KALA KEERTHI DHARMASIRI BANDARANAYAKE : RENOWNED FILM ACTOR, PLAYWRITER, DIRECTOR, DRAMATIST, DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER OF FILMS AT PINNACLE OF FAME – by Sunil Thenabadu
Kala Keerthi Dharmasiri Bandaranayake the recipient of the ‘Ran Thisara award in year 2018 is a film actor, playwriter, director ,dramatist and producer of films and stage plays is a predominantly the renowned ‘civil and political activist’ who loved to work to bring about political or social changes by campaigning in public. The beginning of the film career of Bandaranayake was not all that rosy.At that time in the decade of eighties the script had to be passed by the General Manager of National film Corporation Dr DB Nihalsinghe who had given the film a c grade rating which had prevented Bandaranayake in qualifying for a loan to proceed.Then by sheer quirk he had met Chairman of Bake House group Albert Jayasinghe who had wanted Bandaranayake to submit the budget to which he had agreed (Rupees 244,500/) Hence it was not a rosy beginning for Bandaranayake .He had followed the path of earlier film producers like Lester James Peiris, Wasantha Obeysekera, Dharmasena Pathiraja, and Tissa Abeysekera to whom Bandaranayke is very grateful teaching the path for producing vast highbrow films.Bandaranayake’s film Bawa Duka was based on a novel written by his Uncle. Father’s younger brother KS Perera a scholar
for which his grandparents, uncle and father had portrayed roles, But the audiences are wondering why Bandaranayake had not made new films for over two decades. Bandaranayake has added he cannot sit for a long time at a table, so there is only a rare chance that he writes a new play or film script.But is engaged in a new film now, the script of it was written by his daughter in London, is very hopeful about it.
The five films of Dharmasiri Bandaranayake,Thunveni Yamaya, Hansa Vilak. Suddilage Kathawa, Bawa Karma.Bawa Duka ( sorrow of existence) stand out like spirits of the history of the decades of the eighties and the nineties. In Hansa Vilak Bandaranayake had adopted unusual camera angles, a new order of audio and visual techniques with modern musical experiments which were all appreciated had helped to draw fans to film halls. They reflect what could have been, but was not, in a more illustrious, colorful career. The uprooting of the individual from his surroundings, the unreliability of an objective voice, the solace of psychological confinement, are all themes that brings these four films together; they differentiate them from his political plays. Bandaranayake’s cinema was never totally political in that sense.It is prudent to study Dharmasiri’s childhood prior to tracing his film exploits. He was born in early October 1949 in Kalutara as the second son among three male siblings. His father a small business entrepreneur who owned his own watch repairing shop in Panadura town. Young Bandaranayake was educated at Vidyarathne College in Horana. During his tenure in school there had been a rather politically active theatre culture outside the capital Colombo.Young Bandaranayake had been instigated by the teachings of the drama teacher well known even to date Hemasiri Liyanage hailing from Horana.It was obviously his school plays had run riot in Bandaranayake’s student imagination via many plays staged in school in the decade of the sixties. Young Bandaranayake while in his teens had joined in a workshop of legendary Dayananda Gunawardena at the ‘Sudarshi”in year 1966 where young Bandaranayake also developed a passion for music making experimentations following Maestro musician Premasiri Khemadasa.
For young Bandaranayake it was by sheer quirk when Dayananda Gunawardena selected him to portray the role of young sort of ‘comedian’ in his film “Thunweni Yamaya”.The role was that of a domestic aid where he was forced to fall in love to a forty-year old portrayed by Iranganie Serasinghe.
It was before this event that he had to borrow rupees two from his father to witness Henry Jayasena’s Hunuwatalye Kathawa staged in Panadura.After watching this play he had been further instigated to be interested in stage plays too.He had described this play as impeccable performed to precision made him very much interested in stage plays.
They never conceded to political controversies and debate. Based on the split between power and incapability, the helplessness of the loner in the face of patriarchy, feudalism, and the many manifestations of power, they dig acutely into his personal life.
It was that generation which in later years, particularly after the disillusionment which the 1971 insurrection compelled in young idealists, fresh from university, determined that the local theatre belonged to a left-of-Centre political sphere.
Bandaranayake took over Henry Jayasena’s version of Makara and transformed it into Makarakshaya, reflecting this shift from Jayasena’s aestheticism to his deeply felt, sincerely articulated political convictions. The message that the play gave out, that there are more Mayors than there are dragons, was aptly valid for a period in our history in which those burgomasters flourished in our political culture.
