Clearing The Road From Elephant Pass
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer, Film Producer and
Director Chandran Rutnam, expresses his views on his latest production,
“The Road from Elephant Pass” from Nihal De Silva’s Gratien Award
winning novel. He considers the human relationships that transcends
synthetic barriers of ethnicity, class, and creed as the core of the
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Q: I found your script to be one of the most imposing and
confrontational scripts which stands out as a true rendering of subtle
human relationships. How did you manage to incorporate most of the
details of the novel into the script?
Chandran Rutnam: Vision behind the lense; chosen the ideal
concept and made it technically perfect.
A: The relationship between the two characters in the book, who were
adversaries, was the important thread throughout the novel. They were
able to express their deep concerns and beliefs to each other as they
got more comfortable with each other.
On-a-one to one personal level, they were able to argue each others
case as they attempted to find answers deep within them. These are the
basic issues that we are confronted with in this terrible conflict that
Sri Lanka is enduring. This forces the audience to consider the issues.
Q: How did you find the locations that resembled the north, since the
journey begins in Pallai?
A: I had the good fortune of having the services of Sri Lanka’s
foremost Art Director, Sunil Wijeratne. Sunil has been the Production
Designer and Art Director on all my Sinhala and international films.
He selected some wonderful and exciting locations that suited the
story, in Uddappuwa, Kalpitiya, Puttalam and Maho. Suminda Weerasinghe
was the Cinematographer who captured the visual essence of the story.
Q: What were the difficulties encountered in converting an Award
winning novel into Cinema?
A: When one decides to turn an Award wining novel into a motion
picture, which also happens to be a best seller published in more than
one language, there is a responsibility the film maker has to the writer
and the material. I had to be very careful to be true to the essence of
But, I had to omit some of the sequences which may have been
interesting to the reader, but may slow the tempo of the motion picture.
Nihal De Silva, was a wild life enthusiasts and a bird watcher.
There were lovely wild life sequences in the book, but I have had to
trim them down to get the story moving. I stuck to the relationship of
the two characters that developed during their 9 day journey to Colombo.
Together, they faced many adversaries and hardships, and were forced
to depend on each other for mutual safety and security. These situations
obviously brought them, either closer together or separated them
further. At various times their relationship changes until they finally
get to their destination.
Q: Do you agree with the methods that have been employed by the
novelist in striking home the relationship among diverse races and
A: Yes I do. I believe that this came quite naturally to the author
Nihal De Silva who was an extraordinary man. He respected every
community and found luxury in the diversity. He used very subtle
language and nuances. I tried to keep these within my script. I hope I
Q: What is your view of the theme and about the conflict?
Crossing the synthetic barriers of ethnicity
A: I will not comment on the conflict. Because we have rehashed this
for a number of years, though, it was actually the theme that attracted
me to the novel. Like Nihal I am also inspired and enjoy the texture of
the diversities of people and culture.
I enjoy my experiences in countries which are multi-cultural. India
has that luxury of being a fascinating diversity of cultures, dialects
and customs, all encompassed in one Indian nation.
Q: Do you think that Sri Lankan audiences could comprehend the deep
philosophical ideals embedded in the story line, or whether they take it
as a mere story between a battle-hardened soldier, and a would-be
A: I have great faith in the intelligence of the Sri Lankan audience.
Yes, they will comprehend the ‘philosophical ideas’ in the story. In
some cases, it may be subconsciously.
I feel that it will have a positive impact on the audience. It may
create an environment where the audience may give thought and begin to
ask questions. The book is in its eighth printing in English and has
been translated into Sinhala titled ‘Alimankada Sita’. This is a
definite indication that people are interested in the subject.
Q: Though the plot appears to be simple, the author craftily
amalgamates actors on each side of the divide, thus presenting the
different polemics of the conflict. What are your views?
A: The theme is simple. A story about two adversaries thrown together
against the panorama of the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, each with
different beliefs, delving into each others phyche, and coming up with
different opinions and assessments of the situation as it is or was.
