ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 09
TV Times  

Uppalawanna; a novel theme for Sri Lankan cinema

By Susitha R. Fernando

Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne's latest film 'Uppalawanna' is now being screened in CEL circuit cinemas including the Regal cinema Colombo. Having directed 17 films including 'Anupama','Siribo Aiya', 'Sarungale', 'Kristhu Charithaya' of which some were box office hits and award winners at 'Sarasavi' and Presidential award ceremonies 'Uppalawanna' is his eighteenth film venture.

Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne

The film dubbed as a contemporary 'Theiri Gatha' or the doctrine preached to female disciples of Lord Buddha, it is the first film highlighting the life of a Bikkhunis or Buddhist female monk.

The story is set against the backdrop of the dark period of the1989 insurrection. It revolves around three Bikkhunis representing three different stages played by Malani Fonseka the eldest Sangeetha Weeraratne as 'Uppalawanna' and the youngest 'Nanduththara' by child actress, Sandali Welikanna. Though the hermitage is restricted to males, one day a young university student runs into the premises of the hermitage after killing another student. He too receives fatal injuries and is met by Uppalawanna. Nearly two hours of the story is depicted around the emotional struggle between the two.

"This story based on the script written by veteran script writer, Tissa Abeysekera is not to justify or criticise any government or any other party involved in the insurrection," Prof. Ariyaratne explains. "This is purely to analyse the mental struggle of a young female monk who is expected to conduct a disciplined life.

While 'Uthpalawanna' is the first film directed depicting the lives of female monks, Sunil Ariyratne was the first filmmaker to do a film on the life of Jesus Christ with his 'Kristhu Charithaya'. Speaking on the selection of religion related themes Prof. Ariyaratne said "this is a country with different ethnic backgrounds and religions. I did a film on Jesus Christ and I was delighted when Mrs. Milina Sumathipala invited me to do a film relating to Buddhism,".

When queried whether he believes that these types of films help to bring back the audience to the theatres, the veteran filmmaker said, "Anyway there is a drop in the audience patronising the cinema when compare to the 70s and the 80s. This is not a failure of the film industry alone. Cinema is not a medium that would one day disappear into thin air. It's a medium that continues with ups and downs. This is a common phenomena even other media like music and drama. But the difference between the other media and the cinema is that this is an art form that had be maintained with lot of money. But our audience never refuse a good work of cinema," the experienced filmmaker said.

Speaking on the contribution made by the veteran actress Malani Fonseka, the filmmaker said "Malani played the role of a mature female monk. Actually 'Uppalawanna' was coloured up by her performance. In addition to making a huge sacrifice by shaving her head for the film, Sangeetha did 100% justice to her role. And I also have to mention the performance of child actress Sandali Welikanna who also cut her long hair for the film,".

Among the other leading characters in 'Uppalawanna' Roshan Ravindra plays the role of a young rebel while Jagath Chamila, plays a university student who becomes a victim of the terror. He is also the lover of 'Uthpalawanna' before she takes robes and his character also represents a talented traditional dancer descending from a generation of dancers.

"The selection was not so difficult as Sanath Wimalasiri himself is a professional dancer and teacher and his father played by Rohana Beddage who is well knowledgeable in traditional dancing," Prof. Ariyaratne said.

Dharmadasa Hemapala art directed the film while Vasantha Vittachchi handled the make up. Production manager of 'Uppalawanna' is Prasanna Kithalagama and A. D. Ranjith Kumara played the role of production executive.

After a ten year lapse, 'Ganga Addara' famed veteran film producer Ms. Milina Sumathipala has returned film production for Sumathi Films. The idea to do a film on the theme of Buddhism itself was from Ms. Sumathipala herself.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.