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Aquarius – ready to make Arena a happening place

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Benjy Ranabahu’s new Aquarius is certainly on the right track…for big time fame.

Although the group is still in its infancy stages, in comparison to the more established outfits, the guys have already tasted stardom.

Their first groundbreaking event was the live streaming concert, “Arise Sri Lanka,’ held last month, at Nelum Pokuna.

The band members appeared on stage, just after the intermission, to do their version of The Eagles’ ‘A Hole In the World.’

It was a commendable effort from a band that came into existence, just a few months ago, and with no prior stage experience, as a group.

Having showed the world their capabilities, since the concert ‘Arise Sri Lanka’ was live streamed to the world, via Facebook and YouTube, Aquarius is now ready to give their local fans, and those who love the nightclub scene, a taste of their exciting sounds.

I’m sure many of you would remember The Colombo 2000, at the Galadari Hotel!

This particular nightspot was the ‘in place,’ in town, when it existed, and was always full to capacity, especially during the weekends.

In fact, there were queues to enter and latecomers invariably found themselves out of the vibrant action…at The Colombo 2000.

Well, the exciting news, I have for nightclubbers, is that there is a new setting, at the old venue…in the form of Arena.

Arena is the new nightspot, in town, at the Galadari Hotel, and will open its doors to the public on Saturday, October 10th, 2020.

According to Aquarius leader, Benjy, action will be from 7 pm, onwards, and he did mention to us that it’s going to be an explosive night of music and fun.

“We will certainly make it a happening scene and I would love to see all my friends, colleagues in the music scene, music lovers, and nightclubbers, on opening night.

“Let’s all get together and have a ball.”

The band has been hard at practice, the past few months, working on a repertoire that will give the public something to think about.

“We are going to do it differently,” said Benjy, adding that music lovers should be there, on the evening of Saturday, October 10th, to experience the difference.

For the record, it was the original Aquarius who did the needful when the Margarita Blue, also at the Galadari Hotel, opened its door to the public.

The band then had three female vocalists – with two from the Philippines.

The present lineup is equally impressive, with Benjy on bass, Shiran Munasinghe (drums/vocals), Jayan Fernando (keyboards/vocals), Nirosha Wattaladeniya guitar/vocals, and Sajith Gunaratna and Ruwini Ranrekha (vocals).

Benjy also did mention to us that there won’t be an entrance fee – only a minimum charge.



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National Day and news from across the oceans

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Cassandra has groused, groaned and suffered, yes suffered both emotionally and in mere existence by the stubbornness with which the National Day parade and all that will take place tomorrow. She is joined by almost the entire population of Sri Lanka. We are greatly angered by the expense of 200 million rupees on a pointless, useless, far too extravagant celebration with no feeling of freedom or democracy enjoyed. This grand show is on (almost solely for Ranil’s W R’s benefit) while officials circumvent the globe with the begging bowl; us Ordinaries suffer privations; and many almost starve in this land which is bountiful and kind but for the craft, corruption and sheer incompetence of government leaders down the years.

Cass never fails to watch the February 4th celebration at Galle Face Green, Independence Square or in front of Parliament by the Diyawanna. She is involved emotionally: impressed by the dignified splendour of the event; bursting with pride when the Lion Flag is hoisted, getting all teary at the sight of the young girls and boys in three types of national dress singing the Country Anthem, Jayamangala Gatha and the blessing. During the Yahapalana era, tears were doubled in her eyes, compounded with the sense of justice and non-racialism that was evident when the National Anthem was sung both in Sinhala and Tamil. This year only two events to earn reluctant kudos: singing the N Anthem is two languages, which is hoped will be the order of the day, and garlanding the Father of the Nation. This last has a canker in the flowers; its stupendous cost was questioned by the President. So, the native cunning must have crept in the quotation with money slipping into private pockets and not only to the florist.

A letter writer to the Editor of this newspaper classified Ranil W. as a deaf, unseeing, uncaring, stubborn President; also vain. Cass endorses this characterisation; many of the traits thought originally to be alien to this man of good family, good school, good education and good principles –THEN.

