By Uditha Devapriya
Beneath the bulging eyes, the wide open grin, the unyielding sarcasm, and the unsparing voice lies another Gehan Blok. In a recent interview Blok let him out. Meandering from work to life, he spoke of how his stand-up routines have sought and got inspiration from the way Sri Lankans live and the way they plan and order their (mostly boring) affairs.
Blok’s comedy isn’t on the same level that Dino Corera’s or Pasan Ranaweera’s or Dominic Kellar’s is, but it’s a class on its own. He’s unforgiving when he has to, which is most of the time. No sacred cow misses his radar: he looks at it, cuts it open, and reveals the emptiness inside. At times you feel he is right. At others, you know he is. Like all comedians, when he makes fun of one milieu another milieu laughs with him, and when the laugh is on them all, they don’t laugh; they quieten down, nursing wounded pride.
Nowhere is this truer than his pillorying of the most sacred of all cows among the middle-class in Sri Lanka, what school you went to. It’s a not so big elephant in the room, and in his interview, Blok chose to talk about why he picks on it so frequently. He correctly observed that in Sri Lanka, one’s school credentials often become vital to one’s career success. Blok argued it shouldn’t. That, I suppose, is one reason why he talks and jokes about and picks on school pride regularly, and why people love him so much for it.
For make no mistake, he does talk about it regularly. No Gehan Blok routine is or would be complete without him picking on one school or the other. Invariably this happens to be either of the two big schools in Colombo. Ridiculing their sense of self-worth, he charts their past in terms of the leaders they produced (who happen to be most of the leaders this we have had), and points at what he sees as their present plight (not so illustrious). I don’t know whether Blok has read Tarzie Vittachchi’s The Brown Sahib or its sequel The Brown Sahib Revisited, but he comes a little close to Vittachchi’s unrelenting sarcasm.
On the cover of the 1987 Penguin edition of The Brown Sahib Revisited, three cartoon figures embody the themes of the book: a waiter clad in a turban serving drinks, his eyes wide shut; a stout gentleman smoking a pipe, looking away at his friend at the table; and the friend at the table, a tie-and-coat Oxbridge-type tellingly smirking at the reader. The third person looks awfully like Felix Dias Bandaranaike, who at the time of the book’s publication had been deprived of his civic rights along with his aunt- the former Prime Minister. The resemblance is uncanny, not least because his tie sports blue and gold (Felix attended Royal College). In any case, for whatever the sketch is worth, it prepares us for what lies inside: a scathing overview of the rise of the Westernised elite.
If Vittachchi pillories the Royal-Thomian colonial elite, Blok pillories the Royal-Thomian postcolonial elite. I have written about this specific postcolonial elite to The Island, though I didn’t get about explaining who they are. Blok doesn’t bother explaining who they are in his skits either; he leaves the task of identifying them to his audience.
He picks on the most discernible hallmarks of the big schools: their crests, their mottos, and of course their most distinguished old boys and old girls. He pricks balloons and demolishes most of the urban myths surrounding them, but for every audience he infuriates he makes another laugh. At the end of the day, it’s the Royal-Thomian crowd he dissects the most. To my mind he does it better than many social scientists in showing us how the milieu it caters and panders to has evolved in one sense, and hasn’t in another.
Public schools, there and here One of the most curious contradictions of the Industrial Revolution in Britain was that while it shattered one set of pre-capitalist social relations, it entrenched another. Writers on both sides of the spectrum, from Eric Hobsbawm to Fareed Zakaria, have conjectured that what kept Britain from consolidating its gains in the revolution were its public schools. Hobsbawm claimed that they produced an actively “anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, games-dominated” vision which bred hostility to the very reforms that had fuelled industrialisation. Unsuited to any revolution, let alone an industrial one, by the late 18th and early 19th centuries these enclaves had sunk deeply in their own feudalised structures.
