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At locations with Professor Sunil Ariyaratne’s latest cinematic venture :

Kusa Paba reigns in Dambulla

Kusa Paba main cast

* Prince Kusa - Jackson Anthony
* Princess Pabhavathi - Pooja Umashankar
* King Okkaka - Ravindra Randeniya
* Queen Seelavathi - Veena Jayakody
* King Madhu - Palitha Silva
* Queen Madhu - Kusum Renu
* Kudhi - Chandani Seneviratne
* Prince Jayampathi - Roshan Ranawana
* Soldiers - Mahendra Perera and Mahinda Pathirage


Jackson and Pooja as Kusa and Pabhavathi. Picture by Vishwa Balasooriya


Palitha and Kusum as King and
Queen Madhu

Just when one is starting to expect too much of him after masterpieces like Sudu Sevaneli and Uppalavanna, ace director Senior Professor Sunil Ariyaratne seems to raise the bar with his magnum-opus, Kusa Paba.

Based on the 523rd story (Kusa Jathaka) in the Jathaka story series, the film portrays beautifully the defiance of Pabhavathi towards Kusa once she discovers that he is not the handsome husband she imagines him to be and how he wins her back through wisdom and prowess.

Kusa Paba contains just about everything you could ask for in a historical spectacle. You get glamour and gold aplenty, battles, love, devotion, betrayal and comeuppance, all handled in a smart, efficient manner that allows them to spread out across a vast canvas that will solicit admiration.

A grand production encompassing larger than life sets, star caste and glittering costumes, Kusa Paba is in league with well known epics like the Trojan War and Anthony and Cleopatra from the western literature.

For the past few months, Prof Ariyaratne remained busy handling the shooting of the film in Ranmihithenna, Sigiriya, Sithul Pavvwa and Magul Maha Viharaya. A majority of the scenes were shot in Ranmihithanna Tele Cinema village in Tissamaharama. Kusa Paba is the first Sri Lankan movie to be shot in Ranmihithenna.

The team recently moved to Dambulla to shoot the scenes in which Pabhavathi is supposed to be slayed at the scaffold and handed over to her seven suitors. Silence descends on the sets as the figure, dressed in white silk, a garland of red flowers around her neck and mounted on a white horse emerges from the distance followed by a procession of humble villagers.

By her side is her loyal servant, Kudhi, ever watchful of her safety yet powerless to prevent the impending doom. King Madhu and his queen wait ahead, stricken with grief by their daughter’s fate. Still ahead stand seven men, each bearing an axe menacingly.

A shiver runs through the crowd as they witness these episodes and their heart goes out to the maiden who has to pay the price for her beauty and recklessness of leaving behind a worthy husband.

Around 120 cast and crew members work on the Kusa Paba film sets each day. Heenatigala Premadasa handles the art direction of the movie and is backed by 25 others. Make up artists Prathap M Bogoda, Sameera Madhu Kindelpitiya, Chandrasiri Roopananda and Gunatileke Premalal are in charge of the make up department.


Triple effort: Director Prof Ariyaratne with
Dissanayake and Warnasuriya


Axe bearers

The ever-selective Jackson Anthony stars as the benevolent Kusa, the prince of the Malla kingdom, who falls in love with fair Pabhavathi, the princess of the Sagala kingdom, played effortlessly by Pooja Umashankar.

“Kusa is said to have a face which resembles an oil cake (Kavum). Several of our local make up artists tried to create this look for Jackson but failed. Therefore we had to hand over the task to Indian make up artists. The project fell on Anil Vishnu’s hands. He was the make up artist for Dashavatar, the movie about the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu,” Professor Ariyaratne explained.

Anil and Prathap took a copy of Jackson’s face with them to India and constructed a nose out of the latest technological devices. Interestingly only one nose could be used for a session. Around 50 noses were imported to Sri Lanka for shooting to take off.

Another noteworthy aspect is the gorgeous costumes which are adorned by the caste in the film. All the costumes and jewellery had to be imported from India to fit the setting.

Award winning cinematographer Channa Deshapriya handles the camera. The hairstyles are by Lalith Dharmawardena. Around 200 dancers take to the stage in the final scene under the guidance of choreographer Chandana Wickramasinghe.


The entrance of the seven kings. Pictures by Saman Sri Wedage

Five songs, penned by Prof Ariyaratne, had been included in the film. Edward Jayakody, Harshana Nanayakkara, Uresha Ravihari, Nirosha Virajini and Kasun Kalhara have rendered their voices for the songs.

Around Rs 100 million funds will go into making the movie. A host of seasoned film-makers and producers will shoulder the budget. The production panel comprises H D Premasiri, Somaratne Dissanayake, Renuka Balasooriya, Dhammika Siriwardena, Udayakantha Warasuriya, Sunil T Fernando, Janith Marasinghe, Rasika Jinasena, Tissa Nagodavithana, Justin Belagamage, Ariyadasa Peiries and Prof Sunil Ariyaratne.

As the crew ready themselves to go for another take on the scene of seven kings on seven elephants, Prof Ariyaratne shared these views with Daily News ‘Projector’. Excerpts:

Q: Why did you choose the Kusa Jathaka for your film?

