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SYSTEM CHANGE, NOT IN MY LIFETIME!

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

For a short time, the word “system change” was on the lips of many, spoken, shouted, and written with a great deal of passion and hope. The resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cabinet was expected to be the beginning of the much sought-after and looked forward to system change.

System change may have meant different things to many. Still, there was universal agreement that the way politicians ruled this island nation needed to change. Notably, a new set of people not tainted with allegations of criminal activity, corruption, nepotism, and incompetence should take charge of governing the nation.

It was generally acknowledged that for decades our country had been systematically destroyed and plundered by those we had elected without even a whimper from most of us. A few who understood the precipitous level to which the economy had descended raised the red flag when Gotabaya Rajapaksa(GR) was elected President and implemented shocking changes to the country’s tax regime that significantly reduced government revenue. A debilitating pandemic made the journey to bankruptcy faster than predicted. But, as was the case, too many in the know kept their mouths shut which emboldened those reposed with managing the country’s economy to experiment with reckless policies that defied logic.

Recently in the United Kingdom, Liz Truss, the newly appointed PM, had to eat humble pie and quickly reverse several contentious tax cuts. However, our President, his government, and the Gang of Four steadfastly, stubbornly, and stupidly carried on to destroy our country’s economy.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the long power cuts and queuing up for days to buy a packet of powdered milk, a cylinder of cooking gas and fuel. The acknowledgment that the country was officially bankrupt, the collapse of the rupee and the steep increase in prices of essential goods impacted every segment of the population, even if the severity was not the same. Finally, it dawned on a few that a stand must be made, and our contempt and displeasure should be expressed outside the confines of our homes, offices, and cocktail parties.

Arising from the discontent, a few English-speaking middle-class professionals organized silent protests in Colombo’s suburbs, holding placards and a candle to express their frustration and anger towards the government. The number of protest locations increased, and the placards were more explicit in condemning GR and his government.Not many, including myself, took these protests seriously and expected them to die naturally. All that changed when the demonstration organized in Mirihana near GR’s home became a battle between the protesters and the police. There was no doubt that “muscle power” had been added to the previously largely middle-class group.

After that, it quickly progressed to setting up a protest site in Galle Face that attracted a sizable segment of youth. The slogan “Gota Go Home” became a rallying cry for the people to express their anger toward the President and his government. The word “Aragalaya” became the catchphrase for the protest movement.

The momentum remained with the protesters, despite the President making certain cosmetic changes by replacing a few individuals in the cabinet, the central bank, and the treasury. The violence that erupted on May 9 changed the country’s mood and political landscape, with Ranil Wickeamesinghe (RW) appointed the PM. The destruction of several SLPP MP’s private residences and the murder of a member of parliament (MP) resulted in many going into hiding and fearing for their lives.

The events of July 9, when thousands of young and not-so-young protesters marched on and forcibly entered the Presidential palace, resulted in GR fleeing the country and subsequently RW being voted by a majority of MPs as the new President. So, if the objective of the “Aragalaya” was only the replacement of the President, PM and the Cabinet, then it has been somewhat achieved. I say somewhat because the incumbent PM and many in the cabinet are still from the previously failed government of GR.

As someone who worked in the private sector for more than a quarter century and was involved in industries such as hotels, manufacturing, and retail, I support the need for an IMF program and its recommended reforms. We need reforms to rectify decades of bad governance and corruption, and to enable these, a stable government and peace in the country is a prerequisite. Many entrepreneurs have articulated that the initial goal of “Gota Go Home” has been achieved, and now his successor should be given time to rebuild the economy and reset the country.

An often cited justification is that the aragalaya was a spontaneous civil society movement without any visible and structured leadership that could be considered an alternative to the current crop of incompetent and crooked politicians. The violence that erupted on May 9 and July 9 is also a factor that concerned many, although many would privately agree that it was the muscle power of the youth that delivered.

On the other side of the coin, I am confident that RW will not facilitate the desired system change. He is a product and an entrenched representative of the political system that is so corrupt and needs to be changed. He is no less responsible for what the country today is and the suffering being endured. The people rejected RW and his party decisively at the last General Election. As a result, he lost his seat in the heartland of Colombo which previously was the bastion of support for his party.

