26th March,  2006  Volume 12, Issue 37

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


The man who made Rekawa

By Chinthaka Fernando

This man’s calibre is such that
even Prof. A.J. Gunawardene
couldn’t finish writing about him during his lifetime. He is the undisputed doyen of Sri Lankan cinema who imposed the local identity when there was none just a decade after the first Sinhala movie was produced.

Lester James Peiris, fondly known as LJP, claimed that the Sri Lankan Cinema had been his life. "It is the one which brought me back to my motherland both physically and mentally. Otherwise I would’ve domiciled in a far away country, leading an English life," he once said.

 It is not wrong to say LJP was reborn in 1956 with his masterpiece Rekawa and with it a cinema culture that is truly ours and ours only.The unfinished labour of love of Prof. Gunawardena, LJP’s complete biography in English, was completed and launched last Saturday. The Asian Film Center took up the task of publishing it. Last Saturday was, actually, the day of ‘A.J.’

Everyone keenly felt it, LJP and Tissa Abeysekara most certainly did, and it was clearly witnessed when they invariably kept on mentioning him in their highly insightful speeches.

LJP started his speech with A.J; in the middle he again spoke of A. J; and he finished with A.J. "Today is A.J’s day and he is no more to take plaudits and applauds. He would’ve been really overwhelmed by today’s reception," he said. That would be enough to testify the humility of LJP, which is well known in both on and off the Sinhala cinema.

Faced challenges

Greatness wasn’t thrust upon him. He faced a lot of challenges in his early days, to put the correct cinematic grammar into practice. When critics embraced Rekawa as a real masterpiece, there was another group which ranted against it. They said that the image of the pious village had been ruined in Rekawa. That claim was well answered by the veteran filmmaker Dr.Dharmasena Pathiraja in his speech last Saturday.

"The image of the pious village is absolute myth. We’ve never had that village. It’s only a fantasy created by our writers. The village is equally spoiled as any other place in the country," he said.

Later, Dr.Gunadasa Amarasekara, head, National Patriotic Movement said that Rekawa was the original sin (Upangei Dhoshaya ) of Sinhala culture, which caused the present cultural erosion. LJP never tried to confront him and for sure he never would for that’s not his way. But Dr.Amerasekara got a well clarified answer, in a bit aggressive way, from Abeysekara.

Cultural stream

He rose to the top with that much of difficulties. And he succeeded in bringing the Sri Lankan cinema to the main cultural stream. Before that the only cinema that was known was lampooned as the " lunatic fringe of Sinhala culture" by people like Mervin De Silva.

The problem is, has he been appreciated properly in Sri Lanka? As Prasanna Vithanage very correctly said in his speech, LJP is seen in every cinema function, probably as the chief guest. But recognition ends there. Almost 80% of his works are no more in Sri Lanka. No one has taken any steps to provide the cinema with some essential features that LJP had been ‘crying’ for for more than half a decade.

His first call for a national film archives, which is a must for the well being of cinema, was made in 1956, 50 years before today. He emphasised the need for it very strongly as he said, "few will dispute the fact that the film is, for good or evil, the most powerful medium of our time. If this is accepted, then all those who are genuinely desirous of improving the taste of the film going masses raising the standards of the Sinhalese film as well as that of the filmmakers and ensuring for the future a pictorial record of the country’s history, then they might at least explore the possibility of setting up a national film archive in Ceylon" in his article for Arts Magazine in 1957.

Still there is not even a trace of an archive that has emerged. The situation was the same with the film school he called for. As a result of not having an archive, Sri Lanka can proudly claim that it has lost most of the landmark masterpieces forever, including Gamperaliya, one of LJP’s best works. Today we have to beg for a copy of Sandeshaya from Czechoslovakia and to reprint negatives of Gamperaliya, when a copy of it was needed to send to Korea last year. Gamperaliya was named as an Asian masterpiece by Korea and they requested a copy of the film, according to LJP.

