“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” A simple white cross and a woman, soaking-wet, upraised face and palms together, mouthing words of remorse and anguish as streaks of lightning render the landscape ghostly. A searing scene in the gloaming before the shadows of night overcome the dusk. The gloomy and overcast skies have begun, it seems as [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Setting the scene of a crime

As the shooting of the controversial film ‘According to Mathew’ gets back on track, Kumudini Hettiarachchi captures the buzz on location

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
A simple white cross and a woman, soaking-wet, upraised face and palms together, mouthing words of remorse and anguish as streaks of lightning render the landscape ghostly.

Remorse-- but is it adequate before God, for Daphne’s forgiveness?

A searing scene in the gloaming before the shadows of night overcome the dusk.

The gloomy and overcast skies have begun, it seems as if, to shed copious tears along with the streaks of lightning and growls of thunder.

Tears not only for murders most foul, for unkindest treachery and infidelity, against lust or is it misguided love, for greed of power and position but also for human frailty. A close-up reveals nature’s showers being helped along by human rainmakers.

The controversial and much-talked of ‘According to Mathew’ is back on track after a six-month break in shooting.

On location, in a sprawling garden with coconut trees and a walauwwe at Kumbukka, close to Horana, are acclaimed film-maker Chandran Rutnam and his crew.

With them, shadowing their every move, is the Sunday Times gaining first-hand experience on the ‘shooting’ of ‘According to Mathew’.
The true-life storyline is simple but at the same time complex. It was in the staid Anglican Church’s Vicarage of St. Paul’s down Kynsey Road that revered Pastor and exorcist Fr. Mathew Peiris tried out his death-dealing experiments with anti-diabetic drugs.

In this murderous scandal which cut Cinnamon Gardens society to its very core, the absolutely trusting and unsuspecting victims were Fr. Mathew’s wife, Eunice, and Russel Ingram, the husband of the priest’s paramour, Delrene Ingram.

“Complex,” is the single but effective word that Jacqueline Fernandez uses to describe the role of Daphne (as Delrene Ingram is known in this movie).
We ‘catch’ Jacqueline for an exclusive interview during a break in frenetic shooting, while she sips a cup of tea.

Relaxed and at ease, she says that there are so many sides to the story but she is following the script. While not being influenced by what she hears, she however adds: “I am trying very hard to understand what she (Daphne) was going through and what made her do what she did.”

Façade of St. Paul’s Church down a lane at Pannipitiya

Much as she seems to be part of these heinous crimes, Daphne herself seems like a victim, says Jacqueline, pointing out with emotion that she feels a little bit of pity for her vulnerability.

Preparations for the role of Daphne began with Jacqueline going through the entire script several times and then focusing on her role and going into it “quite a bit”.

The questions on her mind then were many – where did Daphne come from and what motivated her to do what she did. After that she sat with her Acting Coach to get a few pointers on how to deal with this character, although she hastens to add that the direction lies well and truly with Chandran.

“Just worked on the basics such as character traits with my Acting Coach,” she says, smilingly adding how she had to go back to the 1970s to get the setting right. “It was before my time,” according to her, for she is only 28 years old and she watched a lot of movies of that era and listened to music playlists to get absorbed into the 1970s.

When asked about the chemistry between her screen lover, Fr. Mathew, played by singer Alston Koch, and herself, she says it is easy to

After the verdict: Fr. Mathew (Alston Koch) and Daphne

be on set with him. He’s friendly and nice.

“I’ve known Alston from before. We’ve been in touch which made it a little bit easier,” says Jacqueline, adding mischievously that it being his first movie, it feels good to be able to tell him what to do. “I am the professional. I am the one who knows what I’m doing,” she laughs.

While Fr. Mathew’s character is “amazing”, for her every character, Randy her husband and even Eunice, in this murder-thriller has much to offer. Eunice’s role is small but powerful, she says.

Referring to the controversies that swirled around the movie when Rutnam launched it, Jacqueline says there may be some bad vibes from certain quarters but the bottom-line is that you can’t erase this incident. “I’m playing a role and trying to do justice to the script.”
Moving away from the present, Jacqueline takes the Sunday Times to her “slow and steady” journey up the Bollywood heights.

Daphne (Jacqueline Fernandez) in the jail cell. Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

It had been a tough call for her with many a handicap including the inability in those early days to speak the language of the Indian masses, Hindi, not understanding the psyche of the Indian film heroine and even the simple fact that she didn’t speak English with an Indian accent. “I couldn’t come in as a foreigner, so I lived in India and learnt their ways. It was a struggle and took a good two years.”
The glamour factor did help, they do like to see glamorous actresses, says this beauty, adding that with her first movie ‘Aladin’ came “a huge break”.

Bollywood now conquered, in her eyes, Hollywood is a whole different ball-game.

Jacqueline is currently looking at a script from Hollywood but feels it’s too early to talk about it. Would ‘According to Mathew’ be her passport to the glitzy world of Los Angeles?

As Jacqueline is summoned gently to don a white dress for a jail-cell scene which she immerses herself in with ease and aplomb, her expressions evocative and no words needed, Rutnam’s assurances of Hollywood seem to ring true.

(Next: What Fr. Mathew has to say)

The many faces of a walauwwe

‘On location’ feels like being part of chaos with intent. Although there is no seeming hurry, there is a purpose and the crew of Film Location Services which includes the Production Department and the Art Department are in place early morning.

Director Chandran Rutnam and son James (far right) discussing the nitty-gritty with the crew

While men are straddling shuttering close to a huge mango tree looking to create lightning, others are inside rolling out the carpet and putting a cane settee in place. Huge tubing snakes all over and equipment lies scattered around. A young woman in-charge of costumes guards them like her very life.

Working on well-oiled wheels, there is nothing to want. Sandwiches, buns and tea are passed around mid-morning and at the rear of the walauwwe under a marquee a sumptuous lunch is being laid out. Afternoon tea is accompanied by a large piece of cake. There simply is no shortage of food, even when the numbers add up.

Filming in earnest, Rutnam and his crew are shuttling among many a location.

The hall of the Kumbukke Walauwwe transforms into the vestry of St. Paul’s; a back-room becomes a jail cell; and a front room the study of Fr. Mathew.

Rutnam’s lightning and rainmakers

While the crew is placing the sets at the walauwwe, Rutnam along with son James who is assisting him has made an early morning trip to the courts in Colombo and also the old Town Hall down Main Street where the infamous case would be heard the next day for the movie.

Back at Kumbukke, Rutnam, James and the Art Department are animatedly discussing the sets for the court-scene, with Rutnam urging them to “work all night”, just nine hours pronto and produce the intricate mahogany columns of court to give that formal and austere look. A discussion ensues about a startling-red fabric required for judgment day. “The wall at the back will need to be dressed,” interjects James.
Early morn the next day, the courthouse is ready, making Pettah’s passers-by stare wide-eyed as Daphne is brought in, mobbed by the press including photographers armed with cameras of yore.

Another day and a few more ‘takes’ are being shot before the façade of St. Paul’s Church, Kynsey Road, recreated down a lane at Pannipitiya.
“Cut, cut,” is heard after one more take is done and we leave the set with reluctance to head back home close to midnight. There seems no inclination yet on the part of the crew to call it a day.


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