A: I used to teach the Kaw Silumina when I was a lecturer at the Jaffna, Kelaniya and Jayewardenepura universities. These poems are based on the Kusa Jathaka. I used to visualize the scenes like a film. That was when the dream of making a film out of the story was born.

I revealed this to Dr Tissa Abeysekara four years ago and he penned the script of the film. This is his last film script. Though he is no longer with us today we have been discussing this production for a long time.

Though Jathaka tales had been related by the Buddha there are some stories similar to those in Greek, Arabian and European folktales. The theme of an ugly person turning into a handsome prince after winning the heart of a fair maiden is even found in fairytales. This story connects with the audience. I wanted to weave this romantic essence into the film. There are some interesting turns of events as the tale flows. I immediately reacted to these incidents. I saw a story there that needed to be told.

Q: Kusa Paba comes more than three years after Uppalavanna.

A: I take time to make a film. Sudu Sevaneli came eight years after Ahas Maliga. Likewise there is a gap between Uppalavanna and Kusa Paba. Though my first 10 films were made back to back I changed my approach with Sudu Sevaneli. I took more time to engage in research.


Pabavathi led to her death in a procession

There is much that needs to be done and since I am actively involved in the project it is bound to take some time. I prefer to get into the minute detailing to make the product look as good as possible. Therefore my next film too will take at least another two or three years to be made.

Q: What are the challenges you met in making the film?

A: The biggest challenge was to bring the image of India into the Sri Lanka landscapes. The background, buildings, costumes and music all had to be Indian to make this film work. Outdoor shooting was the worst because we had to make sure that nothing is out of place. We had to seek means of avoiding obstacles and features which do not go along with the story. It’s been a grueling but enriching experience.

Q: You have made a number of films based on religious aspects. Is that your comfort zone?

A: Not really. I did not have the idea that I should necessarily engage in films relating to Buddhism. A film based on the Kusa Jathaka has been in my thoughts for some time. It is coincidental that it comes after Uppalavanna which also happens to be related to Buddhism. I chose the Kusa Jathaka for its dramatic scenes and because it caught my fancy.

Q: Where do you place Kusa Paba in your cinema career?

A: This is probably one of the most challenging tasks that I have taken on in my career. I expect the audience’s warm response. I have gone to great measures to give them quality entertainment. Kusa Paba embodies some of the best features of commercial cinema.

Q: You have commented several times before that Dr Abeysekara is the best script writer that we have.

A: I stick by my word. He is the best we have had in the 60 years of Sri Lankan cinema history. I will have to contemplate a great deal on whom to choose to write the script of my next film because I do not see anyone who can match his brilliance. There is a huge vacuum in the script writing scene without Dr Abeysekara.

Shooting scheduled to be wrapped up on September 6. The team had zeroed-in on next year for the release date.


Aarakshan:

India's reservation policy comes centre stage

Credits

* Director: Prakash Jha
* Producors: Prakash Jha and Firoz A. Nadiadwala
* Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Deepika Padukone and Prateik Babbar

Since making her debut in Om Shanti Om, Deepika Padukone has gone on to play a myriad of characters in films ranging from comedy, to drama, to hot item numbers, to even suspense and of course romance.

The actress is now considered one of the hottest stars in Bollywood. Her upcoming release is the socio-political drama Aarakshan, directed by Prakash Jha. The film takes a look at the policy of reservation in the Indian education system, but more at a personal level and how it impacts the lives of families and friends.

Talking about how she chooses her projects, the actress revealed, “I think I completely go by my gut instinct when I go for a narration. I instantly know whether I connect with the subject or not and that’s it.” For Aarakshan, it was the subject matter that drew her to saying yes to the role.


Deepika and Saif in a scene from Aarakshan

“I think the fact that reservation today in our country is such an important issue and such a relevant issue, I think that’s why I felt the need to be a part of a film like this.” Of course, the chance to work with the director and the amazing cast was another big draw. In the film, Deepika plays Poorbi Anand, who is Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter and also Saif Ali Khan’s love interest.

“She’s a girl who is confident; she has a mind of her own. But at the same time she’s a girl that because of reservation and the complexities of society she’s torn between her family and her relationship.

She understands both sides, the advantages and the disadvantages reservation has on people, but unfortunately she’s caught in the middle of that. She’s in a situation where she doesn’t know whose side to take.

It’s difficult because you know both sides and especially, like in the film, when you have such close ties with your boyfriend and your family and you’re torn between the two, then it is a tough decision,” Deepika said.

This is the first time the actress has worked with director Prakash Jha and she says it was a learning experience, “He’s definitely one of the senior most technicians I’ve worked with. One can learn a lot working with him especially on an issue and a subject like this. He’s a tough task master, but at the same time there is a paternal caring side to him as well.”

Though the film does tackle a very controversial subject there are also lighter moments in the film including a romance with Saif Ali Khan. This is her second film starring opposite the actor and she says it was a pleasure to work with him again. “He’s a wonderful co-star.

I’m glad that we’ve done two-three films now and that people like us together as an on-screen couple,” she said adding that with such an intense film as Aarakshan, it was really helpful to have that comfort level and familiarity of having worked with him on a film before.

The film will begin screening at Colombo Regal from September 8 to 14. Bollywood Spice

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