In the end, I do not believe that the problem was solved, nor did
they have a definite idea or a conclusive resolution to their
aspirations. The process is what is important. It is the process of the
journey and what takes place between them during that journey, which is
In the story line, among the other characters, language plays a
prominent role in dividing a otherwise a harmonious population who share
the same soil.
Confronting the outmoded ideals
Q: Don’t you think that the gulf created by language between two
ethnicities would have contributed in drawing them apart, confining them
to the traditional polemics on either side of segregation?
A: I do not want to get into the political aspect of the theme of the
novel. In my opinion, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, religion is not
a segregator of communities. We Sri Lankans respect each others
religion, which is obvious when one visits Kataragama or any of the
other numerous places of worship throughout the island. I would say that
it is possible that language may divide us.
Q: The Road From Elephant Pass would be a different film to most of
the cheap fantasies that unfortunately make an inroad in to the
cinematic landscape of Sri Lanka. How can a serious film maker
contribute to uplift the deteriorating artistic standards in Sri Lanka?
A: Well, I do not place tags on film makers. First of all, if any one
is going to make a movie, he or she better be serious, for the simple
reason that he or she is spending some ones money.
As far as a serious subject or what you call “cheap fantasies”, that
is the choice of the Director, the Producer and any other sponsor of the
project. If they find that they could get a financial reward by making
films that are frivolous, and if they are successful in doing so, one
There is certainly a place for good films. Somebody once asked, “What
is wrong with the film industry?” The answer was “...there is nothing
wrong with the film industry that a good film could not fix”. I do not
feel that the ‘self styled psuedo intellectual films’ will succeed,
owing to the fact that audiences are no longer naive, and could feel the
falsity in the film. Film making is the most expensive art form, and it
is also the most collaborative exercise.
Numerous new good films are presently being made by talented local
producers and directors.
Q: Who are playing the two main roles in The Road From Elephant Pass?
A: The captain is played by a wonderful young man, Ashan Dias. He is
an excellent stage actor who really got into his part and has given a
great performance. The girl Kamala, is played by Suranga Ranawaka, a new
comer to films.
I liked her look, the moment I saw her and felt that she would be
ideal for the part. We have an excellent group playing important
supporting roles. Joe Abeywickrema, Sanath Gunatillaka, Veena Jayakody,
Irangani Serasinghe, Ranjith Wickremasinghe, Rohitha Manage, M.
Rajeshwari and Kumar Mirchandani.
Q: For a film with a backdrop of the conflict, you would have had to
have the cooperation of the Ministry of Defence?
A: The novel was awarded the ‘State Literary Prize’ in 2003, by HE
the President of Sri Lanka. Yes, we had the support of the Ministry of
Defence, as we needed Army vehicles and Air Force Helicopters in the
film. I am very grateful for the cooperation extended by the Ministry of
Defence, in the making of, The Road from Elephant Pass.
Q: What are the new productions in line to come?
A: I have formed a partnership with the Chairman of the ABC group of
Companies - Shiran Dissanayake, called A.B.C Films (Pvt) Ltd. Jointly
managed by Orville Pereira who handles the administrative and financial
side and I am responsible for the creative aspect of the film
production. A.B.C Films plans to make many films.
The next production would be Rudyard Kipling’s “Toomai of the
Elephants”, and to break in to the international English main stream
market. It will be a co-production with a Hollywood Company.
I am presently discussing a world wide distribution deal with Steven
Speilberg’s Dreamworks family film section. We are also involved in the
production of films with Indian producers, Satlluj Dheer and Yash
Q: What part would Film Location Services play in these productions?
A: Film Location Services is a production service company providing
motion picture equipment and in-house professional expertise to the
international motion picture industry.
We are also involved in the production of Commercial and
Documentaries. Film Location Services is presently involved in the pre
production of a film to be produced by veteran Hollywood Producer, Paul
Mason, and also the pre production of the epic story ‘Prince Siddartha’
to be produced by the Light of Asia Foundation and Beyond Dreams Inc.
Q: Who are the Sinhala film makers you admire?
A: Lester James Peries, Lester James Peries and Lester James Peries!