Pure gold

"Nobody cares for these things," once he said in frustration. Certainly, if people had cared, then the Golden Peacock Award, which was pure gold, he won from India wouldn’t have been displaced. The Madoldoowa’s negative would not have become dust under the bed of its producer; and Ganga Addara (his wife Sumithra’s film) would not have been destroyed when the walls of the house collapsed.

"Eighty per cent of good films are anyway gone. Not only of mine but also of the likes of Pathi ( Pathiraja ), Wasantha ( Obeysekara ) and all the others, " he said. And the authorities, still, are far from heeding his advice. The recent crisis in the Sri Lankan cinema might not have occurred if his intuitive suggestions had been implemented.

Once, Lester spoke very nostalgically about his early films, especially his very first films like Soliloquy and Farewell to Childhood. He said he has seen them enough at retrospective film festivals around the world including Paris and London, but they are not so freely available here. His answer, for the question why hasn’t there been a retrospective library in Sri Lanka, was a slight grin, which explained a lot of things. It is the classic LJP grin he gives for a lot of answers.

Ready to help

There is no other like LJP, who is willing to help out novices. "No" had never been his answer for any request; be it giving advice, lending a book or any sort of constructive request. The doors at his Dickman’s Road house are open to anyone, but one has to call just before coming for he has to ask Bandara (his valet) to lock Cleo and Caesar (dogs), who always hover around him. Once that is done, LJP waits for the visitor in his office room.

His valuable library has served as a rich source of information for giants like Gamini Fonseka and for the not so famous but equally curious young "pickchar-pisso" (movie buffs).

Seven years ago, on LJP’s 80th birthday, a proposal was brought to name Dickman’s Road after him. But it was never became a reality. LJP takes life in his stride. Last week when a caller inquired as to how he was keeping; LJP’s reply was classic — "Wena monawada, wayasata yanawa," (what else, I am getting old).

Rex Admirabilis

Repeating a ‘Latin only’ programme of sacred songs titled
Cantate Domino held two years ago, St. Cecilia’s Choir of St.
Joeseph’s College will be offering Rex Admirabilis, a presentation of 20 compositions exclusively in Latin. It will be held in the College Chapel on Saturday, April 1 at 6.30 p.m. The 70 member Josephian Choir, consisting of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass sections will render Gregorian chants, hymns and polyphonic church music spanning a period of five centuries.

The repertoire includes Palestrina’s Adoramus Te and Allegri Miserere. They will sing Pains Angelicus from Caesar Frank in four parts, Mozart’s Ave Verum, Sanctus from his Requiem, Cantate Domino by Hassier and Tu Es Saccerdos and Regina Coeli Laetare. Keeping with the mood of the season the presentation at the splendid Josephian Chapel will begin with the Palm Sunday Chant – Pueri Hebraeorum followed by the chorus, Lauda Jerusalem Dominum. Thereafter, the choir’s selection will cover themes of Maundy Thursday – Eucharist and Priesthood; followed by Good Friday music. The programme will culminate with the Marian Easter hymn Regina Coeli Laetare followed by Rex Admirabilis and Alleuia (Nun’s chorus from Sound of Music) with Cantate Domino as the fitting finale.

Rex Admirabilis is a rare opportunity for those who cherish age old precious Church music in Latin as well as for all who specialise in Western music seeking to reach its very roots. To all who followed the training programme of Latin Chants last year arranged by Fr. Cecil Joy, this would be a wonderful refresher programme. Rex Admirabilis will be a rare musical experience not to be missed says the Rector of St. Joseph’s College at whose request this presentation is being put together.

Petals of Desire

By Sunalie Ratnayake

Eka Malaka Pethi or Petals Of Desire is the latest release in theatres of the C.E.L. Circuit, including Regal. The script and direction is by veteran film director, Mohan Niyaz and the movie is produced by one of the most renowned economists and lecturers in accountancy in the island, Jagath Wijenayake.

The significance of Eka Malaka Pethi is that it introduces a unique blend of newcomers to the movie arena in Sri Lanka. It is Wijenayake’s maiden production. He is also the producer of Ammawarune, directed by Professor Lester James Peries, which is to be released in the near future. Also, the movie provides the opportunity to exhibit the talents of Marian’s lead singer Nalin Perera, the output of a new generation, as well as popular singer and performer, Reema Ginger. She is also the much appreciated presenter of ‘Hello! Gedera Kawda? on Sirasa TV.

