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Rekawa and Lester

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Part 2
Associated with Lester at the Government Film Unit were cameraman Willie Blake and editor Titus de Silva (later Thotawatte). Yearning to evolve more meaningful films, the trio resigned from the GFU and embarked on the  venture to make the path –breaking film”Rekava”.The trio broke up later with Blake migrating to  Canada  and Thotawatte becoming a film director in his own right. Thereafter Peries worked with a number of different artistes and technical personnel without being tied up to a  permanent team for too long. The only exception was perhaps his wife Sumithra who has been  consistently editing his films and assisting in screenplays. In later years Sumithra blossomed forth as a successful film director who could portray feminine but not necessarily feminist issues sensitively on screen.

    Associated with Lester at the Government Film Unit were cameraman Willie Blake and editor Titus de Silva (later Thotawatte). Yearning to evolve more meaningful films, the trio resigned from the GFU and embarked on the  venture to make the path –breaking film”Rekava”


The first Sinhala movie was Kadawunu Poronduwa (Broken Promise). Made in India, it was released in 1947. Most Sinhala films in the first decade were heavily influenced by Hindi and Tamil masala movies. It was said that the only things Sinhala about them were the actors, dialogue and the words in the songs. The pioneering departure from this trend was by Lester in 1956 when his maiden feature film Rekava (Line of Destiny) was released. Shot entirely in Sri Lankan outdoor locations, the path-breaking film altered the destiny of Sinhala films.  It was hailed as a turning point in the decade-long evolving history of Sinhala cinema.


Prominent journalist Mervyn de Silva described Rekava as “the birth of Sinhala cinema” itself when writing about it.Critics like Regi Siriwardene, the well known Sri Lankan writer and  journalist  described Rekava as an “event of tremendous importance.” Writing a review of the film in the “Observer” Regi had this to say:“The story of Rekava is a village story. Our national film-makers have hitherto ignored the setting in which the great majority of the people of this land live..And so in the very first few moments of Rekava, you realise that you are in an entirely different world from that of the Sinhalese film up to now. We are no longer watching preposterous puppets animated by synthetic emotions: this is life itself. What Lester Peries has done is to tear down the artificial barriers that the Sinhala film industry has erected between the screen and the real life of our own people”.

    Gamperaliya was the first of a film trilogy based on novels by Martin Wickremasinghe. The others were Kaliyugaya (age of Kali) made in 1982 and Yuganthaya (End of an Era) made in 1983.The three films made after long intervals of time depicted on celluloid the collapse of the old order and the emergence of the new.Together they comprise an epic of transition portraying vividly on screen the struggle between a dying world and another struggling to be born.


India’s greatest film maker Satyajit Ray had  burst upon the global film scene before Lester James Peries. Ray’s “Pather Panchali” was made in 1955 and “Aparajito” in 1956. Since Lester’s Rekava was released in late 1956 many reviewers wrongly assumed that  Ray had inspired Peries. Satyajit Ray  himself considered Lester to be of the same mould as him and once referred to the Sri Lankan  director as his “closest relative east of the Suez”. In spite of the creative affinity between the two, Peries was not influenced by Ray when he made his first film.


Regi Siriwardena once  told  me in an interview  that Lester had not seen Pathar Panchali or Aparajito  when he first made Rekava. Regi who has worked as scriptwriter with Peries on some films told this writer  that the first Ray film viewed by Lester was Aparajito and that too was only after Rekava was made. “It is a classic instance of two great Asian directors being of the same creative wavelength and proceeding on a parallel course independent of each other,” stated  Siriwardena .
After Rekava Peries made Sandesaya (Message) in 1960.It was  a historic drama set against the Portugese conquest. It had some magnificent scenes of battles. There was also the popular baila song”Porthugeesi Karaya” in the film.

NEXT: Gamparaliya