Connect with us


Pathiraja : the adaptable film maker



By Athula Samarakoon

As we remember Pathiraja the filmmaker on his third death anniversary, falling on the 28th of January, 2021, I want to remember him for his versatility. Much has been written about Dr. Pathi as many of his students and the younger cohort of filmmakers and fans knew him, but little on his television contributions.

At a time when the television medium was in its early stages, Dr. Pathi turned to it, to create an idiom that branched off from his usual cinematic style, adapting it to the television medium. He adopts and adapts the narrative medium for the television, something he consciously avoided in his film practice. I look at four teledramas of his which were both artistically rich and at the same time, popular.

Identity as a filmmaker

Pathiraja‘s cinema has been hailed as trailblazing and as illustrating the left bank film idiom in Sri Lanka. He is generally considered to be the filmmaker who drastically changed the content and style of the Sri Lankan cinema, rejecting the content and style of conventional Sinhala cinema.  The creator of the second paradigm shift in Sri Lankan cinema is another fascinating introduction given to him. Pathiraja is a filmmaker who rejected the narrative structure in his filmmaking. Instead he relied highly on non-narrative style.  As Chathura Jayathilaka, one of the leading film critics in Sri Lanka remarked, 

What is crystal clear in Pathiraja’ s cinema is that instead of constructing a well-made narrative with the beginning – middle -and end he creates eventful situations that itself generates the order of the story, story structure, events and characters. (Jayathilaka, 1996:46).

 Pathiraja consciously moved away from this identity of the non-narrative style, when he entered the television medium. Here, he embraced a different identity. Thus Pathiraja ‘s shift from cinema to television is a responsible and sensible move.  Being the master of the art of both Film and Television, he shaped his television works for the medium. Being the scholar of both film and television his knowledge seems to have a profound impact on this move.

 In television he actively engaged in three genres: serial plays, documentary and Docudrama.  Looking at the aesthetics of his television productions, one can see that he was a director who grasped the pulse of the television medium. Pura Sak mana , Gagulen Egodata, Maaya Mandira, WanniHami lage Kathawa, Ella Langa Walauwa, Kadulla,Kampithawil, Suba Anagathyak, Durgaanthaya are some of the productions he made for the television medium.

 Television narrative and fragmentation

Television is a medium that depends on narrative story-telling and exists within that medium. Whether it is fiction or non-fiction all are based on the narrative structure. Narrative structure not only patterns the television story but also shapes our experience of that story. That is why it is called the Nation’s Storyteller

 At the same time, this narrative is also fragmented into smaller units, punctuated by a number of different audio and video elements such as commercials, trailers, station promos, leading to a disturbed or fragmented viewing experience. An undisturbed, seamless engagement with what is on the screen is impossible on television medium.  

This is further complicated by the episodic nature of the form; there are week long gaps for most serieals. Therefore television is a continuously fragmented medium. This fragmentation takes place at the micro-level too.  A 22-minute programme may be divided into two acts whereas an hours programme may break up into four acts.  This type of internal fragmentation will obviously turn television viewing experience into scattered ruminations. Therefore one of the useful ways to address the intrusive nature of television is to articulate the content of the television into narrative structure.



 Fragmentation is followed by another distinctive characteristic that is flow, meaning the verity of images and sound that streams into television screens continually. Thus, again television viewing became an obtrusive experience.  Jane Feuer describes this;

‘’ continuous, never-ending sequence in which it is impossible to separate out individual texts ‘’. (Feuer, 1983:15) Therefore getting the attention of the audience and keeping them fixed to the text becomes a complicated task for a creator.  In order to overcome this problem is to relate and anchor the text to a narrative as much as possible.

 Concluding each episode with a cliffhanger is one of the methods employed by the writer to address the effect of a disturbance generated by continuous flow. Cliffhanger is something placed at the end of the act or at the end of each episode that is capable of sustaining the interest of the audience.  With a cliffhanger, the writer can end the episode or act in such a way that the audience excitedly waits for the next episode.   In a narrative, it is indispensable to have a cliffhanger to keep the audience intact. 

Pathiraja’s television aesthetics rests on capturing this and utilizing these features with distinction. One sees them in the expositions of Ella Langa Walauwa, Maya Mandira. Through these productions, he was able to offer powerful and exciting television experiences to the audience while maintaining a thrilling, suspenseful, detective and mystical flavour.  His films never had these cliffhanger conclusions, but for television, thanks in part to the efforts of a talented writer like Nimal Senanayake, he was able to craft the form of a cliffhanger style here.

Kadulla and kampitha Vil deal with the events that are deeply historical and of a formative period of the nation state. Though these productions bear a certain affinity to news and documentary, they shape themselves as narratives. The distinctive character of kadulla is the inculcating of dramatic value to the selected content. As a tele-drama Kadulla ran the risk of being rejected by the audience due to its documentary flavour. However, it was an overwhelming success for it was articulated dramatically. He could do it because he knew for sure that selected text is ideal and accordingly he found a way to present it. Consequently, he decisively moved away from his usual predilection for the non-narrative form and strategically embraced narrative structure.

