Portraying a beautiful Jaffna

By Tahnee Hopman

Complete with his traditional Verti and typically ‘Jaffna-Tamil’ pearls of wisdom, Duraiswamipillai imagines that he cuts an impressive figure as he bestows himself upon his cosmopolitan relations in Colombo.

Momentarily putting his well won thrift aside, he generously hands his son Aru a bundle of Murunga to share with his friends, while dodging any possible instance of having to fork out money.

“Stepping into the shoes of Durai has been extremely entertaining for me,” says Anuruddha Fernando, laughingly recalling some of the research and observation put into his character in E.F.C Ludowyk’s He Comes from Jaffna which will take the stage of the Lionel Wendt on June 30, July 1,2 and 3 at 7 30 pm.

Describing the quaint, easy-going society presented in the play, its director Jith Peiris looks back on a time in which “we were able to crack jokes about any race, and have good-natured fun doing it. Nobody would run to burn each others’ houses down in retaliation. He Comes from Jaffna shows how tolerant, and how civilized we once were.”

The cast however-having taken a while to be convinced that the racial jibes and social satire would not offend the audience- enjoy the fact that despite the more obvious changes, in essence society has not changed much. “The humour is familiar; although we may have heard some of the jokes before, they remain funny, and this contributes to its aesthetic value” comments Anuruddha. “If you were to compare society of 1908 with that of today, you would see that many of the same concerns still exist,” adds Mahesh Senaratne who will take on the role of Aru, Durai’s son. “You will always find frugal fathers, parents will always do their best to give their children a good education and make sure they marry well; and there will always be certain social divides.”

Unfortunately for each character, something always seems to stand in the way of relative peace of mind.
Cleveland Rajaratnam has his quiet, relaxed world unceremoniously turned upside down by his irrepressible brother-in-law Durai. His son Raju is engrossed in the complicated process of proposing to and marrying the feisty Kamini Fernando. Durai’s son Aru apprehensively deals with his mounting debt crisis, failure to obtain a degree and the prospect of breaking the news to his father.

“Despite all the madness that takes place within the plot,” says Kanishka Herat(Raju) the humour is never slapstick or bawdy. The strength of the comedy lies in the words spoken. For Kanishka acting in this play is something of a sentimental experience; being the great-grandson of E.C.B Wijesinghe who took on the role of Durai when the play was first performed. “I have learnt a great deal about him, in taking part and hearing accounts of him from people who knew him. It’s a nice feeling to be told that I have inherited some of his mannerisms; and I’m extremely inspired by his versatility as an actor and the passion he had for the theatre.”

Having spent many nights simply sitting in a circle; reading the play together, picturing the characters of the play and sharing a lot of laughs, the cast agrees that they have learnt a great deal about a society which most of us are unfamiliar with.

“Here, we see a Jaffna that was beautiful; untouched by the conflict and where the people led happy, fulfilled lives. It is not a picture that any of us have in our minds, and the play as a whole has taught us a lot,” explains Ashini Fernando who will play the role of Marion Rajaratnam. Gayatri Natrajan (Kamini) who has lived in India most of her life, sees certain remnants of what was, in today’s society. “I teach history,” she says, “and the play has given me lots of new insight into colonial Sri Lanka. It all feels far more real now.”

The cast of He Comes from Jaffna includes Anuruddha Fernando, Hans Billimoria, Ashini Fernando, Kanishka Herat, Mahesh Senaratne, Michael Holsinger, Gayatri Natrajan, Sohan Chandiram and Avishka De Alwis. Tickets for the show priced at Rs. 1000, 750, 650 and 450 are available at the Lionel Wendt.

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