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Nita strikes the right chord

Swara to support the fight against AIDS :


Nita Fernando. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

She is one of those evergreen stars whom you would find hard to forget when you look back on the annals of Sri Lankan cinema. Though many of her contemporaries have faded with time, she sparkles now and again via thought-provoking projects.

For her it is more of a sense of duty combined with passion. She is one in a handful who had used her ‘star power’ for a worthy cause rather than a tool for wealth and self preservation.

Looking back at her recent projects from Pawuru Walalalu (Walls Within) to Nisala Gira (Silent Honour) and Teja, we see her getting into the skin of diverse female personalities ranging from the emotional single mother to a drug addicted politician’s wife and a leader who took up arms against the exploitation of female factory workers.

This year she and her close friend Yolanda Weerasinghe have embarked on another mission: to uncover the fears, misinterpretations and misconceptions revolving around HIV patients.

“Swara (Seven Notes) embodies a strong message. It is about stigma and discrimination against people who are living with HIV. We were in contact with many people who are suffering from the virus. After they saw the movie, they began to believe that I myself am an AIDS victim because of the manner in which I have portrayed Narmadha’s character,” said Nita Fernando.

Swara was screened at NFC’s Tharangani hall on December 1, World AIDS Day, in partnership with the Living with Hope Foundation and The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka.


Danu and Buddika


Shriyantha and Nita


Sachini and Damitha

Swara is the team’s ‘small token’ in aiding those whose spirits have been drained by the people around them who oppress them rather than utter a few words or perform a gesture to uplift their morale.

The movie will be released next year in local theatres. It stars Nita, Sachini Ayendra, Anusha Rajapakse, Danu Insinthamby, Damitha Abeyratne, W Jayasiri, Shiryantha Mendis and Diluni Malawarachchi.

Q: Though your career picked up with entertainment based movies, you have recently begun dwelling on projects with much deeper themes revolving around social issues.

A: I took part in many commercial films in my early days. They were a means in which producers made money and I attained popularity. Now the time has come for me to do something on behalf of the society using my star status.

Though I still believe that I have a good number of years ahead of me, I also realize that seasoned artistes like me are gradually approaching the end of our career.

The social awareness projects which I engage in are my contribution to better the society and my country. I returned from Canada with that idea in mind. God has given me the gift to act and touch peoples’ hearts. I am using those qualities in a different manner now.

Films of this nature demand serious acting. I am able to use my talents more efficiently for these projects to dive home the message. That satisfies me and gives me a lot of happiness.

Q: Movies and programmes have been made on similar topics before. Do you think such social awareness campaigns have an impact on the society?

A: Yes, definitely. We have had feedback from many parties after the movies were screened. For example parents who watched Nisala Gira realised that their children have been using drugs via the symptoms projected on screen.

They had rushed them off to rehabilitation centres. They also got to know that such people could be saved if they were given the necessary help. If we can save at least 10 or 15 people through such a project, I believe that we have done some service.

Pawuru Walalu centred on a family issue. It has a universal appeal. Such projects may not be profitable money wise but the results are morally fruitful.

Q: What new experiences did Swara offer you?

A: Yolanda and I have been planning this movie for a few years. We engaged in a lot of research to get the realistic feeling into the story.

The movie deals with an incurable virus. We cannot create situations out of the imaginative when we give facts related to a real life situation.

Dr Nimal Edirisinghe and Dr Ratnayake helped us get information and meet people who are suffering from HIV and AIDS related conditions. We absorbed these details and incorporated them into the story.

We also read up articles on the Internet to track down incidents taking place around the world. Since we were constantly in contact with the details and characters which undergo plights similar to Narmada’s, I believe she began to live within me.

It was not difficult to give life to her because I knew the reality of the situation. It was a different experience for me but I was able to bond with the character’s emotions and situations easily.

Q: This is the second time that you are working with Yolanda. How has that experience been?

A: Yolanda is a hard worker. If she has her heart set on something, she does not give in easily. She does a lot of research and gets real facts concerning the topic she is dealing with. At most times I leave her to attend to those matters while I try to concentrate on getting my character right.

Q: You do not shy away from working with new directors.

A: They embody diverse ideas and are not afraid to explore them. The veterans did their best during their era and now the time has come for someone new to take over the reins.

We need to go along with the new system to make quality creations. Technology has evolved through the years and we need to fit it into our productions.

I find their methods interesting and if they offer me a role which captivates me I do not hesitate to work under them.

Sanjaya Nirmal did an exceptional job with Swara. He understood Yolanda’s theme and set the visuals in the most appropriate manner. He was very willing to cooperate, be patient and learn whatever was included in the script to make a good production. I believe that he gave the best of himself to Swara.

Q: You have been in the field for more than 40 years (with a 20-year break in-between) and had taken part in many outstanding movies. Do you feel that directors have not offered you the opportunity to explore the height of your acting potentials?

A: There is a slight feeling like that but it is not always true because quite a number of directors had tried to find me to take part in their projects while I was in Canada. I believe that there is still a lot of unexplored talent bottled up within me. My passion in life is acting and I haven’t been offered a character which had really challenged my acting capabilities to the full yet.

Q: Do you have a character in mind which you would like to give life to?

A: I would like to play the role of a female who is mentally disturbed to a great extent. I have touched upon that aspect in Violet’s role in Pawuru Walalu but I need a bigger scope to really bring out those psychotic features. The same can be said of my character in Bambara Wallalla. The actions are more evident then but I would like to portray a character with the actions toned down and displaying more of the psychological angle.