It certainly is ironic that much of the innovation that drove British industry was forged by non-public schoolboys: John Kay, Samuel Crompton, James Watt, Richard Arkwright, and George Stephenson all either remained illiterates for much of their childhood or didn’t get a formal education. Zakaria pinpoints this as one of the reasons why the United States, with its emphasis on industrial education, easily surpassed Britain from the latter part of the 19th century. To put it very simply, unlike in Britain schools and universities in the US privileged science and technology over the classics. “Nothing,” wrote Charles Darwin, “could have been worse for the development of my mind than [my school], as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught except a little ancient geography and history.”
The problem was that while Britain’s economy transformed in the 18th century, it did so with an education system which survived those changes. That system was more suited to a pre-capitalist society where, as Durkheim wrote in his doctoral dissertation (The Division of Labour in Society), occupational choices remained few and far between, compared with a society in which industrialisation and specialisation ran apace. In other words it was more suited to the European colonies: it required as an impetus the trifurcation of society into a white officialdom, a dependent bourgeoisie, and a depressed peasantry.
S. B. D. de Silva challenged the prevailing view that the colonial economy (such as the one that came to be in place in Sri Lanka) operated on a dichotomy between a traditional and a modern sector (i.e. between agricultural enclaves and plantations) simply because the pre-capitalist nature of the plantations put into question their modernity: they were more semi-feudal, and they required a stunted bourgeoisie. Such a bourgeoisie required a whole new social structure amenable to their way of life.
The public school system devised in 14th century England and antiquated in 18th century Britain thus proved to be a perfect fit in 19th century British Ceylon. From these institutions evolved Vittachchi’s brown sahibs. Dependent in the truest sense of the term, they realised that their fortunes were inextricably linked to the diktats of British officialdom.
On the other hand, they were not totally cut off from rural society: in order to enforce their authority over the latter, they needed to be linked to it. They were Janus-faced, more tilted to their Western half than their local half; “an admixture in which the Western ingredients preponderated,” as Michael Roberts wrote of Jeronis Pieris. Educated in English, they made every attempt to prevent the peasantry from graduating beyond an elementary education, forcing them “to follow such avocations as they are fitted for by nature.”
In the 1880s around the time of intense reform in England, for instance, J. P. Obeyesekere stood up in the Legislative Council and castigated villagers who racked up debts to send their children to English schools. The solution, Obeyesekere surmised, was to set the entry requirements to these schools so high that only a select few could get in. Half a century later, however, the enactment of various reforms would make it impossible to keep those debt racking villagers from obtaining an English education for their children.
Public school elites, then and now
The subjects of Vittachchi’s ridicule, scorn, and derision cropped up in this era. The leaders who would take the mantle from the British after independence were all born in the shadow of the British Empire, as I pointed out in my Midweek Review column this week. What I did not point out there was that these leaders reacted differently, reflecting the complexity of their class conditioning, to the oncoming, inevitable demise of the Empire.
Some, like D. S. Senanayake, lobbied for moderate reform while lobbying against reforms of the sort envisaged by Cabinet colleagues such as C. W. W. Kannangara and A. Ratnayake, and the Marxists. Others, like S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, teetered between (Gladstonian) Liberal ideals and their colonial upbringing, a contradiction that Gunadasa Amarasekara, in his essays on Bandaranaike, has explored. Still others, like J. R. Jayewardene, made use of whatever was in vogue at the time and launched themselves on to the political stage. That they came from the same stock, the colonial elite, did not hinder them from responding to the swelling currents of public opinion in diverse, different ways.
I have been writing here of the public school elite vis-à-vis Vittachchi leaving out the public school elite vis-à-vis Gehan Blok. Surprisingly, the most illuminating insight about the latter came, not from Blok, but from Dino Corera. In a skit two years ago at Temple Trees, Corera joked about the intricacies of Colombo’s public schools and the leaders they produced. The usual names were mentioned. No one was spared.
