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Ekamath Eka Rateka:

A touch of psychology for Sinhala cinema

Ekamath Eka Rateka, a film directed by Sanath Gunatilake - one of the most distinguished stars in Sinhala cinema - is based on "For a Night of Love" - a short story conceived by the unique French novelist Emile Zola. Sanath has himself written the screenplay and he is also performing the pivotal role in the film. Emile Zola who pioneered the literary genre called "Naturalism" was born before the advent of Cinema and as such his writings contained detailed physical descriptions in addition to mental revelations of his characters. Human life - Zola believed was the synthesis of hereditary and environmental influences. Therefore, it is not an easy task for any filmmaker to translate such a complexed work into an audio-visual cinematic experience. It is the intention of this writer to discern how Sanath Gunatilake has fared in his endeavour.

Ekamath Eka Rateka is neither a film that evokes any emotional content nor it is a romantic tale dealing with a love triangle. It is neither a tragedy nor a comedy but a mixture of tragi-comedy depicting an episode in the life of the three characters especially, their human waywardness. While it has a slight resemblance to a Charlie-Chaplin movie of the silent era, Sanath Gunatilake's odd movement of his limbs also reflects the antics of comedian "Bean". These unusual characteristics of the film raises it above an average entertainer. Yes, "Ekamath Eka Rateka", is an attempt to delve into the psychology of three individuals.

The sequence of events that form its "story" is revealed thus: A clumsy clerk living in a small apartment, is sexually excited by the glimpse of a beautiful girl who resides in a palatial mansion opposite his abode. He tries to woo her from afar by playing a wooden flute. Although the girl seems to appreciate the musical notes coming from this phallic instrument, she is not at all attracted by the weird appearance of this humble creature. On the other hand she has an affair with a young man who happens to be the son of the female servant looking after her. For some unknown reason this youngster has been brought up comfortably well by the landlord (girl's father) and presently he is an active lawyer in the provincial town where they all live.

Somehow this incestuous relationship between the socially disparate couple turns violent since the proud young girl is a born sadist deriving pleasure out of her own mischievous behaviour. While the romantic interlude between the lower class clerk and the high class girl continues in vain, all of a sudden he is summoned by the girl who desperately needs his help. The clerk - the gullible person he is, misunderstands her invitation and runs towards her to find out to his dismay that her lawyer lover is lying dead (or unconscious?) on her bed. She pleads him to carry her lover's body and dump it in a nearby stream with the promise of offering him a "a night of love" if he accomplishes this arduous task.

In a mood of instant romance the clerk agrees to oblige her, but when he is almost about to drop the body into water the lawyer regains consciousness and starts a deadly struggle with the assailant which causes the final death of both the contenders. (Sanath Gunatilake has purposefully shifted the sight of the death of the lawyer to the stream while Zola had conceived an accidental death for the lawyer at the hands of the girl in one of her bouts of inherent violence. Zola even adduces a reason for this sudden outrage on the part of the girl as she had her virginity lost unexpectedly by a callous act of the boy.) Yet the cinematic end looks more convincing, than Zola's literary end which mental conviction is apparently difficult to explain to the viewers in visual terms.

However, I cannot agree with Sanath Gunatilake's contention that this tragic incident could happen in any country at any time. True, human beings everywhere react basically in the same manner irrespective of their respective cultures. Yet this is an isolated incident which could happen in a given environment. Here, all the three protagonists have peculiar traits and they belong to Zola's imagination more, than to actual reality. That is the very reason Sanath Gunatilake has made such an effort to create an atmosphere similar o Europe with Colonial buildings Rainy climate (of course, sans snow) English conversations and Western costumes. Without this artificiality the film would have ended a fantasy. Sanath Gunatilake's judgement seems to be correct as any sort of "adaptation" would have affected Zola's "Naturalistic" reality.

Scenes from the film

About the cinematography of "Ekamath Eka Rateka", it is a well-made film with carefully conceived frames and an expressive musical track by the late Dr. Khemadasa. The film-editor in flashing the main protagonist's romantic dreams seems to have done an excellent job. The main actor Sanath Gunatilake, has been ably supported by Nirosha Perera, and Roshan Ravindra and even by those who did lesser roles such as Leoni, Chandini, Thirimadura, and Semini. It is a talented cast competently handled by the debut director. Even the sex scene where the lawyer almost "rapes" the capricious young woman, the director handles it with finesse. Sanath Gunatilake reaches the climax of his imaginative performance when the childish clerk reacts to the sad death of his pet dog.

Whatever the conventional elite and the critics had uttered Sanath Gunatilake has well exceeded the limits of his overated performance of "Aravinda" in Viragaya, a passive character which was far below his capacity as a thespian. Here in this unusual film the un-named main protagonist does every positive thing to win the heart of the strange woman. He realises the truth of life at the very end of life and therefore he is a symbol of human endeavour. The film brings out another socially relevant message. The two youngmen in trying to grab the "forbidden fruit" fails miserably but the rebel woman ultimately seeks her refuge in tradition and triumphs in secular life. What an irony! Finally Sanath Gunatilake should be congratulated for selecting this jewel of a story from the repertory of Emile Zola and thereby widened the horizon of Sinhala cinema by introducing a psychological dimension in portraying human characters.

The writer is an ex SLAS officer, dramatist and translator

 

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