That RW felt he should accept the appointment of PM and, after that, as President despite less than 300,00 people voting for him and his party is an affirmation of how rotten the system is. His accession to power through a manipulated system will define his Presidency.

Once again, the choice before us seems to be between the devil and the deep blue sea. No doubt the economy needs a stable government, but the majority also wants to see an end to the culture of political entitlement. We need common decency and values and compliance with the rule of law to replace the culture of impunity, rampant corruption and wheeler-dealing that pervades politics in our island nation.In terms of the system change that I want for my country, the important ones are as follows:

Politicians who are not corrupt

We had lived for several decades with rampant corruption that has become a way of life for politicians and has unfortunately permeated down the ranks. That there are no checks and balances and that corruption could be practiced with impunity has been accepted by society with a shrug and a muttering of “monawa karanada, loku ung paga gahanawane.”

Many believe corruption’s economic and social impact on our country is the most significant cause of our current predicament. I remember my father, a retired public servant and civil activist, being interviewed along with a politician on TV about 20 years ago. My father, known for his outspoken and fearless views, said, “In my opinion, all politicians are crooks.” The politician quickly interjected by saying, “Aiyo, Mr. Jayaweera, that is not a fair comment. Some of us are honest.”

My father smiled; many who knew him closely understood what he thought of the response and left it at that. However, about 15 years later, the same politician who was then a cabinet minister, when questioned at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry as to who paid the rent for his luxury penthouse apartment, said, “I do not know.”

I am sure what my father said on TV that day is believed by many to be the gospel truth. It is necessary that an independent commission of inquiry consisting of experienced forensic auditors and retired justices be appointed to go through the assets of all MP’s, current and retired, who are still alive. Any unexplained wealth should result in a prison sentence, debarment from contesting any future elections and forfeiture of all such assets of the MP concerned.

Elimination of Nepotism and Cronyism

Our country has thrived on this practice, with politicians using their power to appoint family members, relatives, and friends to positions of authority, with many not having the requisite knowledge or experience. A recent post in social media listed the names of various politicians who have used their influence to get relatives appointed to several overseas missions. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. In the future, even those with qualifications related to politicians should not be appointed so that the public is satisfied that there was no favouritism.

All Races, Religions and Languages should be Equal

Politicians have shamelessly and opportunistically used race and religion as political weapons to divide the people. It is time that we all subscribe to the view that all people are equal, should be treated equally, and that Sinhala, Tamil and English be given parity status. Overhaul our Education System, and University education should not be free

As someone who worked in a senior management position in the private sector, I know our education system does not produce people capable of efficiently discharging their work responsibilities. We need to move away from the belief that passing examinations by memorizing will not produce people who are job ready and capable of thinking outside the box. I also believe that a University education needs to be paid for. Government loan schemes and scholarships should be available for those from the poorest families.

An Efficient, Independent, and Fearless Public Sector

Over the years, the public sector has been politicized and made to be servile to its political masters. This has resulted in the country being burdened with a bloated and inefficient public sector costing taxpayers a significant amount of money. The public sector needs to be pruned down, those employed should be made to contribute to their pension, and those above the single-person income tax threshold should be taxed.

To expect the best in the country to seek employment in the public sector, as was done over 80 years ago, would be futile, and as such, I don’t recommend a salary structure in line with the private sector. However, that should be a medium to long-term goal.In addition, no person employed in the public sector should be allowed to go on strike.

Privatise all State-Owned Enterprises

For many decades, it has been acknowledged and proven that the state should not be involved in managing and operating businesses. That this philosophy has not been adhered to has resulted in the taxpayers funding many inefficient and unprofitable enterprises. All such enterprises must be privatized, with the GOSL holding a minority stake. However, there needs to be an independent regulator to ensure that utilities are priced within specific parameters and that there is competition among the players. There should be no monopolies.

Most should pay Income Tax

It is a fact that very few individuals pay income tax. This should not be the case. Many are not paying income tax despite earning more than the single person tax-free threshold. The recent announcement that all above 18 years should have a tax file is a welcome proposal. As to how GOSL intends to enforce this will be interesting. More than 300,000 grocery shops account for nearly 75% of the resale revenue of the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry. How many are registered for Income Tax will be revealing.