Suddenly he dropped a bombshell: dwelling on the irony of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, a product of Sri Lanka’s foremost Anglicised elite, coming up with the Sinhala Only Act, he drew a distinction between Bandaranaike’s school and its rival that to me was not so much classist as it was revealing of the changes in the social landscape which have transpired in one institution and haven’t so much in the other. “Speaking in English,” he said, referring to the students of one school, “is the one thing they do better than you guys.” He laced it: the canteen staff of that school operated in English better than half the population of the other. Then he delivered the rimshot: “And you know which half!”
I have written on this other half before, and I think it’s a cultural contradiction unparalleled by any other in Sri Lanka that our public schools should accommodate a milieu that does not communicate in English, yet embrace a tradition mired in Western values and iconography. Owing to the tumults of socio-political change, they have incorporated within their premises a milieu they would have kept out of their gates a century ago.
Together this milieu forms the crest of the new public school elite that’s become the butt-end of Blok’s and Corera’s jokes. They are the descendants of Vittachchi’s brown sahibs: a middle-class cum petty bourgeoisie celebrating Western values and looking up to the pro-Western ideals of the Opposition while adhering to a rough anything-but-Western ethic and belief system that they associate with the governing party. So far no social scientist has, to my mind, explored this contradiction. It is to Blok’s credit, and to Corera’s also, that they’ve tread where the best equipped anthropologist hasn’t. So far.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
Health benefits of veganism
That a vegan diet helps in reducing, and even removing diabetes and heart disease, is fairly well known. While generally higher in carbs, vegan diets are up to 2.4 times more effective at improving blood sugar management in people with diabetes. Vegan diets are also more effective at reducing total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, compared to omnivorous diets
But what effect does it have on other problems of the human body.
In a study done by C. M. Clinton et al. in 2015, 40 people with osteoarthritis followed either a whole-food, plant-based vegan diet, or their regular omnivorous diet for six weeks. The vegan group reported greater improvements in symptoms, energy levels, vitality, and physical functioning, compared to the regular diet group.
Since I have had rheumatoid arthritis for the last 20 years, I was particularly interested in this study done by R. Peltonen et al printed in the British Journal of Rheumatology, 1997. This study took 43 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Participants consumed either a raw, vegan diet rich in lactobacilli, or their habitual omnivorous diet for one month. Participants in the vegan group also experienced significant improvements in disease symptoms, such as swollen and tender joints, much less pain, joint swelling, and morning stiffness, than those continuing with their existing diet. A return to their omnivorous diet, after the study was over, again aggravated their symptoms.
A raw vegan diet is actually the answer to almost everything. But it is the most difficult thing to do. When I binge on rice and curries over several weeks, I give myself two days of just “green juice”- a mixture of whatever green vegetables/leaves we have in the kitchen, a few neem and coriander leaves, ginger, tomato, haldi, celery, beetroot, and a fruit, four times a day. This brings me back to good health immediately and makes me lose weight! In fact, every study done, on the effects of a vegan diet on weight loss, shows it to be far more effective than any other diet. I tried a vegan diet during the Covid lockdown and lost 11 kg in three months – without feeling hungry at all. In fact, now I eat only once a day and my feeling of fullness could be due to the higher intake of dietary fibre which can help people feel full. But it could also be because studies show that a vegan meal reduces the hunger hormone, ghrelin, less than a meat-containing meal, in healthy participants.
What effect does a vegan diet have on the brain? Scientists Medawar, Huhn, Villringer and Witte, reviewed 32 studies done on the effects of plant-based diets on cognition, and printed the results in Translational Psychiatry.
This is what they write, “We found robust evidence for beneficial effects of plant-based diets versus conventional diets on weight status, energy metabolism and systemic inflammation in healthy participants, obese and type-2 diabetes patients. Considering neurological or psychiatric diseases and brain functions, the systematic review yielded in six clinical trials of diverse clinical groups, i.e. migraine, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Here, mild to moderate improvement, e.g. measured by antibody levels, symptom improvement or pain frequency, was reported in five out of six studies, sometimes accompanied by weight loss”
The most important thing they found was that the body’s inflammation was much less in plant-based eaters. “The reason could be due to the abundance of anti-inflammatory molecules in plants and/or their avoidance of pro inflammatory animal-derived molecules.” This is important because inflammation leads to obesity, cardiovascular disease and a higher risk of dementia.