But that was the theatre, a manifestly different medium. To trace Bandaranayake’s as a film director one needs to read his childhood. He was born in 1949 and was educated at Vidyarathne College in Horana. Even then there had been a politically active theatre culture throughout Sri Lanka, particularly outside Colombo, and the man had felt this acutely through one of his drama teachers at his school, Hemasiri Liyanage (who also hailed from Horana). Apparently Liyanage had been one of his figures of destiny, who had let his student’s imagination run riot through the many plays he staged at school. This was during the sixties, a tense, uneasy period in our history.
Surprisingly, he was only a teenager when he first encountered the cinema. While he had not been a film fan as such before, his many encounters with the theatre had enabled him to meet Dayananda Gunawardena, who was directing his debut film.
Those who have seen Bakmaha Deege would no doubt remember Bandaranayake as the manservant, the childishly silly and innocent Premadasa. I believe he himself, speaking at that book launch ceremony alluded to before, offered the most fitting comment or riposte: “When Avurudu is around the corner and when TV stations telecast the movie, laughter is heard throughout any neighborhood in the country whenever Premadasa comes in.” He was about 17 at the time. Surprisingly, however, he never was interested in pursuing acting in the cinema thereafter: he was more interested in the camerawork and the editing, striking up a friendship with Willie Blake and Sumitra Peries. What had fascinated him were the complex technicalities involved in the making of a film.
Young Bandaranayake’s assessment of Gunawardena was spot on and very clear: He had kept an admirable balance between the theatre and the cinema. He was, in other words, conscious of the differences which existed between the two mediums while being well aware of their parallels. The film was an adaptation of an Italian opera. Gunawardena was very careful about vetting if not filtering out the theatrical side to it when transposing it. To countess viewers, this was and is one of the two biggest strengths of Bakmaha Deege, the other strength being the fact that it can’t really be sourced, i.e. that one can’t really state that it was an adaptation at all in the first place, therefore it is put to Bandaranayake that the man indigenized the story so well that it became truly Sri Lankan, a point he agreed with at once: That’s the reason why the man was unmatched in his field.
After that first encounter with the cinema, however, the man let go of any ideas about the industry he may have entertained, and concentrated on the theatre. During the seventies, when our political theatre, to an extent, cinema had matured, he displaying his talent, proved his mettle, and took over from the stylized and the kitchen sink plays that had been the norm in the preceding decades. The shift from Ediriweera Sarachchandra to the likes of Sugathapala de Silva had been one of mood and temperament, from the former’s reliance on visually descriptive to the former’s reliance on speech.
The shift from the likes of de Silva to the likes of Bandaranayake was less of mood than of conviction, although the kitchen sink play, the best example of which was Boarding Karayo, reflected the personal agonies and social anxiety that would be unleashed in gushes and torrents after 1971. Boarding Karayo, in that sense, was a precursor to Makarakshaya, if only distantly so. As with Nanda Malini in our musical sphere, hence, it is to Bandaranayake that we owe our understanding of political potential of the arts, in his case the theatre, more clearly identified.
It was in this context that Vasantha Obeyesekere selected him for the role of the protagonist in Palagetiyo. Between this and Bakmaha Deege there had been a space of 10 years, a long enough time for attitudes, idealisms, and personal convictions to change and, if provoked, sour beyond expectation. In Palagetiyo the audiences come across a different actor in Bandaranayake: as Sarath Gunawardena, the embittered protagonist who works as a manager for a rich mudalali and then elopes with his daughter, he virtually distilled the alienation from personal feelings the youth of his time might have, against their will, well felt.
In Obeyesekere’s hands there is no attempt at romanticizing the elopement (which occurs secretly, and quickly, at night) barring the first few sequences in Sarath’s village. The misery and the harsh realities that the girl played by Dammi Fonseka, slain tragically in Kahathuduwa after the film was released forces herself to are poignantly depicted, as are her confused, repressed feelings of love towards a neighbour in the shanty house they are compelled to live in, given Sarath’s being unemployed.
Even on a first viewing, the parallels between Palagetiyo and Bandaranayake’s debut, Hansa Vilak, are certainly hard to miss: both have Bandaranayake as the condemned protagonist, both have Henry Jayasena as a ramrod figure of the establishment that he is pitted against, and both involve the conflict between eroticism and social discrepancies. But while the latter conflict in Palagetiyo is tempered by class rifts, the conflict in Hansa Vilak is tempered by a forever irreconcilable rift between personal feelings and familial obligations.
Not even the acceptance of the divorce between the vague Miranda (Swarna Mallawarachchi) and Douglas (Jayasena) by the courts is enough for those obligations to be swept away in favour of personal feelings, and the message we finally get – that the institution of marriage represses, absorbs, and does away with everything that comes in its way – is enough to tide over what I consider to be a deliberately confused ending.
