Film Review: Father of Independence (Nidahase Piya) | Sunday Observer

Film Review: Father of Independence (Nidahase Piya)

Scene from the film
Scene from the film

“No man is truly great in his lifetime. The test of greatness is the page of History.”

- William Hazlitt (1778-1830) - British Essayist

Enter your favourite cinema theatre. Slip into your allotted seat. Absorb the hum-and-buzz of arriving film-lovers. Get attuned to the darkening of the cinematic cavern. Treat yourself to the mandatory promotional repasts, advertising hypes, singing commercials marketing tooth-paste and tempting bargain sales.

When the title of the main feature offering, adorns the screen, announcing ‘Father of the Nation’, …………(sinhala name) please stop everything. If it can be managed please try to remain with bated breath. But, please focus fully, with whatever effort it calls for. You will be presented a cinematic banquet that has not been equalled by any other film made in Sinhala, since our indigenous film tradition was first launched way back in 1947.

The cinematic gem, we are currently focusing on, has as its general title the stark phrase ‘Father of the Nation’. This expression has no implicit ambiguity, because this land is fully aware of the distinguished personality to whom this sobriquet is popularly applied.

The emphasis given by the title is likely to persuade the filmgoer to expect a cinematic biography of the heroic ultra-patriot, who ensured Sri Lanka, Independence from Colonial Imperial Rule.

As the well-known Prince of ancient Israel, who went in search of a pet lamb that had strayed from his flock and discovered a virgin kingdom, the film-goer hoping to be presented a mere life-story, will be overwhelmed by what he discovers on screen.

The cinematic work has as its thematic area, the dramatic narration of the confused and troubled times that preceded our regaining of freedom from imperial rule on February 4, 1948.

Yet, this is not one of your run-of-the-mill biopics. Nor does it come within the category of docu-drama.

This creation is the cinematic profile of the days during which the Sri Lankan masses under colonial rule sought ways to make a collective effort to rid the land of alien rule as they characterised it.

As in the actual history of the period, in this bio-pic too the central and dominant influence is that of the singular Independence warrior- Don Steven Senanayake.

The pleasure of viewing this film will be profoundly deepened if you went into some of the logistics involved in the making of ‘Father of the Nation’.

To provide the wardrobe that matched the authentic dresses and costumes of the era covered by the film (circa 1890-1950), around 3,000 items of wear had to be designed and created.

The total era had to be rebuilt for the camera taking utmost care to see that nothing of our day will obtrude to mar the genuine recreation of those specific times and places.

With my not inconsiderable experience of film-viewing, I can with total reassurance assert that this is the first-ever occasion a specific phase of Sri Lanka’s recent history has been converted into its film presence faultlessly, representing the lifestyles that were in vogue at that stage. The detail is overpowering, to say the least.

The main storyline is the cinematic chronicling of the struggle for Independence, waged by a committed group of exceedingly loyal Sri Lankans.

The imposition of martial law by a British Governor to enable him to have all the lee-way he so vehemently needed to thwart and suppress the incipient struggle for freedom, is depicted in all its aspects. And in its commitment to impartiality, the film recognises the humanity of some officers in England.

A peculiarly keen pleasure that the filmgoers will experience is seeing outstanding historical personalities being brought back to life.

Let us look initially at the evolution of the character of D.S. as traced in the film. The Director Suneth Malinga Lokuhewa utilises three actors to represent DS at three stages of life - childhood, youth and mature. Young D.S. is brought to cinema life by reputed young thespian Tumindu Dodantenna.

D.S. Senanayake’s mature and prestigious year are portrayed with exceptionally commendable impressiveness by Luxman Mendis.

The appearance of such well-known statesmen as Sir Baron Jayatilleke, C.W.W. Kannangara S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and others in guises unfamiliar to the moderns, generates a peculiar sense of satisfaction mixed with a little bit of amusement touched with an ‘archaic’ curiosity if such a reaction were possible to a cinematic creation.

The cinematic portrait of the central character, national hero D.S. keeps the audience bound strongly to the progress of the chronicle.

The heartrendingly tragic heroism of youth patriot Henry Pediris, rushed the audience at the presentation of the film to media, into that proverbial pin-drop silence.

The joint effort of all the departments, hard at work behind the camera, consolidates the total appeal of the cinematic creation.

To the fully absorbed viewer, the total cinematic creation may seem concerting on a series of current news items, enlivenly supported by a sense of visual images.

In the recent past, Sri Lankan filmgoers have seen a whole series of cinematic works that have ancient historical eras, as their point of departure.

But, ‘Father of the Nation’ is an entirely different proposition.

The characters and incidents are material from our current experience; as it were their personalities – we feel – are still with us.

In such an atmosphere of intimacy, recreating them for a cinematic chronicle is a highly challenging situation.

We can get away with any portrayal, say of, Vijaya’s era who will challenge our interpretation with evidence drawn from personal experience.

But this is totally a different context. Most adults still remember C.W.W. Kannangara or S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. If the chronicling of details of such ‘current’ personalities is faulty, they can always challenge the makers of ‘Father of the Nation’.

But, the people behind the making of this film have left no room for such fault-finding. I can say this in admiration and in the spirit of paying a tribute.

The chronicling of the principal character has been achieved with such a preoccupation for perfection, that in the slipstream of this film there could be a fresh effort at deification of the celebrated patriot.

The masses will appreciate the effort of the filmmakers to portray a nonpolitical, emphatically human profile of D.S.

The forecast of the Buddhist monk who was consulted by D.S.’s father to enquire about planetary effects of young D.S.’ life will seep into folk memories of D.S. Senanayake’s life.

The monochrome cinematic saga titled ‘Father of the Nation’ is the outcome of an exceptionally heavy production cost.

Those who contributed towards this investment are patriots of noteworthy stature.

As I see it, this enormously discussion-worthy bio pic, will bring into being, a new trend of docu-dramas utilizing the life-chronicles of men and women of exceptional calibre.

If such an outcome could enrich indigenous cinema through responsible and cinematically pace-setting series of bio-pics, it will be a highly welcome move.

In the meantime, the film-loving public should extend their patronage to ‘Father of the Nation’ that will enable men and women adore their heroes, even through the medium of film.