The GOSL would need to assess whether the monthly single-person tax-free allowance of Rs. 150,000 is too generous when the average monthly income is far less than the threshold. Otherwise, the objective of most paying income tax would not be achieved.The tax rates for higher income earners should be increased, and I believe even a maximum marginal rate of 50% for a few years is not undesirable. Additional taxes in the form of Capital Gains Tax and Wealth Tax are necessary. As to why the Withholding Tax of 5% on interest income should be the final tax defies logic.In addition, the Inland Revenue Tax Administration should be made effective. This should not mean that they should be allowed to bully those who are paying but to go after those evading the payment of taxes.However, a credible and compliant tax system is only possible if taxpayers feel confident their money is not wasted.

Adherence to the Law and Expeditious Prosecution of the Guilty

Those entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the country’s laws are adhered to by the public, like the Police, Attorney General’s Department and the Bribery Commission, should enforce the laws stringently, fearlessly, and expeditiously. Remember, “Justice delayed is Justice denied.”My list doe does not end here, but I believe I have listed the most significant changes that I would like to see implemented.

No System Change in My Lifetime

I doubt that much of what I have articulated here will be implemented, at least within my lifetime. To put that in context, let me say I am 63-years old. Despite the tumultuous events in the last few months that gave hope that some form of change would be undertaken, the actions of RW and the SLPP have confirmed that nothing has changed, and the people’s views count for nothing. This is borne out by the recent appointment of 38 state ministers with proven track records of failure and questionable integrity at a significant cost to the taxpayers.The SLPP deemed it fit to launch a “Political Leadership Academy” for political excellence. I read a social media post that quite appropriately stated that it should be an academy specializing in teaching how to bankrupt a country in two years!

The number of cabinet ministers present at the airport to greet former President GR on his return from exile affirms that those present have neither understood the reasons for the previous government’s failure nor the feeling of great antipathy towards GR and his government.Recently, Anura Kumara Dissanayake rattled off a long list of names and positions held in the media unit of RW. That such a large contingent is not needed is obvious.

Despite the financial constraints, the country is presently undergoing RW felt the need to travel along with his spouse (though she paid her airfare) and some others to London to attend the funeral of the Queen. Why our High Commissioner in the UK could not adequately represent our impoverished nation is a question he needs to answer.

Despite my criticism of RW, I believe he is one of the very few in the parliament who can grasp the economic challenges impacting our country and the economic and political reforms that need to be undertaken. However, I doubt that he has the political will to go ahead with such reforms and be the change agent to deliver the system changes that we, the citizens, desire.

(Views and Opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not of any institution or organization that he may be associated with.)

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Features

My father, the unforgettable Premnath Moaraes

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Birth centenary fell on Jan. 31

by Pradeep Moraes

Singer, Songwriter, Lyricist.

Actor, Film Director, Scriptwriter, Producer.

Weightlifter, Wrestler, Footballer, Cricketer, Athlete, Gymnast

Journalist, Sports Editor, Creative Head & Copywriter.

Commentator, Compere and Silver tongued Orator,

Believe me, the list goes on.

Renaissance Man? , Bohemian Artist? Yes to both, but to me, most importantly, the gentlest human being one could hope to meet, and the most devoted husband to my mother and loving father my sister Rehani or I could ever have hoped to have .

Premnath Joseph Moraes – born Joseph Peter Moraes Fernando on January 31, 1923, was of solid middle class stock, who carried his simple and devout Catholic faith right through life.In many ways he epitomized the essence of the very best of the Benedictine trademark ,with traits and talents that wove a rich tapestry of Arts, Sports, Humanity, Simplicity and a Christianity that was lived rather than preached.

Abundantly blessed with talent and versatility, he was however trusting to a foolish degree and unfailingly gullible so as to be a target for exploiters and worse, resulting in the vicissitudes of economic circumstances. So it was not his largesse that begets the incredible goodwill he has left as his legacy to his family, but rather a tribute from people of all walks of life to Premnath the man.

Talking of all walks of life, my father trod many paths; a short outline of which I hope will make good reading.