It’s Wednesday as Cass writes this Cry and so far she has not heard the practicing jet planes fly past overhead. Has that been cancelled as a compromise to protests? Jolly good if it has as that part of celebration is a fuel guzzler and thus adding tremendously to the cost. Also, doubly unfair as Capt Elmo Jayawardena pointed out in an article last Sunday in the sister paper that “The F7 fighter jets in this aero-ballet burn 40 litres of fuel a minute at low level. And we minions of Paradise loiter in snaking queues down below with our QR codes to get 20 liters for one week.” Do hope at least this crit was taken.

If I were Prez – my speech

An appropriate, non-insulting, above-board video clip is making its rounds. Dr Rohan Pethiyagoda with excellent inunciation of British English gave voice to the speech he would have made if he were President of this country. Cass adds here that zoologist par excellence, knowledgeable scientist with pragmatism and sincere humane being that Rohan P is, he should thank his stars he is not the Prez of present day Siri Lanka – vilified and thought so little of by the general public and puppet-stringed by a person who should live in his adopted country, not here.

Rohan, speaking as a pretend politician, addressing his Fellow Citizens, traced the history of Sri Lanka succinctly from the prosperous Polonnaruwa period -16th C, through colonialism to Independence Day February 4, 1948, when Ceylon was the most prosperous country in Asia and definitely of S Asia. India before colonialism was at its apex of prosperity; export oriented with manageable population. Over here post-independence, in 16 years from living amicably multi-racially and multi-religiously, we were fractured. First the Burghers migrated, then Tamils and now Sinhalese and all Sri Lankans where possible. While in 1955 we had a surplus of rice and a dollar cost less than Rs 50.00, things changed for the far worse. The pretend Prez Rohan blamed politicians but “you, the citizens” more for the rapid downfall. There were the pluses: free education, free health services, free rice, but then the minuses: the Diyaw Diyaw demand of the populace and elections becoming a lottery – biggest bidder and greatest giver winning votes. Hence nationalisation and giving pensionable jobs to most. Gotabaya comes along and destroys agriculture; many in power are thugs, criminals and morons. Again, the politico blames us the people and tells us to look in the mirror to see the bigger faulters.

No truer words were said. No blacker can our mood be; no streaks of light in the bleak future. For how long will this dark spell last, we ask?

Blots overcome by tennis’ No. I

It was an excellent diversion from our sea of troubles and darkness of tunnel we travel through with no glimmer of redeeming light at its end, to watch the Australian Open tennis. Relief was great when Novak Djokovic won the finals in a nail biting three sets. Cass invariably reprimands herself for getting worked up over a match played by, to her, unknown persons, but she does get stressed watching the finals.

She missed seeing Djokovic’s wife and kids who are normally in the area of seats allocated to him. This time noticeably absent. He mentioned, after the semis win, his ten-year-old son as playing good tennis with him and hoped one day he’d compete in the men’s double as a team of father and son. Cass googled to see whether the family is together. They are. Maybe the children’s schooling or whatever kept them away.

A minor upset was his father being banned from witnessing the men’s semifinals because Djokovic had been seen in a video with Vladimir Putin fans on the tennis grounds in Melbourne and Russia is now anathema to the Australians and many others. In fact, the Russian flag was banned from the meet such that against Daniil Medvedev’s name on the score board, there was a blank space where the country flag would be displayed. However, Craig Tiley, manager of the AO – lifted the ban on him for the finals and permitted attending the finals in the Rod Laver court. He absented himself. These would have been troubling Novak who is very family oriented but he won his 10th title in Australia beating Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas and equalling Nadal’s number of wins.

See you after the celebration of independence and nationalism, hoping there will not be massive walkouts of workers protesting the tax hikes.

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Why Neighbours (AsalWasiyo) should be considered an exemplary piece of Sri Lankan drama

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By Charith Gamage and Gem Taylor

With the doorbell ring echoing through the house, Mrs. Josephine, living in the suburbs with her three unmarried daughters, gets excited as she realises someone has come to inspect her vacant annexe house. In the next scene, the face of the sturdy woman (wearing an old patched dress) soon disappoints after seeing her potential rental tenant – a married couple! They have fulfilled all the typical qualifications, such as financials, and are okay with higher rent, but Mrs Josephine turns them down without much consideration. Although Mrs Josephine should only be concerned about receiving a smooth higher rent – all she needs as a landlord – it is not necessarily her expectation through renting out her annexure house.

