A quartet of musical rapport
Transworld piano quartet in concert June 9 and 10, at the Lionel Wendt Theatre, Colombo
Reviewed by Arun Dias Bandaranaike
It proved to be a wonderful way to spend an evening! The Transworld Piano Quartet are not a regular ensemble, but the rapport which informs their work, and the finesse which they attempt to bring to their performance is evident demonstration of their professional stature.

Pianist Rohan de Silva is based in New York while Ashan Pillai (viola) and Damien Martinez (cello) are together in the Barcelona Symphony, and Jagdish Mistry (violin), the third among the Asians- who comprise the quartet, is found to be active in more than one European location. That verily defines their collective name!

What was notable, and added the difference to the evening's concerts, was the generous spirit, a desire and a willingness to present a "shared experience" with the audience. Having dispensed with the formalities of printed programme notes, the players spoke and introduced the works and wove an ambience into the proceedings which helped immensely. They communicated not only in word, but, as a consequence, also through their instruments. This splendid mix does not occur often enough!

Mistry's violin was possessed of a dulcissimo tonality, which worked well with the demands of the opening Mozart ( Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor); interestingly, it was in the 2nd Movement-Andante - that the "G minor-ness "of the work was abundantly displayed, and where (in borrowing a phrase from Mistry's opening remarks) it presaged the Requiem of later years, and where the aria-like exposition by the instruments were heard in full. In the treatment of the entirety of the work, one became aware, that in context, Rohan's piano was a little overbalanced, to the degree that it tended to overpower the dulcissimo of the violin. Even when the pianist was more restrained, it tended to overshadow the ensemble- which may possibly have been avoided by employing the simple device of closing ( half- closing) the lid of the piano, which would have brought the tonality closer to the period's customary sound.

It was in the Brahms (Piano Quartet in C minor Op60) that everything jelled, and rendered the evening "compleat" ( in the Shakespearean sense of the term). From its opening two phrases it was definitely the broiling, roiling romance of Brahms that one was confronted by.

Rohan's imperious touch provided the ineluctable elements of murkiness combined with verve, along with intuitively performed arpeggio and other phrased ornamentation to delightful effect. Particularly in the 3rd Movement -Andante- where the 'cello became the central instrument as it opened, before giving way to the other two voices, Rohan's well- honed collaborative instincts came compellingly to the fore, offering a perfect "foil" to the charged melody by the 'cello. It is this reviewer's belief that the 3rd movement could well stand on its own as a telling piece- a trio for Strings with a verdant richness as its backdrop, provided by the piano.

Here again, one was aware that Mistry was working hard, but, there was a tendency for the violin to be submerged, and he may well have benefited from a more resonant instrument. Those matters not withstanding, the particular rendition of the Andante and the Allegro Comodo-Finale offered by the Transworld Quartet was sufficient reason to justify one's presence for the entirety of the evening!

It was also a welcome feature at the concert, that Ashan Pillai delved into the work of Benjamin Britten. It is gratifying to note that Britten is being revisited a little more avidly at present, more than two full decades after his demise. Two of his operas (even his controversial Opera for TV) have been presented in recent times, to critical acclaim, by the Australian Opera.

This early Elegy for solo viola was one of Britten's very early works (as Ashan explained- was written in 1930 when he was just 17), and is assumed to be wrought of the angst and torment which affected the young man's whole being. Yet, the sensitive attack and tonal colours that were evoked by Pillai, allowed one to appreciate that there was controlled resolve inherent in the apparently brooding piece, expressed via some sumptuous intervals in legato, replete with mysterioso sixths, and a delightful coda- including a masterly diminuendo fade out.

The lightest offering was, contrary to commonplace occurrence, a composition by Beethoven for viola and 'cello. While the levity of this work exposed a lesser known aspect of Beethoven's personality, it was nevertheless, quintessentially Beethoven in the cast of melody and harmony. Pillai explained that this was a rarely performed work, and that is true; it is only two movements in extent- but certainly was a gentle joust among confreres.

If these are not the best players in the world, the Sri Lankan audience (and, I dare say, others among nationalities represented here) in Colombo, Kandy and Kurunegala in the days after the Lionel Wendt theatre performances, have nevertheless been treated to the shimmering proximity of world-class musicians. May they pass by our way again!

Imaginative portrayal of fantasy and reality
Many films show the good guys and the bad guys, with sex and violence thrown in supposedly for entertainment.

This Hindi film sub-titled in English is different. It is a sensitive portrayal of a man who loved and laughed and then changed into the epitome of evil, a killer hungry for land and power and thirsting for glory.

For us in Sri Lanka, the personal growth of king "Chandi Ashok" (Evil Ashok) to "Dharma Ashok" (Holy Ashok) has special relevance.

Poson Poya brings with it the beautifully contrasting picture of King Devanampiyatissa hunting the deer when he is stopped in his tracks by the serene picture of Arahat Mahinda bringing the message of Buddhism to Sri Lanka from his father, Emperor Asoka of India.

Shahruk Khan's acting as Asoka is natural. He exudes power and magnetism and is a perfect foil to the lissome grace of Kareena Kapoor. Their love story is beautifully enacted through song and dance.

The words and movements convey sexual innuendoes far more tastefully than a vulgar romp in bed. There is love and romance that capture the imagination. No, there is no happy ending, for real life is not a fairy tale. But there are moments of happiness juxtaposed with the tragic history of the protagonists.

