Kill the Moonlight

(Handa eliyata wedi thiyanna, written and directed by Thanuj Anavarathne)



By Carlo Fonseka

Its calculatedly jarring English title Kill the Moonlight notwithstanding, this original Sinhala play provides enthralling entertainment. Question: what is the purpose of drama? Answer: entertainment. Right? Wrong, according to philosophers of art who claim that drama is experiencing ‘a form of truth’ and not merely being entertained. However that may be, William Shakespeare arguably the greatest dramatist of all time, made Prince Hamlet to declare: "… the purpose of playing … was and is… to hold the mirror up to nature…" What for? To show what nature is really like. This play holds the mirror up to an aspect of the sexual behaviour in contemporary middle class Sinhalese society. What we see blatantly exposed on the stage is that it reeks of out-and-out hypocrisy and deceit. What is practiced is the opposite of what is sanctimoniously preached. But Sinhalese readers reading this should not despair. When it comes to deceit and hypocrisy in our daily lives, we are no worse than other members of our species Homo sapiens. Modern sociobiology teaches that the capacity for deceit and deception are fundamental human traits which have been hardwired into our brains by evolution. Why? Evidently because deceit and deception have value in promoting biological survival and reproduction. The play demonstrates dramatically that our middle class society has honed humbuggery to a fine art.


The theme of this carefully crafted play is straightforward. A socially ambitious smart young man (Rohan) marries the daughter (Janaki) of a powerful politician. Pleasant lady that Janaki is, she is visibly older than Rohan. Following hard upon this arranged marriage, Rohan is appointed to the post of Director-General of Cultural Affairs. He dedicates himself to the promotion of family values, fidelity, loyalty and respect for human dignity, which he says are rapidly deteriorating in our society. Janaki and Rohan yearn for a baby who somehow does not arrive. In desperation they at last consult their family doctor, Rohan’s buddy, Dr. Sumith who discovers that Janaki is infertile. Rohan, who is kind and affectionate to Janaki, does not give her the bad news, but encourages her to aspire to motherhood. In the meantime, when he is not expounding family values on the media, Rohan is having a secret affair with his private secretary, Sankethi, a young seductive, fertile, cynical woman. Predictably, she becomes pregnant and to avoid public scandal, Rohan turns to Dr. Sumith for medical help. Dr. Sumith, whose professional behaviour is otherwise far from exemplary, refuses to terminate the pregnancy. He advises Rohan to adopt another strategy to avoid trouble. The high point of the play is when by the fortuitous concourse of circumstances, Janaki yearning for a baby, meets heavily pregnant Sankethi in a park familiar to both of them. It is familiar to them because unbeknown to each other, Rohan had brought them to the park to spend happy hours. The interaction between Janaki and Sankethi is poignant, intriguing and ironic to the audience who are already in the know of what really happened.

The Players

What endows this play, called ‘Kill the Moonlight’, with a coruscating excellence is the quality of the dialogues on which it is pivoted. The dialogues grip your attention by their cogency, intelligence, and implied dry humour. Superb direction ensures that the play moves from beginning to end like clockwork. The four players who give life to the drama are all extraordinarily good. Perhaps the most arresting performance comes from the veteran stage actor Janaka Kumbukage, who caricatures Dr. Sumith to devastating effect. Dr. Sumith’s professional behaviour and demeanour and use of language would ensure erasure of his name from the medical register. To his credit, however, he refuses to perform an abortion on a woman pregnant for five months. The audience responded to the portrayal of the doctor’s character with great enthusiasm. The implication is that their perception of Dr. Sumith’sportrayal of the doctor’s professional behaviour is true to life. If so, the profession to which I belong have to hang our heads in shame.

Experienced professional actor Jayanath Bandara’s depiction of the character of the Director-General of Cultural Affairs is absolutely convincing. Thereby he conveys the moral degradation of our society very effectively. Sanctimonious humbuggery is the name of the game.

Rejuvenated Neeta Fernando, best remembered for her cinematic roles, plays the part of Janaki with dignity and decorum. When she realizes that there is no answer in this world to the question why she cannot have a baby, she exclaims that she feels like shooting the moonlight. It is from that crucial remark that the play derives its name.

Up-and-coming actress Nadeeshani Peliarachchi, famous for her dexterous playing in the teledrama Sidu depicts the role of the Director-General’s private secretary with breathtaking sensuality and seductiveness. Diabolically attractive and ruthlessly cynical in the single-minded pursuit of her objectives in a man’s world where women are heartlessly exploited by men, she is clearly a player with great potential. She reminds me of Swarna Mallawaarachchi in some of her memorable films. If I am asked: after Swarna Mallawaarachchi, who? My instant answer would be: Nadeeshani Peliarachchi.

The topicality of the theme of the play, the liveliness of its racy dialogues and the slickness with which it is performed and directed, make Kill the Moonlight one of the most memorable dramas I have seen in recent times. Kapila Pugalaarachchi’s functional musical score greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the play. Iranthi Abeysinghe can be justly proud of having produced this drama.

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