The answer to the strange behaviour of Mrs Josephine lies in the thirteen dramatic episodes of AsalWasiyo First aired in 1989 in Rupavahini and directed by the veteran director Bandula Vithanage (with assistant direction by Wimalarathna Adikari), the format of the drama can be considered as something that single-handedly challenged the face of Sri Lankan teledrama in the 1980s. Many Sri Lankan viewers still love the drama, proving that it also stood the test of time to become a timeless art piece that can exemplify a quality drama. Although it talks about profound themes and socio-economic issues in that period of Sri Lanka – a mother’s sacrifices, the housing crisis, and even dowry – the director preserves the dramatic quality rather than giving an explicit socio-economic or socio-political tone. In addition, among other reasons, the drama’s unpredictable nature, high-quality comedic elements, realistic acting, and music also make it stand out and intriguing to watch.

As the drama unfolds, it shows Josephine’s circumventing strategy in searching for marriage partners for her daughters. She rents out her annexe house to people whom she thinks have affluent backgrounds so that her daughters build relationships with them. The middle-aged widower Paul, who is going through a housing issue, meets Josephine after seeing her newspaper advertisement. Paul’s family, with his two unmarried sons, seemingly matches Josephine’s dream tenant perfectly, except that he only boasts about himself and his sons without having the qualifications Josephine is looking for. Despite not having the desired qualifications, Paul who just worked for a lawyer for some time introduces himself to Mrs Josephine as a lawyer. Meantime, his younger son is introduced as an Engineer when he is a casual employee at a motor garage.

As Paul’s family lives in their false identity about their status, drama develops with subsequent clashes from Josephine’s family entertaining revenge when their true identities are revealed. Although one may classify it as a comedy, from a socio-economic standpoint, the drama also depicts a segmental view of the lower-middle-class and middle-class life of Sri Lanka at that time. It shows how hopes of solving one problem can lead to a bigger problem, bringing them back to square one.

What does the drama structure tell us?

AsalWasiyo has a simple but rich storyline, making it an excellent blueprint for those who want to study quintessential family dramas which depict wider Sri Lankan society. The show follows a climactic plot structure similar to as laid out in Fig 1, which offers plenty for viewers to analyse. In drama, a climactic plot structure is a term used for when we witness a rise in action throughout the storyline before we eventually witness a dramatic climax and subsequent fallout. The drama initially shows Paul searching for accommodation, while at the same time, Josephine is desperately searching for wealthy tenants to match her taste and needs. As their lives – and the lives of their various children – intertwine, the show’s writer (Somaweera Senanayake) and director bring multiple (character-wise) storylines together, which leads to a dramatic and humorous climax.

The climax in the drama comes when it is revealed that not only is Paul’s son not an Engineer – but he also loses his garage job for using clients’ vehicles to maintain his status. Similarly, as a father, Paul considers himself a master planner throughout the show – and he insists on the annexe house as a dowry to approve the marriage between his son and Josephine’s second daughter. However, his plans fail when he and his sons are exposed. Lastly, viewers watch as Josephine and her daughters go through the full circle of making friends with Paul and his family, building relationships with them initially, and trusting them in their lives and home – only to learn that they were being deceived the whole time. Overall, the climactic plot structure allows audiences to enjoy the tension of these two mismatched families coming together and trying to impress each other – as well as the drama of their secrets being exposed in the climactic finale.

How much Shakespearean influence have helped?

