conflict with people. Elephants with their massive bulk and power, their social habits and their assumed intelligence, have been a figure of reverence in religion, a cultural symbol and a useful work animal that has fascinated man from the earliest of civilization. While this is true of all elephant-containing geographical areas of the world, in Asia especially, people have nurtured close ties with the elephant for centuries. In Asia also, are the worst incidences of human-elephant conflict when both man and beast turn against each other resulting in fatal clashes that claim lives on both sides.

Many of the elephant habitats of Asia are densely populated. The agricultural practices in many of these countries encourage elephants to venture out to human habitation. The elephant’s great adaptability to changed environments and its preferences for open, forest edges places the animal in more danger of direct contact with humans.

But of the world’s elephant population, the majority live in Africa. Although there are very large natural reserves and less population density, human elephant conflict is not rare in Africa. The root causes of the conflict and socio-economic situation of the people involved are startlingly similar in both continents.

In 2003, Colombo hosted a landmark symposium that brought researchers and conservationists from 23 different countries of Asia and Africa to share lessons between the two vastly differing continents and come up with a way forward that would ensure the survival of the elephant species. The three-day symposium was titled ‘Human Elephant Relationships and Conflicts’ and served to expose new conservation techniques, unveil new and exciting elephant research and present many past experiences in dealing with conflict between man and elephant.

The legendary Iain Douglas-Hamilton from Africa in his opening address to the forum spoke emotionally about the plight of elephants all over the world. “My heart bleeds when I read the endless and almost hopeless catalogue….’, he said. “Elephants are weekly being shot, snared, electrocuted, run into trains, poisoned and everywhere deprived of habitat.”

Douglas-Hamilton posed the question – do we leave elephants all alone to the wilds and hope they survive the best they can, or as certain conservationists insist, actively manage wildlife so that species have a better chance of survival especially if they have an economic value?

The symposium resulted in over 50 papers on a wide range of elephant-related topics presented by scientists, field researchers, funding agencies, zoological gardens, veterinary surgeons and conservationists. The topics ranged from historical perspectives of human elephant relationships to genetic research, to documentation of conflict in different countries and ranges, management of domesticated elephants and traditional knowledge in elephant capture. These papers are now published in a book titled “Endangered Elephants: Past Present and Future.”

Publishing these papers with their accompanying maps and photos was to primarily, fulfill the aim of making this information available to a wider audience than the 220 delegates at the symposium. The research, the field experience and the methodologies discussed in the book under different subject headings would lead to better understanding of the species and their conservation needs in areas that are becoming highly populated and where agriculture is taking over previous elephant habitat.

Jayantha Jayewardene, editor of the volume, who was instrumental in organizing the symposium said, “This book will be a substantial addition to the scientific information out there on the elephant and contribute greatly to future conservation practices. It is a great resource for practitioners and researchers alike, since rarely have we managed to get experiences of such a wide range of countries into a single volume.” Jayewardene is also the Managing Trustee of the Biodiversity & Elephant Conservation Trust and recently organized a study tour for Asian elephant conservationists to the elephant research sites in Kenya.

The final discussions at the 2003 symposium led to an agreement that the forum would request the United Nations to establish an inter-governmental body with scientific support from the IUCN Specialist Groups on Elephant Conservation. The aim of such a body would be to coordinate initiatives within a global strategy for future survival of the species and also to encourage inter-agency communication and facilitate synergies. This organisation would also be able to assist range states in the development and implementation of policies that would protect elephant ranging habitats. This letter, signed by Debbie Olsen of International Elephant Foundation and Jayantha Jayewardene of Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust is also included in the book.
The book is available in bookshops and with Jayantha Jayewardene phone 0777- 895 770 e-mail

Fostering rich values in children
Ruwanmali Sil Aragena by Deepa Manawadu Jayewardene.
“Ruwanmali Sil Aragena” (Ruwanmali observes sil) written by Deepa Manawadu Jayewardene is a lovely children’s story about a little girl who observes sil on Vesak Poya Day.

The story is based on “Ruwanmali”, a little girl who eagerly awaits her grandmother from the village. When she gets to know granny is observing sil on poya day she too wants to be a “A Little Upasaka Amma”. So on poya day they observe sil, meditate, have the “Dane” and the story ends with some unexpected happenings.

The book is written ideally for children between five to ten years. The story also gives the young reader moral lessons such as understanding the difference between good and bad, the happiness one is rewarded with for good deeds, respecting elders and fostering unity etc.

Deepa Manawadu Jayewardene is also the author of the children’s book “ Surathalee” (Cuddly). The illustrations are by Piyal Udaya Samaraweera and the cover is designed by Dinindu Siriwardene“ Ruwanmali Sil Aragena” is a Printec Publication.

-Nadia Fazlulhaq

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