Joining the Police force soon after school , he was seconded to the CID and later advised to leave by a senior police officer after having spoken openly at the funeral of a colleague who had been gunned down when leading an unarmed raid on a den of vice.

Thereafter he sought and secured a position as a reporter with the Times of Ceylon after an interview with its Editor, Frank Moraes ( later Editor of the Times of India and father of the poet Dom), who reminded him that “the coincidence of our surnames will remain just that! “

Leaving the Times of Ceylon building , Premnath was almost knocked down by a vehicle driven by his friend Sangare Sellamuttu (later Mayor of Colombo ) with whom he got chatting and informed him of the job he had just landed . “What nonsense ” said Sellamuttu , “with your looks you should be in films . Let me introduce you to Sir Chittampalm Gardiner. ” Good looks he had, no doubt about it, but rather than me being accused of understandably favourable bias let me quote an excerpt from a long , eloquent and emotional appreciation by the late, great Gamini Fonseka:

“On those extra broad shoulders

rested that handsome head

of a barrel chested man

with a wasp like waist

His features stirred envy

In the hearts of “stars” of his day. “

The shoulders were actually very broad prompting the late T.B. Illangaratne (author and later Govt. Minister) to describe the hero in one of his books (in Sinhala) as having a moustache like Ronald Colman, and shoulders like Premnath Moraes.

Getting back to Sir Chittampalan (also an old Ben) , the great man was too busy to see my father that day and instead told him “meet me in Madras on Monday morning” (this was Friday) leaving the young applicant to find his own fare – perhaps a test of mettle.

Young Premnath (a name he then assumed ) was signed on as an actor and thus started a romance with the film industry which lasted over 50 years ( from 1947 to 1998 , from starring in ” Kadawanu Poronduwa “ (also known as Broken Promise) the second Sinhala film to be produced, to Demodara Palama, circa 1997. Warada Kageda and Kapati Arakshakaya in the late forties were followed by several others .

This was followed by a stint in Shanthiniketan the Centre of Arts north of Calcutta , the stay which was undertaken for purely aesthetic reasons, gave my father the most pleasant memories among which was seeing and hearing Maestro Ravi Shankar perform for over a hundred cumulative hours.

The long visitation was in the company of his close friend Shanthi Kumar Seneviratne (Star and Director of Ashokamala – the first Sinhala film). Though they both learned classical dance in Shanthiniketan, my father unlike Shanti was never a fan of ballroom dancing – much to the chagrin of Rani , my mother.

From Shanthenikitan, Premnath moved to Bombay where he was in the famed Raj Kapoor/Nargis circle , and was close friends of Dilip Kumar (Mohamed Yusuf Khan), and closer still to one of the most beautiful Hindi actresses of the time, whose gift to him – a gold , Universal Genève watch , I wear to this day.

Back to Ceylon , and the man took up to singing, was contracted to the HMV label (His Masters Voice) , recorded solo, and with Latha (Walpola) and Chitra (Somapala), of the many recordings perhaps the most famed are “Sri Lanka Rani Meniye” ( the de facto Catholic anthem of Sri Lanka) and “LakDeepe” .

Mellifluous to a high degree, his voice had the unusual combination of mellowness and power, in fact we have a photograph of my father recording “5 ths” in a studio a full 20 ft away from the “mike”.

Here, permit me to express a son’s view albeit emotionally flavoured ; I truly believe that no one could sing Olu Pipila or Kokilayane Kolila Nade, better . Incidentally the great Sunil Santha who immortalized these songs was also a Ben .

The Sri Lankan Nightingale Rukmani Devi once told me that she and her husband Eddie Jayamanne (both of whom were very close to him) used to badger my father to sing the 1939 classic “Over the Rainbow ” at every possible opportunity, and redoubtable fellow Benedictine Ben Navaratne ( argued to be the best wicketkeeper Sri Lanka or Ceylon ever produced) used to always ask my father to promise to sing ” O Danny Boy ” over his grave; very poignantly Ben Navaratne and Premnath Moraes are buried within yards of each other at the Jawatte Cemetery.

