'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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.