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ABA to the fore

A kaleidoscope of fantasy,history and folklore:

Destiny decides man’s course of life and so it did more than 2400 years ago when it foretold the birth of a prince born under the shadows of death.

He who was fated to unite two tribes under one rule was also predicted as the killer of his 10 uncles. The oracle’s horrifying prediction rocked a whole nation and little did they guess that the heroic prince will also bring forth a whole generation of monarchs to establish the country’s richest era in history, the Ruhunu kingdom.

Many might not have contemplated this legend for a cinematic venture, until award winning actor Jackson Anthony undertook the serious assignment. Anthony breathes life to the prince destined to occupy the throne and baptises him as the unexplored epic hero in Sri Lankan history.

Reviving history in the modern social set up requires much effort. History is only written data set in point form. The creative writer is faced with the task of moulding data to take form of an interesting tale with added creativity. A touch of skillful imagination is required to make a creation which will keep the audience glued to their seats from beginning to end. Anthony’s much-talked-about mammoth creation epitomises this factor.

With years of experience in the field Anthony had recognised the ingredients of capturing the audience’s interest. He had pieced historic accounts together with talent, resources and technology to make one of the best movies that local cinema-goers had seen for years.

Hollywood and Bollywood films are mostly hero-oriented. Aba will probably be one of the very few local films based on an epic hero. It brings us back to Lester James Peries’ Weera Puran Appu who was not considered as a hero in history as the battle with the Portuguese turned out to be a failure.

However Peries with the renowned scriptwriter, Dr. Tissa Abeysekara, has glorified Puran Appu in his creation. Likewise, Anthony has glorified the legend of the first king of the Sri Lankan kingdom without harming the historic contents he had gathered from local and foreign sources.

Mahavamsa, Sri Lanka’s official chronicle, indicates that Chittaraja and Kalavela were killed by Digha Gamini to protect his son, Aba. However the scriptwriter deconstructs the legend by making the royal command responsible for their death.

The film relates the story of Prince Pandukabaya from his birth up to the point when he gives an oath to protect his motherland and recovers his birthright.

Though the director had intended to set the young prince in the spotlight, Habara, brilliantly portrayed by Saumya Liyanage, overshadows him. A cast comprising prominent figures in cinema had stepped up to contribute to the creation along with new faces like Dulani Anuradha, who should be credited for her outstanding performance as Gumbakabootha.

These two imaginative characters, though absent in historical sources, eclipse the legendary figures played by the veterans. Chittaraja’s calm, serene and fearless behaviour adds substance to Aba and is powerfully presented by Bimal Jayakody. Though beheaded at the beginning, his constant emergence as the guardian of the future king keeps his character alive.

Anthony should be commended for his choice of actors as they fit the incarnation of the historical figures. Sabeetha Perera’s comeback to cinema after a lapse of seven years is itself enough to spark interest towards the film. Her presence as Unmada Chitra, along with key players like Malani Fonseka as Baddakachchayana, Ravindra Randeniya as Pandula Brahmana, Sriyantha Mendis as Parumukhaya, Sajitha Anuththara as Aba, Bimal Jayakody as Chiththaraja, Wasantha Dukgannarala as Mahaberana, Dinusha Rajapathirana as Kiriyakkini, Chinthaka Vaas as Wasdanda, heightens the value of the production. However the characters of Sabitha, Malani and Ravindra should have been given more prominence as their legendary roles add more depth to the movie.

One highlight of the film is the music composed by Nadeeka Guruge. The young musician sets lively tunes to match the scenes. For instance the song sung by Habara, Gumbakabootha and Parumukhaya narrates the story in brief to those unfamiliar with the legend.

The song relates the better part of the dynasty and the visuals display daily activities of Doramadalawa while giving a glimpse of Aba’s childhood upbringing. It emphasises the link between the Yakka and Aryan communities for Aba is of royal blood and brought up among the aborigines.

A kaleidoscope of fantasy, history and folklore is also brought out with the music, dance and scenes involving combat.

Age-old fighting techniques like Angam Pora are mastered and displayed, revealing that it was no push over for the cast.

Recreating huge sets like the Panduvasdev Palace, Upatissa city, Doramadalawa village, Kokkalagama, Wadagal Kanda and the Gasbene Pokuna is certainly an arduous task but one that the Art Director Udeni Subodhikumara and the team handled well.

One instance that the film failed to impress was in some of its scenes aimed at bringing out the comic element. The royal messenger, Mahaberana, arrives at a village to announce that princess Chitra had given birth to a daughter. On seeing a flirtatious look from one of the village women he forgets his lines. This episode neither adds colour to the story’s development nor brings the intended humour.

The movie ends abruptly, signalling what is in store for the young prince. This creates an element of disappointment for the audience eager to see the full version but it tactfully sets the stage for the sequel that is rumoured to follow, creating enthusiasm and anticipation among its viewers.

Weera Puran Appu, God King, Weera Madduma Bandara and Sigiri Kashyapa can now add Anthony’s Aba its list of all time Sinhala epics as the movie will no doubt be a landmark in the history of Sinhala cinema.

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