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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 possible.

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 them befittingly.

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 heroes.

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 formalised.

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 image.

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 creations.

All those essential ingredients that contribute towards the formation of a genius in the field of cinema are sumptuously present in his personality.

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 sensitivity.

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 present.

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 future.

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.

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