Before directing AsalWasiyo, Vthanage had significant exposure to Shakespearean theatre, particularly through Merchant of Venice in 1980. Shakespeare is undoubtedly a formative force in theatre for blending tragedy and comedy, presenting a powerful genre in his plays. In addition, Shakespearean comedies sometimes end with marriage or reuniting. In AsalWasiyo, Shakespeare’s trait of combining tragedy and comedy is visible, except that the drama does not insist on a marriage or reunion. The elements of Shakespearean comedy, such as mistaken identity, reason versus emotion, and idyllic settings, can still be seen in this drama. Paul’s impersonation of a higher-status professional depicts a mistaken identity. In addition, Josephine’s second daughter, led by emotion rather than reason, is similar to A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Hermia, who disobeys her father, and chooses to pursue a romance with Paul’s second son. She insists on the romance even after he is exposed, regardless of Josephine’s approval. Finally, idyllic settings are common in Shakespearean dramas like the mysterious island of Illyria in Twelfth Night. Idyllic settings depict perfection, like having a house when there is a housing crisis for others and having a professional bachelor in the family when there is a demand from middle-class mothers as prospective husbands for their unmarried daughters.

How have characters been used, and how has their acting helped?

Characters and actors in a play as primary communicators help the director to interconnect and deliver the intended plot to the audience. It starts with Elan Silvester, who keeps the motion of the story going through her portrayal of the protagonist, Josephine. Although Josephine seems humorous, she is tough inside, suppressing all her agonies. Elan’s quick facial changes and ability to shift from amusing to serious emotions are remarkable on this front. On the other hand, Paul (portrayed by Hemasiri Liyanage) thinks about his image and likes to show off. The character’s use of mixed Sinhalese-English dialogues, which boosts his perceived identity by thinly veiling the true one, is a significant feature in the drama. The scenes, such as his English dialogues with an innocent lady who supplied them with dinner at the beginning and knowing she had no idea what he was talking about, are examples. This character (Paul) shows less emotion than Josephine and blends well with Josephine’s psychological expectations of a wealthy potential in-law, as he cannot meet their expectations in his real identity.

Besides the leading characters, other characters also show more realistic passion, improving the drama’s quality that could grab the audience’s attention. Priya Ranasinghe, Samantha Epasinghe and Thamali Peiris play Josephine’s first, second, and youngest daughters, depicting their distinct personalities in the drama. Samantha gives life to Josephine’s second daughter and realistically contributes to more funny and dynamic scenes. Her performance contributes considerably to the drama in filler scenes, from hiding under a bed to evade Josephine, getting attacked by a curry in a pot by the eldest sister in defending her boyfriend, and a series of beatings by her mother for passing Paul’s message of dowry requirement.

On the other hand, how the youngest daughter’s character is architected in the drama shows similarities to how such characters can be used in successful productions. Like Zazu from The Lion King and Ron from Harry Potter, she is knowledgeable, diplomatic, and usually a sidekick of the main character. In addition, she does not shy away from expressing brutally honest opinions with humour, even if the recipient is offended. Quotations such as “Now, do we put this rental ad in the rental section of the newspaper or the marriage proposals section?” in response to the mother’s draft, and “They won’t stay here for long if they have to eat what you [eldest sister] cook.” are examples. She also shows characteristics of “Ingénue characters”, the female characters with a virtuous and adorable appeal that make them immediately inspire great affection in the viewers. In addition, Suminda Sirisena and Sriyantha Mendis, who played Paul’s two sons, are also notable for building up the drama with their contrasting character traits under the influence of their father. Overall the drama has carefully selected those elements and coordinated them to get the audience to connect with the plot.

What does the overall evaluation tell us?

The play is a solid effort on the dramatic front, even with the paucity of technology breakthroughs and resources at the time. Times have changed with the formats of Sri Lankan dramas and technology, but the basics of this drama remain valid for present and future drama enthusiasts. These include careful use of direction and script writing to build up characters; employing natural vocal intonation that matches the acting; and good use of music in supporting character emotions and plotlines. In particular, the music by Premasiri Kemadasa helps build the director’s desired atmosphere while setting up the next scene. Efforts made by the camera relative to the 80s to preserve cinematography are also helpful on this front. Finally, William A. Ward once said (paraphrased) the well-developed sense of humour is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope in achieving your goals. The drama depicts a tragedy, but its use of comedic overlay is very effective as a refresher, keeping the audience’s interest (possibly making the scenes memorable) and carrying them to the director’s desired destination effortlessly with the intended message passed. With everything explained, the drama shows the characteristics of a timeless creation, with elements that can still be used as a stencil for young Sri Lankan enthusiasts in drama.

