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Nothing but Kumar



By Uditha Devapriya

“Non, je ne regrette rien.”
— Edith Piaf

Most stories never get written. Some do, but they involve, and include, other stories. Kumar de Silva has written his story many times over; to write once more is to commit plagiarism. Yet how much of it is personal, and how much of it involves his forays outside television? This, to me, is a question as irrelevant as it is invalid. What Kumar did outside television is as pertinent as what Johnny Carson did, or Jimmy Kimmel does, outside television. Yet the life of a TV host presents rather interesting subject matter for a biography, even a biographical sketch. But then who’ll take the time? Who indeed!

The first TV sets arrived in Sri Lanka somewhere in 1978, with the first transmission in April 1979. ITN came soon after: it broadcast foreign programmes for a while before, much to the government’s embarrassment, it fell under the threat of bankruptcy. Three years later, in 1982, with a powerful transmitter covering a much wider area than did ITN, the government launched another channel: Rupavahini. As the cost of TV licenses fell dramatically (USD 150 for colour, USD 30 for black and white), the number of TV sets rose even more dramatically (from 2,810 in 1979 to 360,370 seven years later). Foreign programming continued – BBC documentaries especially – as did local programming, including “teledramas.”

In 1982 my mother and father were sitting for their A Levels, or at least studying for them. Sri Lankans brought no fewer than 74,000 TV sets that year, a more than 57% increase from the previous year. With Rupavahini coming into the picture around this time, ITN dedicated most of its slots to imported, if not English language, programmes. The late D. B. Nihalsinghe meanwhile pioneered the 24-episode miniseries, with the country’s first serial, Dimuthu Muthu, taking in record-breaking audiences for Rupavahini. “Within 10 years of its advent,” Nihalsinghe later wrote, “television had grown rapidly in quantity, reach, and capability… to a predominantly Sinhalese, though multiethnic, nation.”

If in 1982 my parents were about to write their final exams at school, Kumar de Silva had finished school and embarked on his higher education. At the University of Kelaniya, Kumar selected English, Economics, French, and German. While in Wesley College he had offered a more unusual if not unprecedented subject combination, also including French. His parents had not dissented, and neither had the then Principal, the great Shelton Wirasinha. With an unmistakable bent for language, young Kumar had vague notions about his career. He didn’t crave the accountant’s path, much less the doctor’s, engineer’s, or lawyer’s. But what could a suburban middle-class 19-year-old aspire for in those days with French for his A Levels? He couldn’t aim for the sky, since the sky wasn’t the limit. He could, however, target journalism. Armed with an Honours Degree in English Literature three years later, in 1985, he thus made his way to Lake House, where, as cub reporter, he checked copy.

It was boring stuff, sedentary and duller than ditchwater. But a 19-year-old student who had done French could afford to dream; a 25-year-old graduate who had done English Literature could not. The only alternative Kumar could think of, then, was television. Yet there too the sky wasn’t the limit. Not many made it to a TV channel, and not many came out. Kumar had two strengths, however: a wide knowledge of French, and a passion for speaking.

Kumar’s Principal and in many ways guiding light at Wesley, Shelton Wirasinha, passed away in November 1985. Things moved rather quickly that year. Nine months earlier, in February, a Frenchman and Frenchwoman had conferred with two Sri Lankans, also man and woman, about an idea for a series about France, specifically about everything related to France. Few would have thought such a programme feasible in the Sri Lanka of 1985 – neither the British nor the Americans thought of a comparable series, even though locals obviously knew more about Britain and America than they did about France – yet Josiane Thureau and Bernard Prunieres, from the French Embassy, did. As for the two Sri Lankans, both Thevis Guruge and Nanda Jayamanne from ITN liked the idea. That’s how Bonsoir began. It started its journey in July, going on to adorn TV screens for a quarter of a century.

Bonsoir lasted for six months under its first host, Aruni Devaraja. Devaraja left in December. The directors wanted a new host. Just who could it be? Kumar has not divulged how exactly, but “fortune had it” (his words, not mine) that he was considered as Aruni’s successor, host for the programme in 1986. Now the issue was that while Kumar had two strengths, he had one major flaw. “This was terrible,” he chortles. “No one knew I stammered.”

The first screen test “was pure torture.” Thevis and Nanda gave up on him. “Putha,” Thevis advised him kindly, “why don’t you concentrate on production?” This Kumar could not and would not take. Growing up on a steady stream of literature and drama, he simply could not see himself in the producer’s seat. Nanda Jayamanne agreed, and let him do one more test. “That too, I flunked.” But then Jayamanne was as adamant as he. She gave him “as many screen tests as it took for me to break through my stammer.” The third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh tests went off as disastrously as, if only slightly less so than, the first two. Then came the eighth, the decisive one: “I scraped through.” He was in.

