Sinhala film of missed creative opportunities - Dr. Senarath Tennakoon

REVIEW: Naga Kanya is quite a different cinematic creation, where the producer has endeavoured to infuse colouration and significance to human sensuous inclinations. The cobra has been used as an icon, denotation and symbol of sexuality and revenge. The female species in particular, is venomous and disastrously dangerous and revengeful according to the beliefs of the Sinhala people.

The cobra is a sign and in Sinhala it is known as "Naya", in Tamil as "Pambu" and in Chinese as "Sha" etc. Although the word Cobra has no logical relationship with the specific object, it signifies a reptile with a beautifully coloured body and a lovely hood.

The concept of the cobra has entered into the fields of mysticism, folklore and some Jataka stories too. In ancient sculpture the cobra has been depicted as guardian of buried treasure as well as guards of important monuments. The cobra with five hoods is a common representation.

In this particular film, a child falls from a tree having seen a cobra on it. A hermit making use of his unusual magical powers gives back life to the dead child. He transfers the life of the above cobra to the dead child. Lo! the cobra happens to have come from the serpents' world (Naga Loka) to the human abode in search of fruits for its beloved one in the serpants' world.

She comes to know of this event, and she develops a sense of deep revenge because she has lost her lover cobra. She takes a pretty human form and comes to the human abode in search of the child who has by now reached adulthood for taking back the borrowed life.

Sanath Gunatillake, Dilhani Ekanayake and Sriyantha Mendis impart life and blood to this film with their brilliant performances. Despite its fabricated narrative approach, an exquisite feeling of the marvels of modern technical super highway sweeps the entire framework of this creation.

The symbol of the cobra has social as well as historic significance. One might recollect to one's mind the paintings and sculpture works pertaining to the Buddha's life where the Supreme One meditates within the coils of a Cobra under its spread-out hood, King Buddhadasa curing the wound of a cobra, the cobra-mongoose fight, cobra-viper animosity etc, while enjoying this film.

There have been quite a few Hindi and Tamil films dealing with contexts involving cobras. In them the dances were quite symbolic unlike in the Sinhala films. Scenes of cobras have been shown in Asoka as far back as 1960s and very recently in Sumitra Peries' Maha Gedera.

The village folk never kill a cobra as they perceive it to be a close relative in reptile form. But one could remember how a person licked bee's honey facing the challenges of three deaths while hanging to a creeper above a deep well where there was a venomous cobra.

Unfortunately the creator of this film has failed to explore the symbolic fecundity and cultural significance as well as the psycho-social relationships of this strong psychic symbol.

The weakness lies in the script. Surely, the creator of this film could have known that God Shiva has a coiled cobra around His neck. This is a film of missed creative opportunities despite the availability of an attractive plot for exploration at a deep level of perception.

According to Freudian theory snakes are phallic symbols by virtue of their shape - an example of iconicity that is used in both semiotic and psychoanalytic interpretation (Berger, 1991).


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