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Buddhikayage Jeewithe:

'To be or not to be'

To call Dhananjaya Karunarathne a revolutionary dramatist in Sri Lanka won't be an overstatement. With his outstanding short play collection Sihina Rangahala he kept hopes alive for Sri Lankan theatergoers after veteran dramatists Sugathapala de Silva and Simon Navagatthegama.


Buddhikayage Jeewithe

The Acid Rain (Acid Vessa) drama festival was his latest theatrical venture which consisted of his short drama collection Sihina Rangahala and three novel plays Double Gamekaarayo, Buddhikayage Jeewithe and Acid Vessa. It was a treat for theatre lovers and everybody was pleased and expected it would be a comeback for him. Unfortunately, other than Buddhikayage Jeewithe (Buddhika's Life) two of his novel plays were utter disappointments!

It seems that Dhananjaya had missed his ground being away from the country. It was the major cause of being unable to convey the socio-political theme that he tried to bring out through his two novel plays. For the elements of drama to be conveyed it must be palpable. Then one must touch the ground in the real sense of the word.

However, Buddhikayage Jeewithe (Buddhika's Life) was a shocker and the courage that Buddhika Damayantha revealed in his story to an unknown audience was remarkable. The truth of its content and with the realistic acting style Buddhika carried throughout the drama appealed to the audience.

In an interview with Montage, Buddhika Damayantha talked about Buddhikayage Jeewithe and about the bitter reality of being isolated in his idealistic dreams, while all the others have moved away including his friend Dhananjaya Karunarathne.

Excerpts:

Question: Talking about the genre of Buddhikayage Jeewithe, it could be categorised as a one-act play or monologue. In addition, I felt it is more of a docu-drama, which is novel to Sri Lankan theatre. Let's start the discussion from there.

Answer: Yes, it has documentary features but in terms of the genre it falls more into biographical theatre, because it's not just revealing information about my life but it carries a strong poetic image about life and human relationships. It's in between drama and non-drama.

From the beginning Dhananjaya had a better understanding of the genre and how he's going to portray my life on stage.

Buddhikayage Jeewithe is a drama which reveals the truth of my life. Dhananjaya developed the script after having numerous discussions with me on Skype about almost every detail of my life other than my sex life which he didn't ask.

Through Buddhikayage Jeewithe I acted out my life, so it can't be fake and it cannot be acted by another actor because I live. So to call Buddhikayage Jeewithe as a biographical play is appropriate.

Q: How true is the content of the drama to your life?

A: It's true to life! However, Dhananjaya developed the script based on information that I gave him and I acted upon his script which was obviously his perception about my life - but I agree with it to a great extent.

The most important aspect of this play is the link he built between dress and social class. We judge the class of people by their dress and we cover or hide our true selves behind the clothes. I believe that Dhananjaya brought a strong poetic image to the play by removing my clothes on stage and that's one of the most powerful incidents in the play.

I have been involved in theatre for the past 16 years and this is the first time that I received so much of appreciation and I'm still amazed and thrilled. The reason why Buddhikage Jeewithe received so much of accolades from the audience was because of the truth of its content.

Unknown audience

Q: Why did you want to be involved with this play by revealing yourself to an unknown audience?

A: For me Dhananjaya Karunaratne is one of the most dynamic and extraordinary dramatists of our time. We stepped into the theatre industry at the same time and we are good friends. I think through this drama he wanted to expose the bitter reality of a dramatist who chose theatre as his livelihood in a country where social welfare is prioritised.

He wants to portray the failure of being a 'fulltime dramatist' by bringing my story on stage. On the other hand, even though it's about my life, it's a drama. He only uses my story to touch upon an area of every artiste who lives with the same ground realities.

However, initially he tried to do this play with veteran actor, Wimal Kumara de Costa but it didn't work due to many reasons. I think I fitted into Dhananjaya's concept more because as a 'full-time dramatist' I still have not given up the battle.


