Random memories of Tissa Abeysekara :
Remarkable contribution to film industry
April 18 is the day I heard the sad news of the demise of my good
friend Tissa Abeysekara, the well known filmmaker and the bilingual
creative writer who won the prestigious Gratiaen award for his
collection of short stories titled ‘Bringing Tony Home’ (2008). My mind
goes as far back as 1961 when he wanted to make his first film for which
he assigned me the task of writing a Sinhala lyric.
Later the song was recorded but owing to some mishap the film did not
come to light. The film was titled as Kalamediriyo (glow worms), based
on an experience woven around the life of a pop singer.
Tissa with all his ups and downs in life had the good opportunity of
being groomed under the master filmmaker Lester James Peries.
He was constantly thankful to Lester for paving the way to reach the
highest calibre of film experience for which he was bestowed with the
life achievement award, when the entire gathering got up as a standing
oration to Tissa, which he later recalled as the greatest memorable
event in his film career.
Tissa in a way could be reckoned as the pioneer in the film script
writing function, where he excelled by recounting some of the Sinhala
novels and short stories into film scripts. One good example is the
short story Nidhanaya by G B Senanayake.
Tissa had the special skills in the transformation of the literary
narrative to visual language. One of his remarkable contributions during
the early part of sixties is his original collection of Sinhala short
stories titled Ipanella which I believe should be rediscovered as it is
one of the landmarks in the narrative tradition. This is long forgotten
if nobody was interested in further publications.
Tissa was a tireless or indefatigable artiste who left no stone
unturned in his hunt for creativity. His was a constant non stop career
in the field of mass media, where he was most wanted as a unique
presenter both in the sound and in visual given the opportunity Tissa
would undertake a media work with prior preparation which is seldom
observed today by others of the same profession.
“You entrust this to Tissa. He would do an excellent job of work.”
Was the comment I have heard over the years. History and anthropology of
any folklore, as I knew, were some of his favourite subject areas.
The brilliant creativity he possessed was engulfed in those areas.
This factor is visualized in such contributions as ‘In the Kingdom of
the Sun and the Holy Peak’, Pitagamkarayo and ‘Roots, Reflections and
We had a lot to learn from Tissa is the feeling I have gripped over
the years during our association in many a field linked to mass
communication. In order to teach the subject of cinematography, he got
his students at Sri Lanka Television Training Institute to see good
films initially. This he felt as a must in the film studies.
Followed by the screening of a number of selected films, he would
deal with some of the salient technical aspects such as close ups, long
shots, special effects etc. He knew his politics too and he was
outspoken at times which I presume also had a boomerang effect.
So Tissa is no more. I remember a long trip I went with him as far
back as sixties. On our way back the car broke down dashing out one of
the rear wheels on to a nearby boutique. We were all bewildered by what
happened. But Tissa was contemplative and just remarked: “Machang why
should this bloody thing happen to us?” I feel the death had come to
Tissa too soon.
There is yet another episode which I recall now. When his film
Mahagedara was filmed a certain group of film enthusiasts planned a
great big seminar chaired by the late Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra.
The discussion centered round Tissa’s script, direction and acting
calibre. Professor Sarachchandra just remarked that he was reminded of
Martin Wickramasinghe’s Gamperaliya and Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard.
Tissa was requested to respond to the creative process, when he
remarked that two of his favourite works are Gamperaliya and Cherry
Orchard - needless to say that perhaps those would have inherently
inspired his creative process and he added:
“But I know where I stand for I am positive that Mahagedara is my own
original work.” Well that is what any original writer may say today.
Tissa too is influenced by great masters of the past and the present.