On to 1953. Production Assistant (titles were not grandiose in those days ), and Second Unit Director for Elephant Walk , directed by William De Telle , the son in law of the legendary Cecil B De Mille ( of Ten Commandments Fame ) .

Starring Vivien Leigh, Peter Finch and Dana Andrews – all Oscar Winners – (Peter Finch and Dana Andrews later, Vivien had already won hers for Streetcar named Desire). Living at the Galle Face Hotel for a full nine months, interspersed with long stays at up country locations, my father enjoyed close interaction with the best acting talent the world had to offer, with the huge bonus of frequent visits from Laurence Olivier, probably the most acclaimed Thespian and Actor who was obliged to check on his wife Vivien, who succumbed to a nervous breakdown within the shooting period. Many were the occasions when the “master” himself was coerced to perform Hamlet to a private audience,

What is remarkable (given that this was 1953) is that Vivien’s condition was recognized , possible inability to proceed was anticipated, and EVERY scene was shot twice, one with Vivien Leigh, one without. So upon Vivien being unable to proceed with the film, the images of Elizabeth Taylor were superimposed – without her ever having visited Ceylon. Not bad for 1953!

Two short stints as Second Unit Director for United Artists “Captain’s Table” and “Purple Plains” which starred Gregory Peck , on to India where he was Production Manager at Gemini Studios in Madras, where most of the Sinhala Films at the time were edited, dubbed and produced. Coincidentally his uncanny look alike, the Tamil film star Gemini Ganeshan, got his eponymous name through association with this studio.

Wide varied and versatile though my father’s exposure to the celluloid world, in my opinion his single most significant to the Sinhala Cinema were his unremitting efforts to get Gamini Fonseka into it, culminating in a successful introduction to Lester James Peiris who brought Gamini into Rekawa in a non starring role. The rest – to use a cliché – is history!. Gamini never lost an opportunity to credit my father (whom he referred to as his “guru “) with his entry to films, and Lester has also endorsed the fact over the years.

Many are the others whom Premnath introduced and inducted into the Film world, stars, cameramen, sound artists, script writers, editors , music directors et al, and many are the pioneering developments he introduced to Sinhala cinema.

A classic example is Sri 296 which he directed in 1959, wherein he provided Henry Jayasena , Joe Abeywickrema and Punya Heendeniya with their first “starring ” roles (all had played small roles earlier), introduced the very beautiful Zeena Valencia to whom he attributed the screen name “Sumitra” (a name she retained for life) who then went on to marry Gamini Fonseka.

Sri 296

is considered a watershed in Sinhala Cinema with the introduction for the first time of an all Ceylonese crew (film crew up to that point were from India) and also for the introduction of two full colour sequences under the mastery of cameraman A.V.M . Vasagam

Sigiri Kashyapa

followed circa 1961 with Gamini in the starring role and Shane Gunaratne as Migara. Scenes from the filming of this film form some of my earliest, distinct, memories with sword fighting being practiced in the main hall of our home at Colpetty (this house had previously been perhaps Ceylon’s only synagogue and an extremely large mosaic floored circular hall). And the equestrian escapades of the horsemen who were trained by Ranjith Dahanayake , later of Hermes International fame . Space does not permit a fair recording of his film career but mention might be made of his roles in Kathuru Muwath, Priyanga (where he played Vijaya Kumaratunga’s father ) and Hitha Honda Minihek where he at Gamini’s insistence played a virtual real life role as Gamini’s “finder” and mentor.

Association with Tyronne Fernando (Minister) and Manik Sandarasaga led to my father writing and scripting the rather ribald Colomba Sanniya (Coming Sweet). He also was the “ghost writer of the Hollywood Production of God King , and to use the term employed by that great Ben, Ravindra Randeniya who was the star of the film – “the de facto director” of much acclaimed Kalu Diya Dahara .

Ironically, given his long involvement with Sinhala cinema, Premnath won the most kudos , and international and local acclaim for directing the Tamil Film “Vaadai Kaatru” in the seventies, shot on the arid dunes of Pesalai. As recently as on September 26, 2015, that redoubtable and insightful journalist , DBS Jeyaraj referred to Vaadai Kaatru as “probably the best Tamil Film” ever made in Sri Lanka .

(To be continued next week)

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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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Features

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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