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Aba: A quest for birthright

Artscope' carried an article written jointly by Sachitra Mahendra and Ruwini Jayawardana, on the subject "Aba: A quest for birthright?"(Oct 15). In this long article repeated references were made to me by name, on which I wish to make the following observations:

1. In my presentation nowhere did I make any reference to a lieutenant Chitharaja. Based on the Mahawamsa, I referred to herdsman (dasa) Chitta and dasa Kalawela. I presume this promotion to a high military rank was made in the course of the discussion on Pandukabhaya (PA) in the Maha Sinhale Wansa Kathava (MSWK) written by Jackson Anthony (JA) and published in 2006.

A scene from the movie Aba

2. My reference to the LTTE was in reference to a short review of Aba by Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne.

3. With reference to the comment made by Prof. Abhayanayake and I, Anthony disclaims that he "presented Chitharaja as the father of PA". Since September 6, 2008, I have been engaged in criticising 'Aba', purely on its historical pretensions, and always stressed that Aba is the cinematic representation of PA's paternity, which was discussed at length in MSWK (pp. 89-155).

In coming to this conclusion, that PA's father was Yakkha Chittaraja, he uses Munidasa Kumaratunga and some contemporary scholars as props.

4. Even if the paternity of PA is not explicitly stated in 'Aba', it is implied in many statements uttered by Habara and the Christ-looking ghost of Chittaraja.

5. JA goes on to say that he "respects Mahawamsa, the official chronicle of history. Therefore, I have not distorted the facts embedded, but added some scenes to enhance creativity."

Here we are reminded of the distortions perpetrated by the journalists 'embedded' with the US soldiers in the battle field in Iraq. JA's statement is a gross understatement regarding the alleged distortions of the MV account, and he has been taken to task not only by me, but numerous critics, including the much respected Presidential Counsel Wijayadasa Rajapakse (Lankadeepa 2008-09-05) whom I presume was once a school principal. Sachitra and Ruwini also join in this chorus.

6. JA also dismisses the alleged associations between the Tamils and the Yakkas, as something, outdated. But as recently as 2005, K Indrapala in his The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity implies these same perceptions including that of Vijaya's marriage with a princess brought from Matirai (Madura), in Southern India (75pp). So in dealing with such very sensitive issues, one has to tread very carefully, because they could be veritable minefields.

7. The best critique of the Daily News article was offered by D. G. B. de Silva in two parts in another English daily (18th and 20th October) based partly on Dr. Sivamohan Sumathy's critique published on September 17 in another English daily paper. D. G. B. de Silva takes Sumathy's unfinished discourse to its logical conclusions (?), which could very well be an eye-opener to both the Director and his exalted political patrons, as well as the LTTE leader.

8. May I conclude this note by appealing to the good sense and cinematic credibility of the Director, that it is not too late do some damage control by at least offering a correction in print as a prelude to the screening of the film Aba, to the effect that he dissociates himself from any overt or covert denial of PA's paternity in respect of Prince Dighagamani. It would also be more gracious to deny any desire to portray any Christian looking scenes in a film based on the proto-history of Sri Lanka.

Our response

We take this opportunity to thank Dr. W. M. K. Wijetunga for sharing his invaluable ideas with us. With great respect to Dr. Wijetunga's authoritative knowledge on history, we maintain that art and history are different subject areas; so to say Aba is not a history documentation, but a creative interpretation of written history.

Dr. Wijetunga seems to have been grossly mistaken as to the portrayal of Prince Pandukabhaya's paternity. The plain scrutiny of Aba's scene flow relates the genuine paternity of Prince Pandukabhaya - Dighagamini. The initial scenes and the narrative song 'explicitly state' Prince Pandukabhaya's paternity.

It makes us wonder why learned historians like Dr. Wijetunga are so concerned about implied references to Chittaraja, when Dighagamini is 'explicitly' referred to as the prince's father.

In this backdrop, we cannot agree more with Dr. Wijetunga's scholarly remark that Aba is the cinematic representation of Prince Pandukabhaya's paternity.

We do not say Aba is a masterpiece in the least. The movie has its own shortcomings primarily in digital manipulations and the script.

However we hope Aba is a trial-and-error step of the thousand-mile journey of local cinema.

Aba has been attacked from all fronts; some critiques are genuine while some seem not.

The bona fide critics brought out both plusses and minuses of the picture, while critics with mean personal agendas launched a massive missile attack.

This heated criticism indicate one thing: the film has ruffled the feathers like no other.

If the film is just another play to the gallery, as some observe, they would not dare spare their precious time on missile attacks.

Some critics peck for only negative points in the picture.

Habara calls Gumbakabutha by the word 'bitch', which one particular critic has found offensive. He argues that a husband should not call his wife by such an animal's name.

Firstly bitch is not the only reference to animals in the film. Secondly Gumbakabutha still had not become the wife of Habara when she was called by that word!

Aba, like any other work of art, is a film that needs a proper re-evaluation without a single tinge of hypocrisy.



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