My cinema life started with much hardship - Dharmasiri Bandaranayake | Sunday Observer

My cinema life started with much hardship - Dharmasiri Bandaranayake

18 October, 2020
Dharmasiri Bandaranayake    Pic: Thilak Perera
Dharmasiri Bandaranayake Pic: Thilak Perera

Dharmasiri Cinemawalokanaya (Insights into Dharmasiri’s cinematic vision) written by Jeewantha Dayananda, a writer on cinema, was launched recently by Nabo Publishing. It gives new insights into Dharmasiri Bandaranayake’s cinema, and it’s the second book written on his cinematography. The Sunday Observer met Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, a veteran film maker and dramatist to talk about his life, his cinema, and his views on art and social milieus.


Q: Could you say how this book came to be written?

A. The first book which was written on my cinema is Kutumbaya, Lingikatwaya saha Cinemawa (Family, Sex and Cinema) published last year. It was written by Thusitha Jayasundara, a journalist and writer. A few months after launching that book, Jeewantha Dayananda came to me and discussed my cinema. This is the result of that discussion.

Jeewantha tried to analyse my cinema quoting other critics in this book. And Lahiru Randika who was the publisher of this book also helped by printing it as a high quality, hard cover book.

Q: When you talk about your cinema life you say it started with much hardship?

A. Yes. My first film Hansa Vilak was released in 1979. If someone was going to make a film at the time, he or she had to present its script to the National Film Corporation’s Committee to assess screen plays to receive the government loans.

But the Film Corporation whose General Manager was D.B. Nihalsinghe, gave a C grade certificate to my film which meant no loans. I made another request saying that I know the art of film but without the loan facility I couldn’t make a film. But they denied my request. Meanwhile, I met Albert Jayasinghe, Chairman of the Bake House bakery at As Wattuwa (Town Hall) quite accidentally. I told him about my plight.

He asked for a budgetary proposal for the film, and later approved the budget which was Rs. 244,500. Hansa Vilak, my first film was made like this.

Q: There is always a certain audience who appreciate your cinema, though you haven’t been able to make a film for the past 23 years?

A. Yes, I owe a great debt of gratitude to veteran film makers such as Lester James Peries, Sumithra Peries, Wasantha Obeysekera, Dharmasena Pathiraja and Tissa Abeysekara who created a vast highbrow film audience before me.

Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to gather such discerning film fans around my cinema. From 1979 to 1997, I have created five films which were Hansa Vilak, Thunweni Yamaya, Suddilage Kathawa, Bhawa Duka and Bhawa Karma, and with each film I was able to add new fans.

I should say they were not commercial cinema fans, but highbrow cinema fans.

Q: You had separate themes for all your films?

A. Yes, I tried to research each film. For instance, Hansa Vilak consisted of unusual camera angles, a new order of audio and visual techniques and new musical experiments. We could give a new artistic experience in the film for the audience.

Q: The film Bhawa Duka was based on a novel written by your own uncle?

A. Yes, it was written by K.S. Perera, my father’s younger brother who worked as a sub editor at Dinamina, Lake House more than fifty years ago. I chose that novel for my film because it was the story of my father’s family. My father was included in that book as a character along with my grandparents.

Actually, during my young days I was more attracted to my paternal grandfather because he was a chaplain at a Buddhist Devalaya. He was from Thalawatuhenpita, Kiribathgoda.

Q: You attended Horana Vidyarathana College though your ancestral home was in Kiribathgoda?

A. Yes, but it was after we moved to Wadduwa. I received my preliminary education from schools at Kelaniya and Eeriyawetiya. With the decrease of my father’s businesses we, my parents and my two brothers, had to move to Wadduwa where my mother had a land gifted by her mother. Thereafter, I attended Horana Vidyarathana College while my two brothers attended schools such as Wadduwa Central College and Wadduwa boys’ school.

Q: You produced a drama when you were studying at Horana Vidyarathana. Why couldn’t you enter the university?

A. It was because of the JVP insurrection in 1971. We had to leave our educational institutes with the proliferating of this insurrection, thereby, disrupting our education. The worst thing that happened was the destruction of our future goals with regard to education. When we saw the universities which were transformed into rehabilitation centres, our dreams about university education were disappeared. Then my first priority was to find a job, and I received a clerk’s post in the Department of Rubber Control in 1971.

Parallel to the job, my dramatic career also started in 1970s with the production of Ekadhipathi. But after serving twelve long years in the Department of Rubber Control, I had to leave the job because the authorities in the Department refused to permit me holiday leave to take part at the Manheim film festival in Germany at which my film Hansa Vilak was a contender – Fr. Ernest Poruthota was the person who entered my film to that film festival.

Q: But you joined the government service again in the ‘80s?

A. The late minister Gamini Dissanayake gave me a clerk’s job in the Low Land Development Board in his Ministry. But with my next film, Thunweni Yamaya, I quit that job too. I realised that I couldn’t engage in film directing with a full time government service job.

Q: Many of your themes are based on politics. Why is it so?

A. Every man is a political animal and an artiste should be among the people. An artiste has an internal fight within him to face the bizarre situation in society, the fate of humanity. Because of this, he is always stressed.

This is why Japanese writers tend to commit suicide. If a man lives in a stressful surrounding all the time, he is in an abyss. But you cannot live in an abyss forever.

This is why I always criticise the socio political scenario. Without commenting on that you cannot talk about art, because art is based on life.

When you look at our society, you can see so many estranged lives, they are lost and has no hope in life. Politicians use these wretched lives for their political ends.

Q: Do you think an artiste can save humanity from this abyss?

A. Not artiste can do it alone, but all the highbrow people and intellectuals along with artistes can make that great endeavour.

Q: Do you intend to write a new drama?

A. Now, I cannot sit for a long time at a table, so there is only a rare chance that I write a new play or film script.

But I am engaged in a new film now. The script of it was written by my daughter in London, and I am very hopeful about it.