Lester in retrospect
His master works analysed...
Extract from The Formidable Genius - D.C Ranatunga's new book
fourteen years in commercial film business, Lester James Peries has made
six films. Not a very impressive record at least, as far as statistics
go. but he is different from most other filmmakers.
His first concern is quality. so naturally, the quantity is less.
Between his first film Reekava (released in December 1956 and the
second, Sandesaya there was a gap of four years. The third, Gamperaliya
came after a lapse of three years after the second. The pace picked up
two years ago (1966). Now he makes a film each year. 1966 saw Delovak
Atara followed by Ran Salu in 1967. Just now his latest production Golu
Hadawatha is ready for release.
Golu Hadawatha is the second Sinhala novel to be translated on
celluloid by Lester. The first, Martin Wickramasinghe's Gamperaliya was
not only a landmark in the development of Sinhala cinema but also put
Ceylon on the map in the sphere of international cinema by winning the
top award - the Golden Peacock - at the Third International Film
Festival held in Delhi three years ago (1965) where it competed with
films made by major film producing nations.
The citation of the International Jury in making the award for the
best human document reads: "Gamperaliya is judged the best feature film
at this Festival for the poetry and sensitivity with which it explores
and illuminates personal relations."
Golu Hadawatha is based on the novel by popular writer Karunasena
Jayalath. The novel won the Sahitya Mandalaya Award for Fiction a couple
of years ago and has been a best seller ever since.
Reggie Siriwardena did the screenplay in both films. Lester and
Reggie found a great similarity in both novels. The central experience -
the personal relationship - in both stories is very true to life. And
situations in both stories are essentially local.
In Gamperaliya, Nanda had a conflict within her as a result of the
affection she had for two men - one whom she knew loved her and the
other whom she married. The identical conflict is seen in the other
story where Damayanthi is fond of her school-mate while at the same time
she had developed a liking towards the man whom she knew she had to
marry someday due to a family arrangement.
Both Nanda and Damayanthi had a common problem - a choice between two
men. There was a difference, however. In the case of Nanda in
Gamperaliya, the story could be told directly because she spoke of her
As for Damayanthi it was the case of the heart which would not speak.
From the structural point of view, Gamperaliya was clearly divided.
There was the past, present and the future. In Golu Hadawatha, it was
different. One story is repeated twice. It is the same story which is
retold, once by the boy and later by the girl.
Golu Hadawatha is the story of teenage romance. Sugath develops a
liking towards one of his classmates, Dammi who is also fond of him. But
she is to be married to her cousin according to a mutual arrangement
between the two families. However, she is reluctant to tell that to the
boy, who feels thoroughly let down when one day she announces that she
only liked him as a brother.
Here the girl's version is a hidden story and Lester was up against
the problem of how her story could be told to the audience. The only
way, he realised, was to have a dual version one giving the boy's point
of view and the other, the girl's.
Then there was the technical problem. Most of the incidents had to be
repeated and they could not be changed in any way.
Lester knew that repetition of identical scenes would tend to bore
the audience. The incidents also had to bring out the two different
points of view. He thought of recording one version in slow motion but
later changed his mind. With cameraman M.S. Anandan, he then worked
trying to utilise the capacity of the camera to represent different
points of view. Say for instance, at the last meeting of the lovers on
the beach when the story is told from the boy's angle, her face is not
shown. Only her voice is heard. The sea is calm.
The same sequence is shown where the story is retold from her side.
Her face is shown against the backdrop of a rough sea.
Golu Hadawatha will th us be a new experience for the Sinhala
filmgoer who will see the same story being told in two different ways.
Lester insists that this was not done merely because it is interesting
but because the story did not permit any other way of recording it.
Lester introduces a new duo - Anula Karunatilleka and Wickrema Bogoda
- to the screen in Golu Hadawatha. Both of them were picked by Lester
for bit roles in Gamperaliya. In Lester's last production, Ran Salu,
Anula played keyrole.
Lester had felt that this pair would be ideal for the two characters
portrayed in the novel and signed them on without any hesitation. He has
no regrets and is full of praise for their performances. They, in fact,
dominate right through.
The bulk of the shooting had to be in a school and with the
permission of the Education Department, the film was shot at Dharmapala
Like Gamperaliya, Golu Hadawatha too is a film without songs. Music
does play a vital role though. Talented musician Premasiri Khemadasa had
introduced two theme compositions which are repeated throughout the film
to fit into the changing moods.
Golu Hadawatha has been produced by Ceylon Studios and is their first
production after many years. It's in a way an 'alien' production for
them - a film without the usual gimmicks - songs, dances, fights and the
like. Will the film click?
That is their big worry. Well, the answer is with the filmgoers, who,
we should not forget, are an intelligent lot.