The film is part fantasy, part reality and can be enjoyed by the whole family. There is adventure, action, romance and finally a message to take home for those who advocate violence in Emperor Ashoka's heartbroken words: "I have won it all.......... and destroyed it all".

His empire did not last but his journey from violence to non-violence as a way of life is relevant to our times.

See the film "Asoka" and join the travellers who, like Ashok, finally strike a balance between what this world can offer and move forward into the beyond.

-Sirohmi Gunesekera

Playing tough
They fight, struggle and choke. They take on villains and double up for heroes to do dangerous action scenes. Chamintha Thilakarathna meets the lesser known stars of the cinema- the stuntmen and women.

Beaten up to save the hero, they leap from high bridges, get shot at, thrown onto walls and through glass doors. Heroes are made at their expense.

Lean and mean, they usually have unshaven faces, skull tattoos on their arms, wear black vests and carry weapons.

These are the stuntmen, the little appreciated lesser stars of the cinema audiences, who not only play the villain ready to take on any hero who is likely to stand in their way, but also double up to do the dangerous action sequences in place of the heroes.

Tracking down the stuntmen, The Sunday Times met pioneer and 'guru' to many, Robin Fernando, taking a break from the fights and falls. Yet, reminders of the 'golden years' of his past, were visible everywhere. Swords of various types and sizes, shot-guns and pistols, Rambo-like bows and arrows decorate his sitting room.

With 40 years of experience in the industry and having acted in over a hundred films and directed action scenes in another hundred, Robin Fernando tells us that it won't be easy tracing stuntmen, "especially since there aren't many new ones and the old ones are out of the scene".

"Until about 15 years ago, the actors did all their stunts on their own. Today, the action film industry is almost inactive," he said.

But The Sunday Times soon had the opportunity of watching some stuntmen in action on location for a new film.

Wasantha Kumarawila (29), was fighting, struggling and choking. There seemed no end to all the assault and harassment he underwent. Wasantha is a martial arts exponent and gymnast and has the ability to adapt to and cope with falls and jumps.

"I train stuntmen at my gym at Piliyandala. It is not an easy field, there are lots of risks involved," he says.

While acting in the teledrama 'Sanda Yahanata', Wasantha related a narrow shave he once had while doing a stunt for actor Sanath Gunetilleke. "I was to be set ablaze but should have had the flames on my body only for 30 seconds. Yet, the fire brigade failed to extinguish the fire in time and I could feel the heat on my skin through the protective suit. I didn't know what to do because in such situations, the judgment of the directors and technical support teams is crucial as a stuntman cannot compromise the scene," he said.

Similarly, Dammika Pushpakumara has faced some life threatening incidents in his career as a professional stuntman. In an Italian film shot at the Colombo harbour, he had to hang onto a rice sack suspended from a plane flying 80 feet above the ground and then jump to safety, before the sack hit the ground.

According to his colleagues, this was the first and only time such a stunt had been performed by a Sri Lankan.

Nimal Wanniarachchi (32), another young and muscular stuntman agreed that doing a stunt is not as easy as it appears on the big screen.

"Once in a fight, I broke a finger and to this day I cannot use that finger," he said. The scene had involved a fight with iron bars. In an attempt to defend himself in the fight as expected, his finger had been crushed.

"It was plastered for three months, and I had to pay my medical expenses as well," he complained.

Also on location were a few stuntwomen. Nothing like the muscular and tough stuntwomen we see on television, these were young, pretty and quite talkative.

At the site, they were shooting the good guys and defending their masters. They too jumped off buildings, fought aggressively with each other, and were involved in stunts on moving vehicles. In fact, Sewandi (27), Janaki (28), Sabitha (21), Dinusha (18), Prashanthi (30) Saduni (26), Maya (24), Natasha (19) and Naomi(18) are thrilled at having the opportunity to learn and perform stunts.

So why choose such a dangerous field? "We like it. It's fun. Of course, it is a great challenge but we think we are upto it," they echoed.

"There is no discrimination in the field for men and women. We are treated equally but the stunts are considerably milder for us," said Sewandi Samarasinghe (27).

These stuntwomen are enthusiastic and quite determined to pursue this art. However, they have not faced any life threatening experiences yet. "Of course, when we watch some of the stunts being done, it scares us, yet with training and guidance we feel we can do them," they said.

And does it affect their personal life? "I am married and have a baby but I don't find it restricts me," said Janaki de Silva (28).

Some think that one needs only well developed muscles and a mean looking face. It requires more....hard work, commitment, the willingness to take risks, courage, skill and training. While most of them are driven by the challenge, they are not ignorant of the risks they face and hence are dissatisfied about the way they are treated by the industry.

"We are paid very poorly. There is no recognition among directors or the public. We are not insured. If something happens to us, it is our loss and we have to bear it," they said.

While overseas billions of dollars are spent on stunt equipment, fees, and training, in Sri Lanka these artistes are hardly recognized.

You don't think so? How many stuntmen can you name?

"It is very important to train stuntmen. Without appropriate training it is difficult for them to handle the requirements or take risks. But in Sri Lanka training is not stressed on and we are not appreciated," Wasantha said. Even the handling of weapons needs to be taught, he says.

In addition, safety measures such as special padding, etc. are not used in local stunts due to the high cost. "There are no safety measures taken on stunt locations unless it is crucial. Local films don't have budgets for stunt scenes. There are no awards for stuntmen. It has come to be accepted as something that can be done by any person off the street. But the truth is, it requires training and skill without which the Director would not only place the stuntman at risk but also his fellow actors," Robin Fernando said.

Back to Top
 Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.