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Sunday, 10 April 2011





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Sumitra Peries's biography in Sinhala:

Half a century of excellence in cinema

The manuscript of the biography of Sumitra Peries, Sri Lanka's pioneer woman filmmaker and one time Sri Lankan ambassador to France was officially handed over to her in a charm ceremony held at her residence on her 77th birthday.

Sumitra Peries

Ajith Galappaththi

Sumitra Peries's biography in Sinhala was written by media personality Ajith Galappaththi and the project was undertaken by S3 organisation which is collaboration among Sangeetha Werarathne, Sudharma Niththikumara and Shireen Kumaratunga. The biography is published by M.D Gunasena.

Sumitra as a pioneering woman filmmaker

Sumitra Peries is the path breaking Sri Lankan woman filmmaker who paved way for the entry of women breaking the monopoly of then male dominated Sinhalese cinema.

Looking at her remarkable career in cinema which bequeathed the nation a corpus of creations including Gehenu Lamai (1977), Ganga Adara ( 1980), Yahalu Yeheli (1982), Maya (1984), Sagara Jalaya ( 1988) , Loku Duwa ( 1996), Duwata Mawak Misa ( 1997- based on novel by G.B Senanayake) and Sakman Maluwa ( 2003- based on a short story by Godfery Gunatilake), Sumitra Peries stands out as a Sri Lankan filmmaker who realistically depicted the Sri Lankan woman from diverse aspects.

The character of woman portrayed in her films is not a prototype or stereotype woman often valarised by cultural puritans but the one who plays a dynamic and significant role in life as a mother. For instance, in her film Duwata Mawak Misa, Sumitra portrays the close relationship between a mother and a daughter not only in Sri Lanka but also in any Asian society.

What is noteworthy is that her approach to dealing with feminist issues is neither sympathetic nor clinical but a realistic one.

Her maturity in the craft was amply demonstrated in Yahaluwo (Best friends) in 2007. The film was made at the tail end of the conflict and masterly depicts the dynamics of ethnic relationships among diverse ethnicities in Sri Lanka through the eyes of a child of mix parentage. Yahaluwo is so far the most sensible cinematic exploration of diverse ethnic relations in Sri Lankan polity as the sub-text of the film. At the same time, it is also a children's film.

Study and exposure

A scene from Sagara Jalaya

One factor which makes Sumitra Peries is her deep understanding, vast knowledge and experience in the field of cinema. It was in 1950s that she studied film making at the London School of Film Technique and earned a Diploma in Film Direction and Production (1957-1959). Significantly she was the only woman student at the time and began working at Mai Harris, a subtitling firm for a short spell.

Sumitra's brother Gamini contacted Lester and checked the possibility of her sister to work with him.

Lester agreed and Sumitra started the work as assistant director in his second film Sandesaya. A filmmaking company called Cinelanka was established in 1963 with Anton Wickramasinghe also Lester and Sumitra as major shareholders.

Apart from serving the nation in diverse capacities such being a member of the Presidential Commission for two years to conduct an inquiry into Sri Lanka's film sector, a member of the Board of Management of the Institute of Aesthetique Studies, Kelaniya University, Sri Lanka, Sumitra Peries was the Sri Lanka's Ambassador to France. She won the award for the best film director in fifty (50) years of Sri Lankan cinema.



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