Pathiraja evinced an interest in deploying this new application for a certain extent when directing Wanni Hami Lage Kathawa a tele-drama made before Kadulla. Although, one cannot say it was a successful effort, one could see that he infused the text with dramatic gravity; a dense, rich, television experience. However, it was a kind of effort to infuse a dramatic gravity to the text.   The documentary look that was visible in Kadulla springs from the historic nature of its content. Pathiraja takes the historical detail and turns it into a modern media moment, a recounting of the rise of the nation’s bougeiosie, through plot and character, in a form that makes sense to the mass of late 20th century viewers.

 This understanding can be identified one observes in his visual style also. The Long Takes that formulate reality as documentary, and camera movements and angles that parallel the subject matter, drive his style. Employing close-ups intermittently where necessary illustrates that he exploited the characteristics of the television medium.


 Usage of myth

 He used myth in his serials, a departure from his cinematic style. In his early tele- dramas one could see how he made use of myth to convey his intended meanings. He never thought of using myth in his feature films, and instead, focused on the contemporary moment.

 Over the years’ myth has been one of the foundations of narratives. Therefore myths are encountered in narratives again and again because myths can be used to represent life experiences, beliefs, values and behaviours. Consequently, television relies on myths when narratives are created.  Myths can operate in manifold ways in a television narrative giving greater depth to the text. As Vitoria O Donnells says: “Myth counts on television narrative in very intimate and subtle ways” (O’ Donnells, 2007″87). Drawing on myths in developing television narratives has had a salutary effect in creating prodigious characters, incidents, events, and plots. Therefore myth can function as a key for an audience to reach out to the human psyche and it can also create a shocking experience in them. 

 It was Pathiraja’s decision to deal with the mythic element that made Ella Langa Waluawa and Maya Mandira popular and influential. Rather than depending solely on the visual of the suspense and horror genres, he created a sense of horror, suspense and tension, by infusing mythic elements to television narrative. He was able to generate a tightly woven dramatic narrative.

 It was not an easy task to have depth and discussion in television productions, which is driven by commercial needs. Pathiraja faced this challenge by adapting to its form, the narrative style in the main, the well-made story. He used dramatic and mythic elements within the form, where there is suspense, tension, and depth of character. In the hands of another director, it would have been a blue print for failure, but the genius of Pathiraja was able to pull it off.

Pathiraja has been hailed as a revolutionary filmmaker; I also see him as a director who adapted and was adaptable. His tele drama serials bear testimony to this. This is not just an academic exercise for me. In writing this, I have shown how important Pathiraja has been as a film maker, not just in his versatility as a filmmaker, but as an adventurer and an (visual) activist.



Jayathilaka, Chathura. (1997), Wam Iwuraka Kathila, Vihaga Publishers, Kadaana.

O’ Donnells, V. (2007), Television Criticism, Sage, London.

Miller, Willem. (1991), Screenwriting for Narrative Film and Television, London: Virgin Publishing.

Feuer, J. (1983), ‘The Concept of Live Television’: Ontology as ideology’ in E.A. Kaplan (Ed), Regarding Television, Los Angeles: American Film Institute.

Jayarathna,Thilak.(2008) Kadulla, Fast Publishers, Colombo.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Investigative Journalism?



I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!



Continue Reading


The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants



Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

Continue Reading


Better use of vanity projects; Cass apologises, and New Year graciousness



A wise one, with the interests of the country at heart, calling himself ‘A Member of the Silent Majority’, wrote in The Island of Friday, April 9, offering an excellent solution for the better and genuine use of the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport which was built at a stupendous cost to both the Treasury, and wildlife abundant in the area, to satisfy an ego and sycophants’ cries of Hail to the King. Even sans Covid and lockdowns and shut downs of airports, the Mattala Airport was a white elephant, endangering and displacing the black elephants, roaming along their familiar corridors; receiving such few airplanes. Thus, as the writer Cass mentions says, convert the airport to a super hotel with excellent and sure-fire access to wildlife watching, like referred to hotels in Kenya and elsewhere. Yes, it will definitely be a bigger money earner than an airport waiting for a plane to land. Expensive equipment going rusty could be transferred to smaller airports being developed all over the island. There was such a hue and cry when storerooms, within the deserted airport, were used for paddy storage, but not even a whimper of concerted protest when the vanity projects were being built. We also heard that on the rare occasions a plane was to land/take off, peacocks in the area were shot at to prevent them flying into the planes. Aney, what a sin, just to have a name on a nameboard! Use the Suriyawewa Cricket Stadium too for a better purpose and less costly to water and maintain green in near desert climate conditions. What about a residential training institute for youth, perhaps in small industries? If the king-sized ego demands the name be present, OK, leave it. What’s in a name?

