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Are we ready for Sankara?



RESPECTFUL DIGNITY: Sachini Ayendra in a scene from Sankara

A 'moving' Picture: Sankara commanded my attention at the very first scene, demanded my concentration throughout and has now left with me these appreciative thoughts.

The film explores something which many philosophers, psychologists and creative human beings have tried to fathom; the mind. The subject matter is therefore not unique.

But Prasanna Jayakody explores the mind of a monk who makes an attempt to concentrate on his artistic ability and his ultimate goal as a follower of the Buddha.

The crux of the entire film to me is how Jayakody treats this subject and treads so gently on so many social realities. What is also unusual is the way Jayakody has used the audio-visual medium to explore it before our eyes.

Conflict

His main character, young Venerable Ananda Thera is a temporary assistant lecturer at an aesthetics university. He comes to this unknown village to restore the old murals and paintings at the temple. As he walks into the village, his mind walks by his side. Yet moments after, the mind starts to wander. His biggest challenge is his need as well the inability to resist the pleasures, which are all around him.

The murals consists of ancient drawings of women with uncovered breasts which he has to restore, the girl who lives close to the temple and regularly visits draws his mind away from himself and the task at hand.

The events that unfold in the film show how although he tries to physically appear unmoved, in his mind he is still a young male and an artist. It is the conflict between priesthood and youthfulness that takes the movie forward.

Medium

What impressed me most is Jayakody's way of using the medium. A trademark of this young director is that he uses dialogues sparingly and that too not due to a lack of expression, but only to reinforce a thought or a certain characteristic.

For example the head priest, who has most of the dialogue, shows great understanding of the young priest when he says 'you cannot be an artist if you are not sensitive'.

He also indicates his understanding of Ven. Ananda's turmoil with his few words but is careful not to totally endorse it. The girl has been given (if I am not mistaken) two lines, which she says to Rev. Ananda. "Is it all right for a priest to do this type of work" and "I saw you taking the hair clip". Both these are not idle lines.

The first line shows the girl's respect for the priest and her inability to relate to a priest restoring paintings especially drawings of women. The second line nails the fact that it was Ven. Ananda who sabotaged his own work. Similarly, all other lines have been carefully chosen for a purpose. The story does not move on dialogue alone.

Jayakody has the great ability not only to show scenic views, but also to use them for effect. Director of Photography Palitha Perera supports him in this a great deal. The many dawns, dusks, rain, fire and wind show the passing of the days and the state of his mind.

His natural frames and cinematography work effectively for 'Sankara'. The film does not have the usual melodramatic slow pace, which many other Sri Lankan films have.

Jayakody has captured the pace of life in that village through meaningful vision mixing. The 80 minutes in which the film unfolds I saw not a single scene, which was slower or longer than necessary.

Jayakody has also used sound for effect. The sound of the bangles is very loud for two possible reasons.

One is that naturally in a quiet shrine room any insignificant sound echoes, and the other is that because he is so affected by the girl, in his mind the sound of her bangles is very loud. In many instances he uses the sound of doves flapping their wings.

Once again it is credible for doves to reside inside a shrine room, but also it symbolises the worldly freedom that is trying to tempt him. Nadeeka Guruge's music truly complements the natural sounds which Jayakody has carefully chosen.

Characters

The treatment of characters is worth mentioning. Having chosen a Buddhist priest to be his main character; Jayakody treats him respectfully and sensibly. Ven. Ananda's creativity, his unending efforts to fight the temptations in his mind, his failures, his humanness are carefully dealt with.

By creating another character to be his mind he avoids any insult to the person in the robe. What the mind yearns to do such as letting the hair clip touch his face, placing the hair clip on the girls hair, or even taking a sneak peak at a mother extracting milk from her breast to cure his own eye, do not actually happen.

But Jayakody is bold enough to indicate the physical needs of the young priest in one instance where he draws the picture of a woman and reacts physically to the extent he has to quickly wash the robe.