A still from Buddhikayage Jeewithe

Q: Were you involved in the process of developing the script?

A: Even though it's about my life the script is developed by Dhananjaya and all credit and honour should go to him. Of course it is my story and my life and there were many things that I added to the script too but he's the one who moulded and carved my life into a creative piece which I portrayed on stage.

From the beginning he had faith that this is going to be his next 'the one' on theatre which I seriously didn't believe at the beginning. However, the audience embraced it just how Dhananjaya believed it to be.

Mass audience

Q: Being a translation based dramatist, it's a known fact that to reach a mass audience is not an easy task. By receiving unexpected appreciation from the audience for Buddhikayage Jeewithe, which is more a personal account of our own story, are you going to re-think about the genre that you believed so far?

A: Yes, it's a good thing to find out the secret behind the massive appreciation. There's no doubt that if we can use our own stories from the same socio-political and cultural grounds would be much more effective than bringing stories from elsewhere. There's a clear difference between my genre and Dhananjaya's. Translation drama is my temptation for theatre.

I have been influenced by many international dramatists and their stories and I try to share the same enjoyment or the realisation that I experienced with Sri Lankan theatregoers.

However, it was a pleasure to be involved with Dhananjaya's play and I appreciate his style and power that he conveys through my story.

Values

Q: To live a life according the values you believe is not an easy game in this highly consumeristic society. Don't you think you've been unfair to your heavy life by permitting Dhananjaya to unveil them on stage according to his perception?

A: Yes it could be, but what can I do? In a way I appreciate him for bringing me so much of appreciation and it relieved the heaviness of life even for an instant.

After the performance some friends told me that I have been used by Dhananjaya which was a known fact and I had no issues with that.

In this socio-political situation we all are being used by one another, therefore I have no regrets being used by Dhananjaya.

From the beginning Dhananjaya explained what he expects me to do in the play. He told me I may have to remove my clothes on stage, which was a minor issue for me. I agreed with almost every fact in the script. I was well aware of what I was doing and even my family didn't have any issues about it.

Some one can interpret me as a failure. Even Dhananjaya may believe that I'm a failure. But the way I live my life is a choice that I have made. At the time I decided to be involved in the theatre full-time, I knew it's a failure. So I took the decision knowing the results.


Dhananjaya Karunarathne

But there are consequences because of the choice that I have made to live my life brought me so much of agony, isolation and insecurity. I think it is common for anybody who's conscious about present society.

On the other hand, through Buddhikayage Jeewithe, Dhananjaya didn't want to reveal this consciousness that I have throughout my life but he wanted to bring failures in my life as a full-time artiste. It is hilarious to realise that I was the only unsuccessful artiste from the entire crew of Buddhikayage Jeewithe.

From the director to the light assistant they are quite successful in the game of life. But what is being successful? I think it's the battle of living life according to the values that you believe.Dhananjaya could make this drama only because I live this life.

He can humiliate or question me because I still live this life and I'm not ready to give up even though it's painful or hopeless. If I too sold myself or my creativity beyond my belief as all the others to gain material and social status, prestige or a better life he doesn't have a story to tell. I don't think there's any room left for him to damage my reputation because 20 years ago the decision that I made to get into theatre was in itself damaging. But I love art and theatre and it's a kind of madness. However, it's my soul and I live for it.

So to be or not to be - is the ultimate question that confronts me through Buddhikayage Jeewithe.

Q:What do you suggest to the audience by revealing your life on stage?

A: I'm not suggesting anything at all, because I don't think they have an understanding or love towards theatre or artistes. It is a malicious, narcissistic society and we love only ourselves.

However, most of them told me Buddhikayage Jeewithe brought a tear to their eyes but I doubt how they shed that tear.

They shouldn't shed tears for me because Buddhikayage Jeewithe is not just about my personal failure but the failure of society as a whole.

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