Any matter, financial or economic, with benefit to country buttressing it – refer to Dr Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremaratne. Likewise, anything pertaining to fauna, flora and preservation of natural habitats ask Devani Jayathilake. Cassandra would give two years of her life (she does not have 10 left, she suspects) to know what the answers of the three wise and sincere ones mentioned would be to the proposal to convert the Mattala Airport, oops sorry – Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport – to a 7 star hotel for wildlife watching and then tourists proceeding to Yala and other places that were touted to be reached easier if planes brimful of tourists, landed in Mattala. Pipe dream even sans Covid-19.

The thought of the millions, nay billions, our country was indebted to China to construct these vanity projects aka white elephants of the Rajapaksa fiefdom sends Cass’s blood racing in her contracting veins. And now another hair-brained scheme is being exposed, not new but re-exposed: that of the stupendous amount sent direct from the Central Bank with no nod, as reported, from the then Cabinet or Parliament, to an American-resident con-man to improve our appearance on the world stage or at least American stage. My word!! Cosmetics of creams and colours and such like can improve the face of an already beautiful woman. But a country that was once beautiful, glorified, accepted internationally and then politician-spoilt, cannot be redeemed by PR work, however expensively. Nivard Cabraal was the then Govenor of the CB. Of course, as every Banda, Singho and their women say, nothing will come of this. Powerful political sweeping under the carpet in the presence of cardboard administrators and sycophantic hosanna singers, makes the matter disappear and not merely hides it. Unless of course there are enough intrepid outers-of-truths and persistent protestors, brave and national minded enough to continuously tease the matter like a cat its caught rat. Ranjan is locked away in hard labour for four solid years, losing his Parliamentary seat for misusing the gift of his gab, while convicted murderers of the right colour attend Parliament, escorted and all.

Cass apologises

To the reigning Mrs World, Mrs Caroline Jurie, for crowning, uncrowning and recrowning of the winner of the recent Mrs Sri Lanka contest. Caroline Jurie took this stride because the winning contestant was four years on the way to being a divorcee, which status forbids a woman from attempting to wear the crown of Mrs…. (country) with a view to becoming Mrs World. This title and honour is bestowed on a woman who promotes, holds sacred the institution of marriage and is a married woman. Cass castigated Caroline Jurie without knowing then the fact that Jurie had protested about this candidate being considered due to her impending divorce; and allowed to contest. She said she withdrew from the panel of judges since her point was not taken by the others. WHY is the Q. Easy to answer. The new beauty queen of shaky married status was a loud speaker in favour of Presidential Candidate Gotabaya R in Polonnaruwa (captured on social media) and probably spoke on stages for SLPP Parliamentary candidates. So of course she was slated to win; vision impaired over rules and future probabilities, She has her height – one advantage. Beauty can always be dexterously rubbed and painted in. But honesty is important and cannot be cloned or grafted in.

Cass now definitely faults the new Mrs Sri Lanka. She should not have contested, having her papers sent in for divorce and not retracted. What happens when she wins the divorce (or her husband wins it, however the divorce was first mooted). Another local contest? And if the divorce was still pending and she went overseas at great expense and won THE crown or a lesser one. To be returned forthwith when she has to remove the present gold band from her third finger, which probably she has already removed but hastily wore for the contest and when preparing for it? This is why Cass avows that many young women particularly, are so very selfish and forward and uppity and even dishonest now. In Cass’ time and even a decade or two later, a girl would never do what this new beauty has done, flipped aside a core rule and necessity of the contest, just to win by honest means or foul. Way the country’s going, my friend.

Post – Aluth Avurudhu

Cassandra is stuffed gill-high with kavun, aluwa and crunchy kokis, preceded by kiributh and lunumiris. She is fending for herself because a dip in Covid numbers and having had the jab, her domestic wished to enjoy a family new year having missed the last one, locked down as we were. Cass made her own kiributh – tasting somewhat like it should, but the sweets were all gifted her. So, also the offers of help, sleep-ins at others’ homes and solicitous frequent inquiries of ‘how are you?’ Kind and gracious relatives and friends, acquaintances too are thanked; and the most appreciated being neighbouring kitchen helps and care givers. Three-wheeler drivers who spin Cass around on errands too make enquiries. And thus her thoughts when resuming work at the nekath time and word processing this article. Sri Lankans are such good people: kind, caring, willing to share and genuine. And then specters themselves on this very sunny landscape: the dishonest, selfish, revengeful and disgraceful. Shrug them off, clear the mental picture and pronounce thank goodness for goodness around.

May all of us (decent people) have a very good year to follow today –Subha Aluth Avuruddhak!

Continue Reading