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Pathos of silence

Ananda Abeynayake speaks beyond sight and sound:

A scene from Ologuva of Sansarey Piyasatahan

It was back in 1994, when no one ever gave it a thought - a series of single-episode poya teleplay series. Perhaps it was a challenge, since single-episode teleplay was not a common feature on the prime time belt. Ananda Abeynayaka had the guts to pioneer such a series on Rupavahini called Sansare Piya Satahan, which was telecast every poya at 8.30 p.m.

This year the series celebrates its 15th year. It was however no easy trek, when Abeynayake started 'Sansare Piya Satahan' with Somaweera Senanayaka.

"For the past 15 years, we have been luck to clinch the best single-episode teleplay award 10 times."

That is really something to toast! What should be the guiding factor behind this? Abeynayaka never had a formal education on theatre or teledrama direction. However he has that born knack for absorbing the right elements of life's encounters. One single conversation will be enough for Abeynayake, who wakes up with the dawn of every Poya to work on the next episode's script. If the population is five-million, he will have that number of stories. It is a gross lie, he says, if somebody states the opposite.

Of all events, his father's death is something he could not simply forget in his life.

"We were clearing up his cupboard, when suddenly we came upon a huge album. I was too busy both professionally and personally, so I didn't have a proper chance to sit down and talk along with my father. But when I discovered that album was brimmed with the paper-cuttings of my achievements, I was speechless."

That was the subject for this Poya episode. He keeps on thinking, without getting into writing straight away. He is a talented director who takes the maximum out of his cast. He always directs them on the set. He may let them perform even 25 times, until he gets the take he is happy with.

"When I started Sansare in 1994 most of my performers had a very good training on the stage. They are flexible and easy to handle, compared with most of the overnight mega performers we have to bank on today. They do not have a stage training, and on the other hand, it is very hard to undo their mega-type performance habits."

For senior performers, Abeynayaka goes on to say, physical reactions - especially facial - both after and before the dialogue is very easy. Most of the amateurs are not familiar with before-the-dialogue reaction.

"When you say 'I love you' there are myriad ways to express your response, more than a mere 'yes, I do'. A good performer uses all his senses, or perhaps one sense sharp enough."

One of his unique features is to let silence pervade the plot. We are very much used to dialogues ever since the radio came to our home. It did not die down even when the television invaded our homes. People are still more fond of listening to visuals. Abeynayaka's technique, however, had a good appeal. Not only intellectuals, but normal viewers have also grown interest in his silence feature.

Ananda Abeynayake. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

Abeynayake receiving the award in Japan.

Silence technique can be likened to a walk on a tightrope. If it is misused, the play will bore the viewers. Plot should be interesting and dialogues should be used in really necessary places, rather than the policy of 'minimum dialogues'. He tried silence first in his Jeevithayata Ida Denna with possible fears. But viewers captured his way of creativity.

Ananda started his career with his performance in Dharmasiri Bandaranayaka's Ekadipathi stage play. He then entered the big scene by producing Gamini Fonseka's Sagarayak Meda when he was just 27. He then scripted the film Induta Mal Mitak.

His maiden teleplay was Menika Nadiya in 1988. He had already directed a number of teleplays when he got into fast cutting technique in Ramya Suramya.

Ananda now heads the Telemakers' Guild with a host of plans to carry out.

"We are planning to work on teledramas of the Southeast Asia. We screen their ones here, while our ones will be screened in those countries."

The pilot program will be held in November in two forms: single-episode drama and a multi-episode teledrama cut into one length film. The guild will be conducting a program on visual appreciation too, targeting A/L students as well as undergraduates. Ananda wanted to pioneer the Poya series initially because he wanted to convey spirituality over a creative mode.

"Our kids are not interested in homilies. They don't like to listen to monks drone on the same be-good stuff. However important the monks' message is, it doesn't reach the target group."

Most of the Poya teleplays give out a negative message. But his Sansare leaves something for us to think awhile. That is what makes this 15-year old series still fresh. It's apparently hard to do a sensitive job like scripting and directing a poya teleplay every month, but for Ananda, it is satisfaction. Ananda recalled his experiences with Gamini Fonseka.

"He was someone who gave cast the due credit. Those were the days when producers were addressed as sir. Gamini changed this environment. He was not even in the set when I directed my creations, but his dedication to the field has influenced me a great deal."

Films produced

Sagarayak Meda - Directed by Gamini Fonseka

Maruthaya - Directed by Vasantha Obeysekara

Teledramas directed

Manik nadiya gala basi

Kandegedara

Sankranthi Samaya

Nannadunnani

Deiyo sakki

Ramya suramya

Jeevithayata idadenna

Teledramas produced

Nisela vila - Directed by Prasanna Jeyakodi

Sanda Amavakai - Directed by Prasanna Jeyakodi

Rala bidena thena - Directed by Senesh Dissanayake Bandara

Sansarey Piyasatahan achievements

Won 10 awards for the best single episode teledrama of the year for the past 15 years.

Won Japan Prize for the best Program proposal out of 59 countries, 273 entries.

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