A study by Song et al. estimated that statistically replacing 3% of animal protein, especially from red meat or eggs, with plant protein would significantly improve mortality rates. “This beneficial effect might however not be explained by the protein source itself, but possibly by detrimental components found in meat/eggs and milk (e.g. heme-iron, opioid-peptides, nitrosamines, antibiotics, dioxins).”
In a study done by Winston Craig on the “Health effects of vegan diets”, printed in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009, he writes :
“A vegan diet appears to be useful for increasing the intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and for minimizing the intake of dietary factors implicated in several chronic diseases.” In a recent report by World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO), different plant food groups were rated with respect to their ability to influence chronic disease reduction. Cancer risk reduction, associated with a high intake of fruit and vegetables, was assessed as probable/ possible risk of heart disease reduction as convincing, and lower risk of osteoporosis was assessed as probable.
Data from the Adventist Health Study showed that non vegetarians had a substantially increased risk of both colorectal and prostate cancer than did vegetarians. A vegetarian diet provides a variety of cancer-protective dietary factors. In addition, obesity is a significant factor, increasing the risk of cancer. Because the mean BMI of vegans is considerably lower than that of non-vegetarians, it may be an important protective factor for lowering cancer risk.
Fruit and vegetables are described as protective against cancer of the lung, mouth, oesophagus, and stomach, and to a lesser degree at some other sites, whereas the regular use of legumes provides a measure of protection against stomach and prostate cancer. In addition, fibre, vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals in the diet, are shown to exhibit protection against various cancers, whereas allium vegetables provide protection against stomach cancer, and garlic against colorectal cancer. Foods rich in lycopene, such as tomatoes, are known to protect against prostate cancer.
Red meat and processed meat consumption are consistently associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Those with the highest intake of red meat had elevated risks, ranging from 20% to 60%, of oesophageal, liver, colorectal, and lung cancers than did those who ate the least. The use of eggs was recently shown to be associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Data suggest that legume intake is also associated with a moderate reduction in the risk of prostate cancer. Consumption of isoflavone-containing soy products during childhood, and adolescence, protects women against the risk of breast cancer later in life, whereas a high childhood dairy intake has been associated with an elevated risk of colorectal cancer in adulthood. Data from the Adventist Health Study showed that consumption of soy milk by vegetarians protected them against prostate cancer, whereas in other studies the use of dairy was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Bone health depends on more than just protein and calcium intakes. Research has shown that bone health is also influenced by nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium, and by foods such as soy and fruit and vegetables. Vegan diets do well in providing a number of those important substances. Results from 2 large cohort studies support an association between vitamin K intake and the risk of hip fracture. In the Nurses’ Health Study, middle-aged women consuming the most vitamin K, green leafy vegetables, had a 45% less risk of hip fracture. In the Framingham Heart Study, elderly men and women, who ate the largest amount of leafy vegetables, had a 65% decreased risk of hip fracture than did those who ate the least.”
Fruits and vegetables provide phytochemicals and vitamin C that boost immune function and prevent certain types of cancer. A meta-analysis on the effect of a plant-based diet concludes a beneficial effect on heart disease, cancer, overweight, body composition, glucose tolerance, digestion and mental health. You have only one body. Why don’t you take care of it ?
( To join the animal welfare
movement contact firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)
Sugar is the villain, not fat
By Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha
After the Second World War, with increasing affluence, the consumption of fat, sugar and fast foods increased notably, and concurrently the incidence of coronary heart disease stroke and metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, diabetes and obesity), in the U.S and Europe. It is reported that fast food outlets in the U.S doubled from 1972 to 1999 whereas obesity jumped by 113% and currently remains at 18.5%! Worldwide, obesity has tripled since 1975 and is now 9% whereas childhood obesity is even higher, being 10.9%, having increased more than tenfold across the world over the past four decades! Obesity is now a serious worldwide malady, especially of young ones for which diet is key, sugar being the main culprit!
