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Gamperaliya: The Greatest Masterpiece of Sinhala Cinema

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PLACES, PEOPLE & PASSIONS (3Ps)

Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
chandij@sympatico.ca

Early Movies

When I was very young, my parents started taking me to see popular, animated movies produced by Walt Disney. They took me to see my first Sinhala movie when I was three. I don’t remember too much about that movie – ‘Sooraya’ except that one of the main actors was Alfred Edirimanne, a good friend of my father. A couple of years later I remember watching another Sinhala movie – ‘Daivayogaya’ which was memorable mainly because of beautiful singing by Rukmani Devi, and the first-ever movie appearance by a handsome young supporting actor – Gamini Fonseka. When one of my uncles took my elder sister and me to see ‘Kavata Andare’ at the Ritz Cinema near our house at Borella in 1960, I thought that Eddie Jayamanne was hilarious acting as the famous court jester of a Sinhala king.

Ranmuthu Duwa’ and ‘Dr. No’

When I was a kid my favourite Sinhala movie was ‘Ranmuthu Duwa’ (Island of Treasures). In 1962, my parents took my two sisters and myself to the Sapphire Cinema in Colombo to see this first colour full-length Sinhala movie. With a budget of Rs. 400,000, it was the most expensive movie made in Ceylon, up to that point. It broke all box office records in Ceylon and its initial run in over 20 cinemas went beyond 100 days. It also made three young actors – Gamini Fonseka, Joe Abeywickrama and Jeevarani Kurukulasuriya, mega stars. Like all my eight-year-old friends, I became an ardent fan of Gamini Fonseka, who was only 26 then.

It was co-produced by Ceylonese Shesha Palihakkara and British-American Dr. Arthur C. Clarke and directed by Canadian Mike Wilson. It showed, for the first time, the underwater wonders of the seas around Ceylon, which had barely begun to be explored. In an era when Sinhala cinema was dominated by formulaic movies influenced by popular, melodrama Indian movies and music, ‘Ranmuthu Duwa’ was a breath of fresh air and set a trend. It had only three songs (compared to an average of eight songs per Sinhala movie made since 1947), all originals that made a new generation of musicians led by Amaradeva very popular over the next few decades.

Maha Kappina Walauwa in Balapitiya

Two months after that, my father told me one evening, “Chandana, let’s go for a walk by the beach.” Our walk ended at the Savoy Cinema and he surprised me by taking me to watch ‘Dr. No,’ the first 007 movie with Sean Connery as James Bond. My father had read a few books of Ian Flemming, and explained to me that the character of James Bond was loosely based on the author’s life. From then on, I became a ‘Picture Pissa’ or a movie buff. I commenced keeping a record of all movies I watched and rated them with my own star system, rating movies between one star and five stars.

Chosen to Act in ‘Gamperaliya

One day at Bambalapitiya Flats I was playing cricket in the backyard of the house of one of my friends, Rohitha Wickremeratne. One of his elder brothers, who was much older than us, around his mid-twenties, was involved in stage plays and movie making. Dharmasiri Wickremeratne was watching me closely and Rohitha told me that his brother would like to have a quick chat with me. “Chandana, would you like to act in a movie?” was his question.

Two days later, we had three unexpected visitors arriving at our house in the evening. Film Director Lester James Peries, Film Editor Sumithra Gunawardena and Cinematographer Willie Blake, who was a neighbour of ours, came to see me and my parents. That evening I was chosen for the role of Tissa, in the movie ‘Gamperaliya.’ I was over the moon with excitement!

Shooting on Location

Lester decided that none of the scenes of ‘Gamperaliya’ would be shot in studios. One of my scenes was filmed in the Balapiitya railway station, where my screen mother dropped me off to take the train to school. Another scene was when I was transported in the family horse cart, but due to a problem with the old horse used for that scene, Lester decided to drop that scene.

Most of the other scenes were shot at a colonial manor house of a former village headman. This house – Maha Kappina Walauwa in Balapitiya was a beautiful, large and a historic building. The whole cast stayed there for weeks. This was a novel experience for me. My father travelled with me and stayed with me during shooting periods.

Lester and Sumithra in 1962.

Directed by the Greatest Movie Director of Ceylon

Lester was a very nice gentleman and had a smooth way of directing his actors and crew. In one scene my fellow actors were engaged in a family discussion. As I was not expected to appear in that scene, I was watching the process while leaning against a pillar in the meda midula (middle garden) of the house. The master movie director looked at me and softly said: “Baba, just remain in that pose and look at your screen mother and sisters, the same way you would look at your own mother and sisters.” He then gently signalled Willie Blake to move the camera from Punya Heendeniya, Trilicia Gunawardena, and Shanthi Lekha to do a close-up of me. I did not even feel that I was acting, but that scene was memorable and very natural.

I watched Lester directing the main actor – Henry Jayasena, and then newcomers – Tony Ranasinghe and Anula Karunatilake who debuted their long and successful movie careers with ‘Gamperaliya.’ I also noticed that the director took a dozen takes of a scene when he was not satisfied. He was a perfectionist.

Lester was a bachelor at that time, but I felt that he had a special connection with his movie editor – Sumithra Gunawardena. They both were graduates of the London School of Film Technique. In 1963, a filmmaking company called Cinelanka was established with the producer of ‘Gamperaliya’ – Anton Wickramasinghe, Lester, and Sumitra as major shareholders. Lester and Sumithra married in 1964 and were together for 54 years until the demise of Lester in 2018.