It is difficult to portray such characters because they are far from the normal lifestyle. It is hard to tap the core of such mentally unbalanced characters because they are transported to another mental zone. The art is not to make the audience laugh at your state or make them think that you are overacting. I would also like to take on the role of an academic such as a professor engaged in research and experiments. It will be a new experience for me as I have never gotten into the shoes of such a role before.

Q: Out of all the characters you have portrayed so far which is closest to you?

A: There are two characters which are close to me. One is Nilupa in Duhulu Malak and the other is Violet of Pawuru Walalu.

I have experienced similar emotions which these characters have undergone. Those do not come out of my own life but through someone very close to me. Violet’s character struck a chord in my soul because it was almost as if she had been a part of me.

Q: What has remained unchanged about you after all these years?

A: My willpower. Ever since I stepped into films my determination was strong. I was stubborn in my decisions. I began to think more positively and make decisions on my own. I was determined to return to Sri Lanka from Canada and make a movie and the result was Pawuru Walalu. I still let my willpower lead my verdict.


Tintin in town

Is there a better way to start a Hollywood friendship than handing someone an Oscar as you shake his hand for the first time? That's what happened when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won the Academy Award for best picture and Steven Spielberg was the presenter as producer-director Peter Jackson came forward to pick up the most coveted trophy in town.

The two filmmaking titans are now collaborators on The Adventures of Tintin, a movie that takes Europe's beloved boy adventurer and introduces him to an American audience through a cutting-edge cinematic creation that, to most observers, pushes the envelope for animation and, for some skeptics, tests the film academy's definitions of what is and what isn't animated.

Spielberg and Jackson spoke earlier in the year about the project's spirit of adventure both on and off the screen.

Q: A fundamental early decision with any project is tone. What can you tell us about the tone of Tintin?

Jackson: I read Tintin before I could read. When I was 5 or 6 years old, I would just look at the pictures, and then I learned to read and found out more about the characters and the humor and the plot. And then, eventually, as everyone does, I grew older than Tintin, and I looked back at the books again and I saw the social satire and the way he'd send up bureaucrats and send up the police and anybody he saw around him.

He was very much reflecting the time and the place that he grew up in. He was also reflecting popular culture. I can see now that he must have loved Hollywood action films. What I've tried to do with my contribution to the film was to lock into the different ways that I loved Tintin both as a child and as an adult. Hopefully the film will work on that level, with all the things young viewers will enjoy but also the humor and satire that an adult will pick up.

Q: What did you see as the key challenge of this project?


Scenes from The Adventures of Tintin

Spielberg: The challenge for me was simply to crack the incongruity of a drunken sea captain and a 16- to 18-year-old journalist who winds up being part of the story more than anyone in that profession is ethically allowed to. They are the yin and the yang. Tintin is this squeaky-clean boy scout, he’s intrepid, he won't take no for answer, and in a way he’s a cross between Sherlock Holmes and a young Indiana Jones.

Our job, really, was to find a story that introduces Tintin to Capt. Haddock for the very first time and initiates a whole series of Tintin movies. We went to a (1941) book called Tintin: The Crab With the Golden Claws that first introduced the world to Capt. Archibald Haddock and we started on that page.

Q: Steven, when you were working on the film you said that it made you “feel more like a painter” than at any point in your four-decade career. In what way did you mean that?

Spielberg: I’ve been accustomed through my entire career of getting images to match the things I imagine by going through dozens if not hundreds of people. I found myself on this project - in this particular medium - able to do not just a couple of jobs but to be able to do 15 or 20 jobs. It's an art form that allows me to have control over lighting.

I can underwrite or overwrite a performance and through the animators put (something into a performance) that even the actors didn't bring to the bay. I'm pretty much able to push the camera - I've never been a dolly grip before - I'm able to be a focus-puller. I can have an effect on the hair and makeup.

The Adventures of Tintin is screening at Savoy cinema. Miami Herald


Chipmunks to deliver a squeaking good time

In 2009's The Squeakquel, Alvin, Theodore and Simon were joined by the Chipettes trio of Brittany, Jeanette and Eleanor. Here, everyone goes on a luxury cruise with their songwriter/caretaker, Dave Seville.

Shortly thereafter, the furry sextet get blown off the ship, landing on a deserted island. There, they encounter nutcase Zoe (Jenny Slate). In a forced parody of Cast Away, she has a collection of balls she calls by their brand names.

Oddly, the movie's message about trusting one's children is aimed at parents, though Chipwrecked seems targeted to viewers under 7.

Director Mike Mitchell includes a steady stream of musical numbers that are more grating than entertaining.

The storyline is more coherent, and funnier, than the series’ other frenetic efforts — and it dodges the usual toilet humor to earn a wholesome G rating.

Catch Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked in action at Savoy cinema from December 22.


Humour & action


Tom Cruise

The fourth Mission: Impossible outing has a much lighter tone, thanks to Pixar animation ace Brad Bird, the studio's first director to tackle live action.


The M:I:4 stars

His fresh touch gives breathless energy, tremendous excitement and, above all, humor to what could have been a wearying genre exercise. The plot may be perfunctory but Bird has choreographed some of the most remarkable stunt scenes ever committed to film. Hanging Tom Cruise from the towering Burj Khalifa isn't the half of it. Much thought has gone into revitalizing obligatory scenes like car chases, with tense, witty twists involving Dubai sandstorms and Mumbai gridlock.

Cruise regains some of his star luster as superspy Ethan Hunt. His battles unfold with brutal grace and cleverness. Simon Pegg operates an array of wacky gadgets, from antigravity underwear to a portable mirage projector that is the best iPad app ever. The new film in the series which has grossed $2 billion dollars worldwide will feature locations in Dubai, Moscow, Prague and Vancouver.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is screening at Liberty Lite cinema.

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