However, since the 1950s the blame on heart disease and strokes has been laid squarely on saturated fat (SFA) consumption and elevation of blood serum cholesterol (BSC), and in the early 1970s the lipid hypothesis came into being and was globally accepted. It states that SFA consumption increases serum lipids and BSC which clogs arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes. Of the three types of cholesterol, HDL, LDL and VLDL the latter two, also called the bad cholesterol are believed to clog arteries via the formation of plaques inside blood vessels whereas HDL, the so called good cholesterol, scavenges the excess serum cholesterol and transports it back to the liver. The lipid hypothesis was based on the exhaustive research findings; but despite substantial evidence contradicting the findings, the medical authorities of the U.S, supported by the American Heart Association, stood by its decision. It was reported then that in the U.S, the people feared saturated fat more than ghosts!
However, despite substantial reduction in the consumption of fat and cholesterol, over the last five decades, the incidence of heart disease hardly decreased.
contradicting the saturated
fat- heart disease hypothesis
A major study relating to the lipid hypothesis was the Framingham study, a longitudinal cohort study, a type of epidemiological study, that followed a group of individuals over time to determine the natural history of coronary heart disease and strokes. However, the study failed to demonstrate the expected relationship of SFA and BSC. Interestingly, William P. Castele, M D, the Director of the Study, writing an editorial in the journal ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’ in July 1992 states that “in Framingham, Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more calories one ate, lower the persons BSC, …. they weighed the least and were the most physically active”
Similarly, the Framingham Ischemic stroke study reported in the article titled ‘Inverse association of dietary fat with development of ischemic stroke in men’ published in the Journal of American Medical Association, by Gilman, M.W et al (1997), the authors reported an inverse association of dietary fat with the development of ischemic stroke in men; and the lowest incidence of strokes was with the highest saturated fat consumers. The duration of the study was 20 years and included 832 men.
A much publicised study by the anti-SFA lobby was the Seven Countries study of Ancel Keys, considered the leader of the ‘diet-heart hypothesis. He claimed establishing a correlation between SFA consumption and CHD . His demeanour was most confident and convincing, and many nutritionist of the day believed him and fell in line. However, this study was also subjected to a critical evaluation by a famous biometrician of the period, Wood W D P. In a publication in Statistician in 1981, he questioned how Ancel Keys selected the seven countries out of the 21 OECD countries. He pointed out that, statistically, there were 116,280 ways of selecting seven samples out of 21, and fewer than 10% of the samples gave a correlation coefficient equal to or more than 0.84, and his correlation varied from +0.9 to – 0.9 !
Then in 1990, a famous cardiologist at the time, Sir Walter Willet writing an eeditorial in the American Journal of Public Health’stated that ‘even though the focus of dietary recommendation is usually a reduction of saturated fat intake, no relation between saturated fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease was observed in the most informative prospective study to date’.
A landmark happening of the epoch was the diametrically opposite stand taken by Paul Dudley White, M.D, famous cardiologist in the 1970 s to support Keys from what he did in 1956! He was the President then of the American Heart Association and later cardiologist of President Eisenhower. On invitation to a television programme to support the SFA- CHD in hypothesis in 1956, he said: “See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921, and I never saw an MI (myocardial infarction) patient until 1928. Back in the MI-free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard, and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word corn oil” In 1961, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and Keys diet heart hypothesis was the belief of the day. Eisenhower too was convinced by it; and apparently Dudley White changed his thinking through conviction or otherwise!
