Resistance record | Daily News

Resistance record

It’s twilight on a day somewhere between 1505 and 1521. The sun is still as big as it is in 2019. But the challenge still remains the same. It’s not projecting history on screen, but how to execute that task?

Historical films are nothing new to Sri Lankan filmmakers and no big deal for Professor Sunil Ariyaratne of Yasodhara blockbuster fame. History has thrived on the Sri Lankan filmmakers’ attention. We have seen enough of the Buddha’s time and Kandyan legacy on wide screen. But the Portuguese era? A question to rake your brains. Probably no film has been made on Sri Lanka’s first colonial rulers. And Professor Ariyaratne confirms that the era has not made its way to the stage or small screen either, let aside the widescreen.

In 1521, three sons scheme against their father, Vaijayabahu the sixth. The elderly king is murdered and the kingdom gets divided among the sons: Bhuvanekabahu, Pararajasingha and Mayadunne. The reason is clear. It reaches the sons’ ears that the father intends to promote the son born of his second queen to the throne. This naturally earns the ire of the ‘rightful’ heirs.

Professor Sunil Ariyaratne. 
Picture by Saman Sri Wedage 

This historical narrative later made its entry into WA Silva’s most popular novel ‘Vijayaba Kollaya’. And Professor Sunil Ariyaratne decided to ignite the narrative on the wide screen. That was no easy task, he reiterates.

The literature related to the Portuguese era is scarce compared to other eras.

“We can make some guesswork on what the Portuguese wore during that period. But what of the Sinhalese? What about our archaeology that existed before their arrival? Our Art Director, Bimal Dushmantha, got himself entangled in massive research to find answers to these. Venuka Wickramarachchi has studied about costumes in Europe. Priyantha Weerakkody has done illustrations of the era. They made our task a bit easier,” Professor Ariyaratne remarks.

History has not attracted that much of films as the social themes did. As Professor Ariyaratne mentions it is simply because of the funds.

“No filmmaker would like to make something like a Vesak drama. So a proper historical film means you need a colossal budget. In that sense, I am quite thankful to HD Premasiri of Sarasavi Bookshop for being with us. His contribution made this a reality.”

Vijayaba Kollaya team still had to make a great effort. Their lookout for a beach without buildings was even tougher. But slowly they reached the culmination of the 16th century. The shooting of Vijayaba Kollaya is now over.

“This was the last script of Dr Tissa Abeysekara. But as the director, I had to read quite a lot of literature. Since I had already done a study on the Portuguese era when I wrote Baila Kapirinna in the 1980s, I was a bit at home with it.”

Besides all that, Professor Ariyaratne gradually began to admire WA Silva.

“He has created a love story in parallel to the historical record of Vijayabahu. The myth is fused with true historical events. He has combined both planes in such a unique manner. I remember Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra looked down at the book stating that it is a copy of Richard Sheridan’s Pizarro. I read that work too to get an idea. WA Silva was influenced by that work, and I think he has manipulated the plot far better than Sheridan did.”

Even after Martin Wickramasinghe made waves in the Sri Lankan cultural scene, beginning with Gamperaliya in 1944, Silva continued to have influence. For instance, Vijayaba Kollaya was a prescribed text for schools in the 1960s.

“Silva is not only a popular novelist, but he is also a classicist. Three universities, Peradeniya, Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara prescribed his novels. He plays with several genres: fantasy, detective, magic, translation and modern life. Kelehanda portrays modern society. Lakshmi is a magical fantasy. It is no direct translation of Rider Haggard’s ‘She’. Out of all these novels, I see Vijayaba Kollaya as the greatest novel. Now it’s 80 years old. But still, the novel is popular. It is running its 25th edition now.”

Though dead and gone a long time back, WA Silva is still alive because of the cinematic works based on his novels. Classic examples include Kele Handa, Daivayogaya, Radala Piliruwa, Deyyange Rate, and Hingana Kolla. These cinematic works are instrumental, as Professor Ariyaratne emphasises because they enjoyed commercial success on par with the artistic worth.

“Historical films may be a trend. I am also fond of historical movies. For example, Kusapaba, Pattini and Yasodhara belong to history. Kusapaba was a commercial success, but I won’t make another film based on a Jataka story. The huge success of Yasodhara does not mean that I would do a future film on a Buddhist legend.”

Vijayaba Kollaya is the first Sinhala film shot in the 3D technology. It will be screened at the 3D-enabled theatres. 


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