Wednesday, 19 May 2004  
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'I'll be back on stage'

Somarathne Dissanayake who directed Suriya Arana, one of the most successful Sinhala films in recent times, explodes the popular myth that good films never become popular. Meanwhile, he plans to revert to the stage although he has no wish to give up the cinema. Mr. Dissanayake in an interview with the Artscope speaks of his film career and future plans. Excerpts:

by E. M. G. Edirisinghe


A scene from Suriya Arana

Question: What inspired you to make the film Suriya Arana?

Answer: My brother who was in his early teens once asked my mother whether it was a sin to play with a little samanera monk. This question was working in me since then. How to distinguish the difference between the naturally cheerful child and the child wrapped in a code of ethics? I succeeded in combining the two tendencies in my film.

Q: Most of those who viewed Suriya Arana have seen your two previous films as well. Do you see any speciality in this response to your films?

A: Yes, the three films I have made are neither children's films nor adult films. They are family films. The adults together with children can enjoy my films. That is why 90% of my spectators are family audiences.

Q: How do you react to you being identified as the maker of children's films as Somalatha Subasinghe is identified with children's theatre?

A: Whereas Somalatha had been a pioneer and a consistent producer of children's plays in Sri Lanka, my name is linked to children's cinema because there are no children's films in Sri Lanka.

Q: Of the two main attractions in Suriya Arana one is the performance of the two child actors. How did you find working with them in the sets?

A: Children are easy to work with; but, one has to be patient and tactful in dealing with them. The older actors give their best, but from the child actors we have to get the best.

Sometimes we have to explain 10-15 times to get them to do what we want. We have to be friendly and do with them what they are expected to perform. For example, when I filmed the bathing scene, I too, had to jump into the stream with them and play with them.

Attraction

Q: The other main attraction in the film is the song. How did you bring in such a sweet melody?

A: The lyrics are mine. The credit for the melody should go to Rohana Weerasinghe.


Somarathne Dissanayake

The tuneful vocal was rendered by Harshana Dissanayake while the natural setting against which the visual was captured beautifully by the cameraman. All these four elements combined to produce this captivating song. Rohana succeeded in getting the right message in the words to speak in the musical langauge.

Q: What I see as the biggest attraction in the film is the character of the samanera monk. Do you agree?

A: Yes, in a way. The whole story revolves round the samanera character. All other characters grow almost in the shade of this character.

Spiritual

How the cheer in childhood co-exists with the spiritual discipline forced on it is central to the film.

Little samenera's effort to adapt himself to the clerical code of discipline is that which brings delight to the viewer most.

Q: I see two possible ends for Suriya Arana. One is for Sediris to get back his land and give up hunting to revert to cultivation and the other is to get him to pay for the sins this birth itself. You opted for the latter. Any special reason?

A: I had the former end too, in mind. As the movie thematically held together a spiritual perception, I thought the latter ending is more convincing and appropriate.

The monk is full of compassion even to the one who planned to kill him. The hunter was tamed by his compassion and he was made to pay too, for the sins he committed.

Q: Traditionally Sri Lankan children's theatre is for the joy of both the adult and the child. Do you think it is the same with Sri Lankan children's cinema as well?

A: In fact children's cinema should be only for the children. Standards should be set to keep the adults away from them. But, in Sri Lanka we have none. A film for both adults and children is a family film. In the West the children enjoy in the company of teachers and servants. In Sri Lanka, the parents accompany them. That is our culture which we must respect.

Industry

Q: How do you combine your effort to create a good cinema with that of your effort to promote Sinhala cinema as an industry?

A: Cinema must exist as an industry without bargaining its art that appeals to the elevated taste of picturegoers. Something worthy and meaningful must be told in a way that pleases the audience.

Our audience is intelligent. The film must be homely and free of complications for the majority to follow it with ease.

Q: You have captured the spirit of Buddhism in you film as never before by any other Sri Lankan filmmaker. Do you agree?

A: Every film, more or less, has a religious background. I used it strongly in Suriya Arana. It is explicitly and implicitly linked to the content of the film. Most of the other films used Buddhism in the background or brought it to end the film. My film is woven within the spirit of Buddhism in its full stretch.

Q: How do you evaluate the tremendous commercial success of Suriya Arana?

A: Its commercial success is not important to my assessment of the film. What mattered me most is that an unprecedented number of picturegoers viewed the film. It disproves the common belief that a good film is not a popular film.

Q: Do you wish to take your film to an international audience?

A: While I made it, international market was never in my mind. But now I feel that there is an appeal for it. Not only our ethnic problem and poverty, but our natural beauty and cultural heritage as well, should be taken to foreign audiences. There is a vast spiritual and natural content in my film which I hope will be attractive to any international film audience. My film had already won some international film awards.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I am in two minds. Am I to confine myself to making only family films for children or am I to free myself to try my hand on a family film for adults. Anyway my next film could be totally different from what I've been doing.

Discipline

Q: I understand that your initial training was in another discipline. What made you to take to cinema?

A: By profession I am a diagnostic medical radiologist. I obtained my basic degree from Canada. However, I switched over to cinema and obtained a postgraduate diploma in Film Directing from Sydney University. Thus my initial interest in science delayed my entry to art and cinema.

If my interest in art developed somewhat early in my secondary education level, my journey in cinema would have been much more different from what it is today.

Q: Your consecration in art was on the stage. Don't you have any idea of going back to theatre?

A: Certainly it is uppermost in my mind. In a way, I feel guilty for forgetting the stage after switching my interest over to cinema.

I am in thirst to get back to theatre. It will take at least six months to be back on stage. But, I will do it.

Melody

A translation of the melody that charmed the imaginations of the children who viewed in the film Suriya Arana.

With rays siezed from the sun and moon

With fragrance distilled from trees and creepers

With cool drawn from streams and brooks

In the world made for us

Friend, join us to enjoy it

Do not sever the wings of butterflies

The colours of the rainbow will fade

Do not cut the trees and creepers

The earth will parch in the fiery sun

In the world made for us

Let us save the joy in it

Tiny little birds dance and sing

The reptiles, quadrupeds and others

They too have a right to enjoy like us

The sun, moon, trees and creepers

In the world made for us

Friend, let us share the joy of it.

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