In regard to association of SFA and CHD then, the following conclusions can be drawn:
1. International epidemiology is flawed by confounding factors and selection biases;
2. Within countries, epidemiology gives little support for diet and heart disease;
3. Risk factors have largely been established by epidemiological studies, and only provide evidence of associations not of cause and effect;
4. Trends in CHD mortality not consistent with changes in amount and type of fat in the diet;
5. Less than 50% of CHD risk is accounted by known risk factors; and
no research has proved high BSC or High SFA intakes cause CHD
Villain remains at large
Concurrently with the evolution of the lipid hypothesis, Professor John Yudkin, the highly reputed British Physiologist claimed that sugar was a hazard to public health. In fact, reviewing the Ancel Keys’ data relating to the lipid hypothesis, he was astounded by the correlation of heart disease not with fat consumption but sugar. His research established that sugar processed in the liver is converted to fat before entering the blood stream. Ancel Keys was intensely aware of Yudkin’s research but called it ‘mountain of nonsense’, and accused of producing ‘propaganda’ in support of the meat and dairy industry. Sadly, the mild character Yudkin, did not positively respond to Keys. He was also vulnerable to attack by the British Sugar Bureau which dismissed his claims as ‘emotional assertions’!
Although Keys had shown a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, he failed to exclude the possibility that the disease could also be caused by something else; but his Italian partner in the Seven Country Study Allesandro Menotti, re-analyzing the data showed that sugar was the food that correlated the most with heart disease deaths, and not saturated fat! It was too late as in most countries saturated fat hypothesis was already the official position!
John Yudkin retired from his post at Queens Elizabeth College in 1971 to write his book ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ which the current day nutritionists consider a masterpiece. The College, however, reneged on a promise for him to continue to use the facilities, as it had hired a fully committed supporter of the fat hypothesis to replace him, the man who built the nutrition department of the College from scratch!
There is now overwhelming evidence that excessive sugar, in fact fructose, consumption in the key cause of the metabolic syndrome: hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, Alzeimer’s disease and cancer. Sucrose breaks down in the liver into 50% each of fructose and glucose.
In the US for example, the per capita sugar consumption has doubled in the last 50 years from 32kg to 63kg, and that is why despite the majority opting for a low fat diet with the advent of the lipid hypothesis, CHD rate increased. The global consumption of sugar is 23 kg per capita per year whereas, that of Sri Lanka and India, for example, are 23 and 19. The highest sugar consumer is UAE at an unbelievable 214 kg per capita per year!
Robert Lustig, M.D, a pediatric endocrinologist and a leading campaigner against excessive sugar consumption claims that fructose is a poison! Much of it is consumed via high fructose corn syrup, which is a major component in many of the sugary drinks such as coke; and 12.1% of the daily caloric intake of an adult American is via fructose. He states that hepatic fructose metabolism leads to visceral adiposity (abdominal fat accumulation) leading to all manifestations of the metabolic syndrome. Thirty percent of the fructose is said to be converted to very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) which block the blood vessels through synthesis of plaques. The LDL cholesterol, he claims is not as bad as we think.
Lustig in his much quoted 90 minute lecture titled Sugar: the bitter truth, uncompromisingly claims that sugar is the main cause of the global obesity syndrome. He argues that governments catering to the sugar mafia have overlooked the facts. It is sad that the world overlooked John Yudkin’s warning for half a century with catastrophic consequences! The American Heart Association now recommends only 9 teaspoonfuls of sugar per capita per day as against the average US consumption of 26!
In conclusion, whilst sugar is the main culprit, saturated fat cannot probably be totally absolved. Sadly the global food industry cabal too should be blamed for overlooking the health warnings. They have been hell bent on fighting one another for grocery shop space rather than heeding public health: and it is up to the governments now to be more resolute in controlling the food quality from the health perspective.