Hanging out with the Greatest Novelist of Ceylon

During my second visit to Maha Kappina Walauwa, to shoot a traditional New Year scene, I was pleased to meet then 72-year-old Martin Wickramasinghe who was often acclaimed as the father of modern Sinhala literature. His novels had been translated to languages such as English, Tamil, Mandarin, Russian, Japanese, French, Dutch, Bulgarian and Romanian. Martin Wickramasinghe was a legend, and I was fortunate to meet him.

Martin Wickremasinghe’s most famous work include a trilogy of great novels commencing with ‘Gamperaliya(). It was written and first published in 1944. The novel depict the breakup of traditional village life in colonial Ceylon due to the impact of modernisation between the early and mid-20th century. The gradual subversion of the traditional economic and social structure of the village by the commercial culture of the city is portrayed through the story of an aristocratic family in a southern village. The novel has been widely praised for its realism in depicting Sinhala rural life and is considered one of the most important work of Sinhala literature.

Martin Wickramasinghe gave me some tips when we were playing a traditional New Year indoor game played in villages – ‘Panchi’, for a scene. He knew my father well and was impressed that at age nine, I had read some of his books. Why he took special interest in my role, my father told me, was because the character I was playing – Tissa, was loosely based on the author’s childhood. Wickrama Bogoda acted as Tissa when the character became older.

My father had heard that Martin Wickramasinghe was not pleased with Lester James Peries’s choice of cinema idol, Gamini Fonseka, for the role of Jinadasa, who marries the main character of the story, Nanda (my screen sister). The character of Jinadasa was somewhat that of a weaker person and the author felt that Gamini Fonseka appeared to be too strong for the role. Perhaps that was the reason for his arrival on location the day Gamini Fonseka was expected on the sets.

Meeting the Greatest Movie Actor of Ceylon

I was looking forward to meeting Gamini Fonseka. I remember a few special things when I met my idol for the first time. He drove a sylish sports car; he spoke perfect English and smoked a lot. Well, at that time most men smoked. Then he did three things which were memorable to me. He chatted with me and became friendly, then he jokingly lifted me, perhaps to show off his strong muscles, and then he signed my autograph album which I still treasure.

Gamini was an amazing actor. I was watching him crying in a scene when Nanda and Jinadasa’s son died at birth. Without any help, he had tears pouring from his eyes. “Gamini uses a technique known as ‘method acting’ used by actors such as Marlon Brando” my father whispered into my ear, while comparing Gamini to the best Hollywood actor at that time.

In shooting that scene, Lester did something uncharacteristic of him. He was satisfied with only two takes. Lester said, “Cut!” with a big smile. He then turned to his friend and said, “Well done, Gamini. That was simply perfect!” There was a pin-drop silence among all of us who witnessed a piece of brilliant acting by the greatest actor Ceylon/Sri Lanka was blessed to have. Martin Wickramasinghe’s grin and nodding his head, confirmed in my mind that he finally agreed with Lester’s choice for the role of Jinadasa.

Gamperaliya’ becoming the Greatest Sinhala Movie

In 1963, when ‘Gamperaliya’ was released, it was the turning point in Sinhala cinema, as it did away with all the formulaic elements (songs, dance, comic relief and fights) present in popular cinema at that time. It proved the viability of artistic cinema in the country and gave Sinhala cinema a previously absent sense of prestige.

Prior to its public release on December 20, 1963, ‘Gamperaliya’ competed at the third Moscow International Film Festival and won a Merit Certificate. As an actor of one of the five movies nominated for the best film of the year award at the first-ever Sarasaviya Film Awards, I was invited with my parents to the awards ceremony held at the brand-new Asoka Cinema in Colombo 14, in 1964. ‘Gamperaliya’ was judged the Best Film of the year and won seven out of 11 categories of awards.

Then came the history-making big surprise, not only for the producers of ‘Gamperaliya’ and Sinhala Cinema, but for all citizens of Ceylon. In 1965, ‘Gamperaliya’ was awarded the Golden Peacock award for the Best Film at the prestigious Third International Film Festival held in India. The festival was graded ‘A’ category by the Paris-based Federation International de Producers de Films (on par with Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Karlovy Vary and Moscow International film festivals). The festival was chaired by the greatest Indian film-maker Satyajit Ray, who famously had said that “Lester is my closest cinema relative in Asia!”

Gamperaliya’ also won and the Golden Head of Palanque at the Eighth World Review of Film Festivals held in Mexico and won silver at the 1967 Cork Film festival in Ireland. No other Sinhala film before that had won any international awards.

The unprecedented achievements of a Sinhala movie recorded by ‘Gamperaliya’ were celebrated in a few major events held in Ceylon, including an official event organized by the Cultural Affairs Department and the Arts Council of Ceylon. I was proud to be invited to such events.

At that event, when Anton Wickremasinghe told my father, “Ask Chandana to meet Lester at his house to collect his acting fees”, my family was surprised. We never discussed payments as it was simply an honour to appear in such a great movie and work with such an amazing crew. Several months later I walked from Bambalapitiya Flats to nearby Dickman’s Road to Lester and Sumithra’s house and collected my fee. It was Rs. 500. While handing me the envelope, Lester joked: “You know Chandana, for ‘Gamperaliya’ you were paid more than the highest paid actor in Ceylon – Gamini Fonseka!” I was surprised, but then realised that Gamini had acted free in ‘Gamperaliya’!

… To be continued next Sunday in a follow up article titled:

‘My 60-year long Movie Madness”



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Features

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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Features

A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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