Charith is an Assistant Lecturer attached to Monash University, Australia. Gem is a UK-born theatrical artist (actress) from Atlanta, USA, with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) focused on theatre. Authors would like to thank Wimalarathna Adikari for helping for the article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. Email: charith.gamage@monash.edu

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Reflecting on Cyril wickramage

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By Uditha Devapriya

\Although the Colombo Film Society would become Asia’s oldest such group, Colombo lay a world or two away from the rest of Sri Lanka. The urban middle-classes encountered the best of regional and Western cinema before their counterparts in Bombay and Calcutta did, but they remained cut off from a vast multitude who never as much as came across English films. The rural middle-classes, on the other hand, had a somewhat different conception of the cinema. The idea of a film theatre was alien to them: they were familiar with travelling cinemas and drama troupes instead. It was later, when they migrated to Colombo, that they came across the world beyond the Madras studio and the Nurti drama.

Cyril Wickramage hailed from this milieu. Born in Kohilagedara in Kurunegala on January 26, 1932, Wickramage grew up on a diet of Sokari, Nadagam, and Nurti. Kohilagedara lay less than 75 kilometres from Negombo, and drama troupes from there would visit his village, enthralling him and his friends. The villagers grew to love these shows so much that they became the centrepiece of Avurudu festivities: “When April came, we would look forward to yet another Nurti drama.” Although neither he nor his friends wanted to act, they turned these encounters into an integral part of their common experience. Elsewhere in Lellopitiya in Ratnapura, Joe Abeywickrema was indulging in such encounters too.

Like Abeywickrema, Wickramage did not get to see many films in his early years. The closest movie theatre, the Imperial, was in Kurunegala town, and that lay 12 kilometres away from Kohilagedara. Yet he would not infrequently get together with his friends, and sometimes family, and just go there. “Back then we didn’t see many English films. Most of them were in Sinhala or Tamil.” Wickramage was about 15 when the Minerva Players released Kadawunu Poronduwa. He did not readily admit it to me, but perhaps the symbiotic link between the early Sinhala films and Nurti and Nadagam drama appealed to him. In any case, it wasn’t just Sinhala films that he liked: he remembered doting on Jayalalitha also.

Wickramage’s first love was the army. Having flirted with the idea of joining the military, however, he let it go in favour of a career in teaching. Having left school, he enrolled at the Peradeniya Training College for a two-year course. Thereafter he was employed as a teacher at a total of seven schools: they included the Ratmalana Deaf and Blind School and Wesley College in Colombo. These stints not only helped him get deep into a career he had grown to love, they also enabled him to pursue his love for music, drama, and dancing. More than any other institution, it was Wesley that got him thinking about the performing arts. Run by the very able and competent Shelton Wirasinha, Wesley College was seeing its peak years, a veritable flourishing of the arts. Wickramage could not escape this.

Participating in a school play, Wickramage made the acquaintance of Ananda Samarakoon. Samarakoon, whose talents were just as attuned to music as they were to the performing arts, encouraged the young teacher to try his hand at the theatre. While the muse beckoned him on, however, it was the cinema that would officially initiate him to the world of the performing arts. In 1965 Wickramage got his first role, opposite Vijitha Mallika in Kingsley Rajapakse’s Handapane. Though a minor role, it got him much praise from those who knew him. The connections he had set up during these years turned to his advantage when, a few months later, he was contacted by Siri Gunasinghe. Gunasinghe would doubtless have seen the man’s talent for playing introspective characters and he cast him in the role of the tragic protagonist in his first and only film, Sath Samudura, in 1966.

Gunasinghe’s film was a watershed in many ways. As the title implies, Sath Samudura was set in a fishing community. It was not the first Sinhala film to be set in such a milieu: just the previous year Gamini Fonseka and Joe Abeywickrema had enthralled audiences with their performances in Getawarayo, which wound up as the Best Film at that year’s Sarasavi Awards. Yet Sath Samudura was the first Sinhala film to explore realistically, with no artifice or contrivance, the torments and agonies of the country’s fishing community. While far from being a docudrama, the story rang true in ways that other films based in such settings did not. Wickramage’s performance, as with the other performances – Denawaka Hamine’s and Swarna Mallawarachchi’s – helped make the film more authentic.