The movie revolves around the three main characters, Nirasha (Reema Ginger), Mahela (Nalin Perera) and Arun (Roshan Pilapitiya). Nirasha hailing from a poor family and Mahela who is born to a wealthy family, happen to be lovers and they both show a liking to music. They are willing to sacrifice anything in life, to achieve their dream of becoming popular musicians and Mahela even gives up his family, in order to marry Nirasha and prove their success to the world — especially his family, as they are a great hindrance to the marriage.

Leaving his luxurious up-country home without a penny in his pocket, Mahela manages to start a new life in the city, into which he also welcomes Nirasha his fiancée. In the midst of many a hardship, they manage to form their musical group and signs a contract to perform at the Grand Hotel, owned by the extremely wealthy Arun Basnayake. Seeing the attractive Nirasha performing in his hotel, Arun falls madly for her. It is now that the game starts — with one flower, and two bees!

After a series of misunderstandings as well as a line of frame-ups between the threesome, Nirasha falls for her boss completely forgetting her lover’s sacrifices. How will Mahela bear all this? Or, is she only pretending? Portraying a love triangle but absolutely one of a kind, Eka Malaka Pethi keeps viewers guessing what would happen next or may be even ‘what really happened?’ So all you movie lovers out there, Eka Malaka Pethi awaits your scrutiny.

The movie also enthrals viewers with the latest songs by renowned artistes such as Rukantha Gunatilake, Chandralekha Perera, Kasun Kalhara, Nalin Perera, Shanika Wanigasekera, Nelu Adhikari and Kushani Sandharekha.

jest a while

Advantages of being a woman

Why it’s better to be a Woman! 1. We got off the Titanic first. 2. We get to flirt with systems support men who always return our calls, and are nice to us when we blow up our computers. 3. Our boyfriend’s clothes make us look elfin and gorgeous. Guys look like complete idiots in ours. 4. We can be groupies. Male groupies are stalkers. 5. We can cry and get off speeding fines. 6. We’ve never lusted after a cartoon character or the central female figure in a computer game. 7. Taxis stop for us. 8. Men die earlier, so we get to cash in on the life insurance. 9. We don’t look like a frog in a blender when dancing. 10. Free drinks, Free dinners, Free movies ... (you get the point). 11. We can hug our friends without wondering if she thinks we’re gay. 12. We can hug our friends without wondering if we’re gay. 13. New lipstick gives us a whole new lease on life. 14. It’s possible to live our whole lives without ever taking a group shower. 15. We don’t have to let of air to amuse ourselves. 16. If we forget to shave, no one has to know. 17. We can congratulate our team-mate without ever touching her butt. 18. If we have a zit, we know how to conceal it. 19. We never have to reach down every so often to make sure our privates are still there. 20. If we’re dumb, some people will find it cute. 21. We don’t have to memorise Caddyshack or Fletch to fit in. 22. We have the ability to dress ourselves. 23. We can talk to people of the opposite sex without having to picture them naked. 24. If we marry someone 20 years younger, we’re aware that we look like an idiot. 25. Our friends won’t think we’re weird if we ask whether there’s spinach in our teeth. 26. There are times when chocolate really can solve all your problems. 27. We’ll never regret piercing our ears. 28. We can fully assess a person just by looking at their shoes. 29. We know which glass was ours by the lipstick mark. 30. We have enough sense to realise that the easiest way to get out of being lost is to ask for directions.

Glad to be drunk

A COMPLETELY inebriated man was stumbling down the street with one foot on the curb and one foot in the gutter. A cop pulled up and said, "I’ve got to take you in, pal. You’re obviously drunk." Our wasted friend asked, "Officer, are ya absolutely sure I’m drunk?" Yeah, buddy, I’m sure," said the copper. "Let’s go." Breathing a sigh of relief, the wino said, "Thank goodness, I thought I was crippled."

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