The first recordings were memorable for more reasons than one. Limited as it was to the four corners of a dingy studio at ITN, Bonsoir quickly proved to be Kumar’s baptism of fire, though that’s putting it mildly. The programme had two faces at the beginning: Kumar’s and Yasmin Rajapakse’s. Through the latter’s intervention, the Bonsoir studio was moved to the French Embassy. Yet even the less cloistered quarters of an Embassy lacked the amenities of a proper studio: “just two basic curtains, and the most primitive of setups.” The programme was waiting to go out. It soon did, first to the immediate surroundings (Rosmead Place) and then, slowly but steadily, to virtually every corner of the country.

Meanwhile, demographics were changing. Arguably more so than radio, television is linked to shifts in the population. Expensive as it may be, it nevertheless is receptive to growing demand, especially demand fuelled by electrification. In the Sri Lanka of the ‘80s, however, electricity came slowly: stage by stage, region by region. By 1986 when Kumar started out in Bonsoir, no more than 10.9% of all households had been connected to the grid; seven years later, no fewer than a third were. Taking the medium into the Sinhala heartland, both ITN and Rupavahini hence modified their programming to suit the palate of a rural lower middle class. These changes did not spare Bonsoir: in 1994, the year a Francophone came to power as the country’s president, a Sinhala Bonsoir sprang up.

By now Kumar, with Yasmin, had covered every corner, interviewed every personality, and done everything possible to take France to Sri Lankan homes. People soon began to talk of “pranshaya balanawa” (“seeing France”) on the idiot box. Whether it was shooting Romeo wooing Juliet at night at Anne Ranasinghe’s residence, staging a chilly Strasbourg Christmas evening somewhere in Borella near the Royal Golf Club, “chugging down the Kelani Valley Line” and ending up creating a mess of a traffic jam, or breathing in the airs of Montmartre at the Kala Pola along Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Bonsoir created nothing less and nothing more than history on television here. If it was unprecedented, it was so because no other foreign mission – certainly not the British, definitely not the American – came up with a pitch for a similar programme. And at the centre of it all stood Kumar.

Bonsoir had found its footing in Kumar. Kumar, conversely, had found his footing in Bonsoir. Yet he did not remain there. Even as he presented one episode after another, interviewing personalities and going places, he perched atop other programmes; top among these was “Fan Club”. Needless to say the stammer left him, though it cropped up from time to time. Didn’t matter: in 1994 he won the Golden Clef Award for Television Presenter of the Year. When, owing to circumstances he no doubt found painful and cathartic, he had to leave the programme that had nurtured him, “passing the mantle to a new generation”, he thus made an easy transition to other channels, other stations, other platforms.

ITN remained his home for quite some time thereafter. As news reader and talk show and Poya Day Dhamma discussion host, Kumar revelled in other endeavours. Soon he left ITN as well; first at TNL (where he hosted a business talk show, and co-hosted “Celluloid Lokaya” with celebrities of Sri Lanka’s silver screen), then at Prime TV (where he became the face of “CelebChat”, interrogating hundreds of “celebs” from directors to writers to musicians to bon vivants), and later at Rupavahini (Poya discussions), he witnessed the transformation in the industry from analog to digital. Entering Pulse (“Anything But with Kumar de Silva”, “The Lockdown Diaries”, and “Apperitifs with Kumar”), he oversaw the next big transformation: from digital to social media. That’s where he’s been ever since.

Kumar de Silva came to television via Bonsoir somewhere in 1986. He remembers the exact date: January 5. January 5, 2021 thus marks 35 years since the man entered the industry, transformed his life, and in a big way transformed ours too. I wasn’t lucky enough to see him on Bonsoir though; when he left the show in 2001, I was about to enter Grade Three, only just beginning to understand the intricacies of real-time television. My connection to Kumar, however, went well beyond Bonsoir: my Grade Three class teacher happened to be his mother, Manel. Bonsoir came to me through Ms Manel, or to be more specific, a pouch of hers that sported its famous tricolour elephant. Intrigued, I returned home and asked my mother what exactly it was. That was when I heard about, and saw, the show that made the man, transformed television in the country, and, as Kumar himself has put it, took France to the homes of Sri Lankans in the pre-internet era, in a way that has never, to my mind, been paralleled by any other foreign programme telecast over here since.

Athula Samarakoon’s Sinhala translation of “The Bonsoir Diaries”, the original of which was published in 2013, will hit bookshelves later this year.


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Sat Mag

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

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Sat Mag

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.

Overwhelming evidence

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!

Villain convicted

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.

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Sat Mag

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.


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