These were, by all accounts, exhilarating years for the local cinema. The revolution that Lester Peries unleashed through Rekava (1956) was still being felt everywhere, and by everyone. Following him in his wake were an entirely different generation of cineastes, who owed their careers to him but sought to go beyond his vision. Siri Gunasinghe’s film was a landmark in the Sinhala cinema, yet it did not fundamentally question or challenge Lester’s conception of the medium: it too belonged to the humanist-realist mode. During this time, Wickramage associated with three people who would figure in the next stage in the Sri Lankan cinema: Dr Linus Dissanayake, producer of Sath Samudura, Vasantha Obeyesekere, Gunasinghe’s Assistant Director, and Dharmasena Pathiraja.

Dissanayake helped finance and produce Obeyesekere’s debut film, Wes Gaththo, in 1970. Cast as the protagonist, Wickramage revelled in a role he was to typify in the years to come: the uprooted, wayward urban dweller. Five years later he gave one of his best performances in Obeyesekere’s next film, Walmath Wuwo. Cast opposite the likes of Tony Ranasinghe, the film explores the plight of unemployed university graduates, who seek fairer climes and greener pastures and migrate to the city with much expectation, but instead find a life of perpetual drudgery. It depicts rather accurately the hopes, dreams, wishes, the torments and the agonies, of an assertive but frustrated Sinhala rural petty bourgeoisie. Hailing from such a milieu himself, Wickramage gave a remarkably true to life performance: in one scene he performs a Nadagam song, no doubt going back to his childhood years.

Between Wes Gaththo and Walmath Wuwo Wickramage took part in a great many films and made friends with a great many directors, actors, and other crew members. Among those he befriended very closely were Dharmasena Pathiraja and Daya Tennakoon. Through his films, Pathiraja had brought together a group of actors that, while not formally constituting a repertoire, nevertheless became a regular feature of his films. These included Tennakoon as well as Amarasiri Kalansuriya and Vijaya Kumaratunga. Wickramage made friends with them all, and in doing so went on to epitomise the spirit of a new age: as far away from the 1960s as the 1960s had been from the 1950s. The films made during this time were full of rebellion, and the directors who made their mark at this juncture wanted to break free from the limits of the past. No director symbolised this more fittingly than Pathiraja.

Wickramage’s best performance in a Pathiraja film would have to be in Bambaru Avith (1977). The film is an allegory about the intrusion of capitalism into the lives and ways of a fishing community. Wickramage is affianced to Helen, a beautiful fisherman’s daughter played by Malini Fonseka. The protagonist of the story, Victor (Vijaya Kumaratunga) soon becomes infatuated with her. The film does not explain why exactly Wickramage’s character hates Victor so passionately, but the conflict between Victor and the fishing community exacerbates because of Helen’s relationship with these two men.

When television came to Sri Lanka in the late 1970s Wickramage found a very different niche. While on film he had been content in playing a certain role, on television he played diverse characters from different milieux. Sometimes these characters are sympathetic, often they are not. In Ella Langa Walawwa, for instance, it is Wickramage who holds the narrative together as the servant, and in Kadulla he epitomises – through his death – the conflict between the old order and the new in 19th century colonial society. Both these productions were directed by Pathiraja; they would be followed by other serials, the most memorable of which, from this decade at least, would have to be Ananda Abeynayake’s Kande Gedara. Here, in contrast to his earlier roles, he plays a conman who dreams of going up and exhibits one mannerism after another to pass off as respectable.

Over the next few years and decades, Wickramage would mellow gracefully. Though he does not act as much as he used to, his recent performances depict a more empathetic, world-weary, sagacious side to him. His career resembles that of other supporting actors, like Daya Tennakoon, who never became leading men, but who became indispensable parts of the films they starred in. Today, at 91, Wickramage has become an elder statesman in the world of the Sinhala film. Whether or not his due honours have been paid is debatable. That he is deserving of these honours, of course, there is no doubt.

The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@-gmail.com

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