The film Pathini directed by acknowledged film expert Sunil Ariyaratne, now screening in cinemas in several towns, was to me a hybrid and as such fell between stools. Frankly I was disappointed with it. Why do I use the word ‘hybrid’ in relation to the film? To me, a mere film-goer who however sees films [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Pathini: Too much Bollywood a spoiler


The film Pathini directed by acknowledged film expert Sunil Ariyaratne, now screening in cinemas in several towns, was to me a hybrid and as such fell between stools. Frankly I was disappointed with it.

Why do I use the word ‘hybrid’ in relation to the film? To me, a mere film-goer who however sees films with critical faculties alert, the film attempted to be an epic with a strong religious and particularly Buddhist  approach but it brought in too strong the Bollywood genre of musical with stunning hip-shaking gyrating dances and loud music. Thus it failed to emerge as a good and great film. Of course it will be popular among film goers who spend on films for entertainment. Additionally in a blurb I came across on Internet, the film was billed with too many handles by far: “a 2016 Sinhala epic, drama, mystery film” with not much mystery barring a Jain woman’s predictions.

Epic narrative

The story is epic, true enough. It is of Goddess Pattini, the deification of Kannagi, “who is the central character of the Tamil epic Silapadhikaram of Ilango Adigal, written in India in the 2nd Century CE. After a short time, it was introduced into Sri Lanka and absorbed alongside earlier deities such as Kiri Amma (‘milk mother’). Historians attribute the introduction of goddess Pattini to the island by Gajabahu I, a Sinhalese king who ruled Sri Lanka from 113 – 135 CE. The Silapadhikaram mentions Gajabahu’s presence at the consecration of a temple to Kannagi (identified as Pattini in this case) by the Chera king Senguttuva.”

The film story is of a couple – Kovalan and Kannagi – in South India in the provinces of Soli, Kerala and another, who go through many vicissitudes because of the unfaithfulness of the newly married man who, enticed by a dancer, lives with her for many moons and then returns to his wife Kannagi. She receives him and the story continues with them migrating to two South Indian provinces and Kovalan meeting with a tragic end when attempting to sell one of Kannagi’s gem encrusted gold anklets. The moral of the epic is that a woman’s chastity is so strong a force that it can set fire to cities and eradicate evil persons and elevate the chaste one to goddess status.

Sunil Ariyaratne, screenplay writer along with being the film’s director, brought in Sri Lankan nationalism and historic pride, and Buddhism. To achieve the former, the film starts with King Gajabahu I who was in the habit of moving around in disguise at night to see to the welfare of his subjects. He hears a woman mourn over the abduction of her son by the Chola king and removed to India. Thus Gajaba’s journey to the Chola kingdom leaving his army in north Lanka;  accompanied only by his strongman Neela who parts the sea for their crossing.  Peraheras originated in King Gajaba’s time because when he returned to the Island with all captives rescued from the Chola king, there was a pre-planned spectacular procession of elephants, dancers and drummers.

Buddhism was brought in strongly to the film with the South Indian kings pronouncing their irritation at the influx of Buddhist monks into their principalities and the former dancer, with whom Kovalan cohabitated, listening to Buddhist sermons by visiting monks and her daughter by Kovalan, – Manimekala – becoming a Buddhist nun. So Buddhist sensibilities, along with national pride of a long standing cultural heritage, were satisfied.

Then came the story – well written, well acted, well caught by camera of the life and trials and triumphs of Kannagi who evolves into the goddess Pattini, a guardian deity of Sri Lanka. “Goddess Pattini is worshiped by both Buddhists and Hindus and is the patron goddess of fertility and health – particularly protection against smallpox then, which is referred to as deviyange ledé (‘the divine affliction’). In Sinhala mythology, the Bodhisattva Pattini was incarnated as Kannagi in order to rid the Pandyan kingdom of its evil three-eyed king. She was said to have been born of a mango fruit, which was cut down by the god Sakra with an arrow.”

Added to this mix, the director decided to bring in Bollywood song and dance. He may have justified his move since he is depicting royal life in ancient South India and the woman for whom Kovalan deserts his wife Kannagi and lives with until he cannot bear her, is the chosen chief dancer of the court. She is obliged to dance for kings and princes, but that causes jealousy in Kovalan which induces him to go back to his home and mercifully for him the loving, forgiving arms of his wife Kannagi. Now one dance when this woman (played by Aruni Rajapakse, I presume) is selected as Queen of Dance would have sufficed. No. The director thought otherwise and the film is studded with flamboyant dance sequences with loud music and singing complete with much flesh exposed and shaken. Even this woman’s daughter is shown in two dance sequences if not more. Totally unnecessary to the story; completely jarring with the seriousness and religious aspects of the epic.


The commendable sections of the film were those showing Kannagi and Kovalan, dressed as peasants migrating to a neighbouring South Indian kingdom. The two were superb and so also the people they met on the way.

The film boasts a galaxy of stars, both young and veteran. Pooja Umashankar, Indian/Sri Lankan screen star was excellent as Kannagi and even believable as she prophesies she will be reborn a man in preparation for gaining Buddhahood. Uddika Premarathna played his role of Kovalan well and had the masculinity to make him a prince to reckon with plus indicating innate weakness of will and too easily prone to sensual attraction, even though intoxication was shown as the excuse for his desertion of his faithful wife. Ravindra Randeniya, Lucky Dias, Sanath Gunatilake, Veena Jayakodi, Nita Fernando were recognizable in their various roles. The film was produced by Dr. Milina Sumathipala, co-produced by Jagath Sumathipala and Thilanga Sumathipala on behalf of Sumathi Films.  I am sure others will love the mix of myth, epic, song, dance and extravagance, chunky jewellery and a very handsome chief protagonist and a beautiful woman with several others playing lesser roles, with Buddhism brought in as well. I noticed with reserve the Buddhist nun whose eyes in the final scene were heavy with mascara, hugging and being hugged by devastated Kannagi. This was going against vinnaya rules and a nun’s need to be detached and non-inclined to close contact even with a woman she shares sorrow with.  See the film and decide for yourself.

Give me a straight single themed film, with a narrative of religiousness; not a film trying to cater to various film tastes and ending up a hybrid that does not totally please the senses nor the intellect.

- Nanda P. Wanasundera


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