In Thunveni Yamaya he went beyond the psychological subjectivity in Hansa Vilak, to varying levels of success. Perhaps the relative failure he encountered with that film – the authors of Profiling Sri Lankan Cinema correctly surmise that in it there is a disjuncture between the director’s “bold outlook” and the “complex demands” the themes he explored required – compelled him to fall back on adaptations of literary texts thereafter: Suddilage Kathawa, Bhava Duka, Bhava Karma (the latter two of which were filmed together).
The complexities of mood and milieu that these films open the viewer up to can’t really be ascertained or described through one review, let alone a newspaper sketch, so suffice it to say that they reveal the director’s belief that the personal always has a hand in shaping the social, that relationships between individuals can congeal into power relationships between different layers of society. In these three seminal films, those layers are determined by a feudal structure, which is where an interesting historical contradiction in Bhava Duka and Bhava Karma comes out: the fact that colonialism was so easily able to intrude on our society because the stratifications in our society, between the favored and the unfavored, allowed the conqueror to easily disrupt our lives.
Perhaps that’s the most fitting tribute we can make to this all too misunderstood director. And perhaps that’s why the last word should be his: Bandaranayake adds people come to him today requesting permission to remake Suddilage Kathawa . Forget the costs involved in doing that. The fact is that one can’t remake Suddi. The fact is that he would simply won’t.
. According ,to Bandaranayake “ every living man is a political animal, an artiste should be among the people. An artiste has an internal fight within him to face the bizarre situation in society, the fate of humanity. This is why I criticize the socio-political scenario. Without commenting on that one cannot comment on art as art is based on life.” Bandaranayake is a staunch Buddhist taking part in a popular television program recently had selected the song of Maestro WD Amaradewa ‘s sasana wasana thuru niwan
Bandaranayake’s higher education had been disrupted depriving him entering a university owing to the JVP insurrection in 1971 having had to leave educational institutes, the worst thing that happened was the destruction of our future goals with regard to education. When it was seen the universities were transformed into rehabilitation centres, our dreams about university education were disappeared. Then his first priority was to find a job, had received a clerk’s post in the Department of Rubber Control in 1971.
Parallel to the job, my dramatic career also started in 1970s with the production of Ekadhipathi. But after serving twelve long years in the Department of Rubber Control, I had to leave the job because the authorities in the Department refused to permit holiday leave to take part at the Manheim film festival in Germany at which my film Hansa Vilak was a contender – Fr. Ernest Poruthota was the person who entered my film to that film festival.
The late minister Gamini Dissanayake had given him a clerk’s job in the Low Land Development Board in his Ministry. But with my next film, Thunweni Yamaya, he had quit that job too. He had realized that he couldn’t engage in film directing with a full-time government service job.As Bandaranayake was very talented in script writing popular singer TM Jayaratne had insisted him to script a song for his SLBC ‘Sarala Gee”.When Bandaranayake had not taken much interest TM had told music maestro Premasiri Khemadasa to request him.On his insistence he had compiled a song ( the only one to date) “ “Pawanata Selena Dombamal suwanda” to which Premasiri Khemadasa had made the music composition.After which several other vocalists had requested Bandaranayake to compose lyrics to which he had not responded as his line was cinema production not as a lyric writer.Bandaranayake had confessed that he has suffered from a skin ailment ‘eczema’ condition for which a paste from Domba flower had been used to cure him hence was helpful in the lyrics made.There had been one instance for a film song scripted by Lucian Bulathsinghala, Bandaranayake had edited it to sound better excluding a few words.
Two films of Bandaranayake Bawa Duka and Bawa Karma challenged the human judgement blocked by a wider understanding by a false assumption of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The common arcs in Bandaranayake’s films follow the conflicted lives of men and women, transformation of private lives into public affairs, the unpleasant reality of marriage and society and the dark side of human desire.
Bandaranayake had produced many stage plays such as Eka Adhipathi, Makarakshaya, Dhawa
Bandaranayake received several death threats in 2001 after he made plans to stage the play in predominantly Tamil areas. In 2021, his film Hansa Vilak, a new copy has been reprinted with colored format and screened in cinemas ..
Bandaranayake had got married according to his own wishes at the age of only twenty one years.The duo are blessed with two children while via a relationship with Swarna Mallawarachchi has a daughter.Also the duo are blessed with grand children…
All his fans would wish him good health and longevity ‘
SUNIL THENABADU IN BRISBANE
EMAIL STHENABADU @hotmail.com