Lester James Peries:
Transformation from man to icon
A journey in time is always fraught with multiple dangers; nostalgia
and an obfuscation of truth ...
Lester James Peries -
Daring individuals scale formidable heights, defying hideous
challenges, obstructions and impediments, serried against them to
eventually reach the peaks they set out to win.
Nations and communities tread an identical path. In their troubling
trek through convoluted corridors and varieties of winding and twisting
passages of time and history, erupting with both thorns and bouquets,
these human groups succeed, at times in attaining triumph and glory.
When such national groups rejoice celebrating the victories, they
have accomplished, an invariable tendency is to recall and felicitate
those outstanding men and women, who made such collective pride
As a matter of course, the heroic personnel in the Armed Forces and
the police, earn grateful encomiums for their sacrifices, that made
victory possible, ensuring the unhindered rhythm of life of the masses.
The statesmen and the political leadership lent the determined
political will, to the multi-pronged effort to liberate the people by
eradicating the horrendous threats against life.
But, here, I am deeply concerned with the need to celebrate another
category of vital national hero. They are largely forgotten tribes. But,
without them we will not have an identity that will give us a distinct
presence in the global community.
Those who build the core and the quintessential image of our
distinguished national personality are our creative personnel. Along
with them, the marginalised peasants and farmers, who for ages have
continued our individual folk existence present what is perennial and
unique in our nationhood.
What is called for to ensure that our national identity is clearly
and distinctly formulated and portrayed is to single out a series of
personalities from a range of vocations and disciplines and to celebrate
Men and women of exceptional literary creativity, those who practise
various forms of arts and sciences, experts in the field of media and
communication should be selected and alerted to the level of national
Time to begin this process is - now.
I earnestly suggest that we begin with Lester James Peries. His
exquisite transition from genius to national icon should be immediately
stage - managed. The process has already happened - but, it has to be
In the global community, made up of billions, who communicate,
utilising the universal language of cinema, the film-maker of rare
genius transits into the status of universal icon. Such an individual
achieves transformation into a globally renowned segment of his nation's
In today's Sri Lanka, where we pathetically suffer a devastating
dearth of positive - highly acclaimed national icons, Lester James
Peries projects a salutary image of our land, in the field of cinematic
All those essential ingredients that contribute towards the formation
of a genius in the field of cinema are sumptuously present in his
Young Lester served over a substantial period of his early youth, as
an inspired apprentice in film-making. In cosmopolitan London, he
acquired professional discipline, by using his cine-camera, as the
instrument to impose a semblance of cinematic order, upon the seeming
disarray of diffuse experiences, that intimately touched his youthful
The refinement of his audio-visual discipline grew apace when he
focussed on his early documentaries.
Lester began correctly, to earn the stature of genius as he went
through the process of cinematic creativity, propelled by an
overwhelming personal enthusiasm.
It's entry into the medium was not externally determined or dictated
by outside compulsions.
Then came his learnig, erudition, and his built-in capacity to manage
concepts and variegated ideas.
Being impressively articulate, he could resort to analytical
exploration of issues, to unravel the essence of creative experiences.
He cultivated a coterie of friends, enabling the sharpening of his
insights. This has equipped him with the intellectual attitudes, that
steadily guarantee the eschewing of the arbitrary.
I do not intend to add, in this instance to the endless discussions
that have kept on escalating about his body of cinematic works. But, I
need to return to a theme, I take special delight in.
Most efforts at assessing his works tend to overlook that he waged a
valiant battle, mostly single-handedly to correct the cinematic tastes
of the ordinary Sri Lankan film-goers.
If his efforts had not occurred at the proper moment, it would have
been well-nigh impossible to wean the generality of our film-goers from
their entrenched addiction to Hindi and Tamil dominated pop-film fare.
Lester made it possible for the emergence of Sri Lankan cinematic
creations that could win global awards.
I made this preamble to arrive at the central notion I am keen to
It is essential that a determined national effort should be made to
establish the iconic stature of Lester James Peries.
In an immediate initiative we should begin at university level a
series of lectures to enable our tertiary level scholars, to appreciate
the national heritage of Lester James Peries's cinematic contributions.
This could be an authoritative series of lectures on the total
phenomenon of Sri Lankan cinema with a view to its survival in the
The National Film Corporation could have a series of mobile,
illustrated lecturers, for the benefit of students as well as the people
in remote regions of the country. This could be a revival of a practice
that existed some time ago. Sri Lanka needs admirable national icons.
Let us begin with Dr. Lester James Peries.