Fight against temptations: A scene from Sankara

I was most pleased about the manner in which he has treated the female character. The young girl does not seduce the priest. She is not even as artistic as he is. She cannot even play the harmonica properly. There seems to be no mutual attraction.

In Jayakody's hands the female character lives in dignity. Though curious, she keeps a respectful physical distance and tries to understand the unusual behaviour of the priest.

Even when we hear her say "can you draw my picture?" Jayakody is careful enough to show that it is something that the mind of Ven. Ananda imagined. The many instances where we see her disturbing Ven. Ananda is only to recover her hair clip.

Symbols

It is not unusual for a film director to use symbols. He uses many symbols throughout the film. But the instance where the head priest tries to light the lamp many times and succeeds finally is a symbolic lesson for Ven. Ananda.

The final thunderstorm and the rain are very indicative of the inner turmoil of the priest. But the most significant symbol is the grasshopper on the rope of the temple bell.

Jayakody drives a strong message by showing that although the priest has won the battle with his mind for the moment he has a long way to go.

End

Jayakody spends a few good minutes on the last scene where he shows the completed murals. He takes the exact time needed to tell the viewer the end of the story and strikes a perfect balance.

Sankara is indeed a very different and difficult film. It is different because it does not take you to a celluloid world of make-believe and pour entertainment tonic down your throat. It is different for the way the theme has been approached and the way the medium has been utilised.

Sankara is difficult because there is an unfamiliar character. It is also difficult for the regular filmgoer who likes to munch cashew and eat ice-chocs during the intermission, for the demands that Sanakara makes from the audience to concentrate.

The same amount of concentration and focus which the priest is aiming for is required from the audience. In the audience is bound to be a large percentage of viewers who will not understand Sankara. Some will even say that Sankara is not a film. But Jayakody's debut is undoubtedly a few miles ahead. It is just that we are not yet ready for Sankara.

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Peterites felicitate Jayalath Manorathna

TRIBUTE: The Sinhala Literary Association of St. Peter's College Colombo celebrated their 70th Anniversary held at the College Hall recently where they felicitated veteran film artist Jayalth Manorathna.

The ceremony was held under the patronage of Rev. Father Trevis Gabriel, Rector, St. Peter's College with the participation of teaching clergy and members of the staff. The event was beautifully arranged with captivating oriental decorations.

The Eastern music choir of St. Peter's College sang the 17th century hymns composed by Rev. Jasom Golsalvas that blend the Karanatic music and folk songs of Sri Lanka. Rev. Trevis Gabriel, Rector St. Peter's emphasized that arts synthesise the tension of the mind.

Monoratna said that certain media channels have started broadcasts which is harmful to child recipients.

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"Music and Lyrics" ready for worldwide release

ENGLISH CINEMA: Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is a worked-up 80s pop star who had been reduced to working the nostalgia circuit at county fairs and amusement parks.

The charismatic and talented musician gets a chance at a comeback when reigning pop diva Cora Corman invites him to write and record a duet with her, but there is a problem - Alex has not written a song in years, he has never written lyrics... and he has to come up with a hit in a matter of days!

Enter Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), Alex's beguilingly quirky plant lady whose flair for words strikes a chord. On the rebound from a bad relationship with the newly famous novelist Solan Cates (Campbell Scott), Sophie is reluctant to collaborate with anyone, especially commitment-phoebe Alex!

Watch how the chemistry heats up at the piano (and under it), as Alex and Sophie struggles to face their fears and the music as "Music and Lyrics" unfolds to the world on February 9.

For filmmaker, Marc Lawrence, writing and directing "Music and Lyrics" was a way to explore a world he has always been interested in the world of writing music.

As he had began writing the script Lawrence had only one actor in mind for the role of Alex Fletcher-Hugh Grant- with whom he had worked on the romantic comedy "Two Weeks' Notice". Having great respect for the actor's talent made it an easy choice.

Martin Shafer produced "Music and Lyrics".

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