Ranjith Rubasinghe’s journey into television (Part II)
By Uditha Devapriya
Continued from last Saturday
Never one to abandon his education, Ruba proceeded to obtain diplomas and qualifications in journalism from the University of Colombo (where he was taught by Edwin Ariyadasa), the Open University, and the Sri Lanka Press Council. How he balanced these pursuits with what one can only describe as a hectic, rigorous schedule is probably grist for another biography; suffice it to say that, among other important lessons, he learnt that “filmmaking is no nine-to-five business.” 20-hour shoots with short breaks were very much the norm then. “Basically, if you were planning to enter the industry, you had to be prepared to work on time, overtime, all the time. Shoddiness was never tolerated. Not once.”
But these are the same values that seem to be deteriorating in the industry today. That, Ruba tells me, is attributable to the race for popularity actors and directors are enmeshed in. “They are only interested in what they can buy with what they earn. They are not interested, at least not as much as their forbearers were in my time, in sustaining the industry that fed them.” In other words, consumerism and advertising, which by no means were lacking on film and TV back in the day, have come to monopolise popular culture now.
Unfortunately for Ruba, this has a personal bearing on him also: in the early 2000s, he made the decision to jump from the assistant’s to the director’s chair.
His first television directorial venture, Ruwan Sakmana, came out in 2002. Helped by the late H. D. Premaratne and scripted by K. B. Herath, it was telecast on Swarnavahini, featuring the likes of Deepani Silva and Janak Premalal. Five years later, in 2007, his second TV venture, Mosam Rella, got a slot on Rupavahini; again scripted by Herath, it featured a stellar cast: Tony Ranasinghe, Daya Tennakoon, and Grace Ariyawimal all took part in it. Like Ruwan Sakmana, it was half morality tale, half thriller, and it ends, again as with his first serial, with redemption for the protagonist and comeuppance for the villain. Sumitra Peries liked both: “they are good,” she told me, “not only because they are technically proficient, but because, seeing them, you can discern the director’s love for storytelling.”
Rubasinghe’s latest television miniseries, Yathrakaya, has a frustratingly long history. Shot in every conceivable location, from Anuradhapura to Nuwara-Eliya, and spanning 30 episodes, Ruba spared no expense to instil authenticity to the narrative, “which is basically about a man who, thought dead, is caught up in an investigation.” I’m surprised to hear that it’s based on a series of incidents which took place “a long, long time back.” Indeed, the minute he heard of the story, he had collected almost every newspaper article on it.
I put to Ranjith that he must have taken some effort to scout for locations. He agrees. “We went almost everywhere to be honest, from Anuradhapura to Dankotuwa to Negombo and to Gampaha and Nuwara-Eliya. We even shot a character’s death from a train accident ‘live’, taking advantage of a slow moving train coming from the Awariwatta Station in Katunayake. The driver didn’t know what we were doing. We heard the train sounding its horn frantically, but we waited until the last minute.”
, as with his previous ventures, was written by K. B. Herath, and it starred, among a galaxy of other names, the late Tony Ranasinghe; apparently the crew were putting together the final cut when he passed away in 2015. Having edited and reedited it, Ruba lobbied for sponsors for the finished product; that he hasn’t received word from them even today is cause for concern, especially since Rupavahini granted a slot for the show. Frustrated as he is by the patronage lavished on “mega-series”, he is nevertheless still hopeful.
For me, however, this is tragic. It is especially tragic since, given Rubasinghe’s enthusiastic ramblings about his hopes and dreams, Yathrakaya appears to be unlike Ruwan Sakmana and Mosam Rella. This one isn’t just a morality tale cum thriller; it’s more an epic thriller in the vein of The Fugitive or No Country for Old Men. God knows we’re missing that kind of film or miniseries these days. To have come up with such a production a decade and a half ago is laudable, and to not have scored points with sponsors yet is regrettable. “I still have hope,” he wistfully repeats. But hope can last only for so long. Where will we get the serials we deserve on our TV screens, if we don’t pay attention to getting their directors the money?
Rubasinghe has made his case there. It is up to us to listen, and up to sponsors to act. Perhaps we should listen harder, and they should act faster. We’re missing out on a lot.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
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