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29th March 1998

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Frank tale under fire

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

It is not his artistic finesse which has made the news this time, but the controversy surrounding his latest tele film Yuga Willakuwa which long before it was telecast allegedly caused many heads to roll within the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC).

The young director Sudath Rohana is an angry man, claiming to have been victimized by racist factions within the SLRC and the bureaucratic bungling within.

"Yuga Willakuwa was prejudged by certain racist officials, and then came the vituperative media attacks out to discredit me, linking the changes effected at Rupavahini to my tele drama," he says vehemently.

The controversy apart, Yuga Willakuwa is the first of its kind, being the only research based tele drama dealing with the ethnic conflict and filmed at the places where many incidents relating to the war occurred.

Sudath Rohana had no intention of being embroiled in controversies when he first set out on his mission to share his views on the prolonged war. All he wanted to do was to present his view point and indicate the many errors committed by the national leadership which caused the war to continue.

The tele drama commences with the massacre of devotees at the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in 1985, and goes on to highlight many important incidents like Thilippan's fast unto death, President Premadasa holding talks with the LTTE at Hilton, the IPKF's arrival, the infamous supply of arms to the LTTE, culminating with the failed PA's negotiations with the terrorists.

"I think, living in our safe havens and amidst our friends and families, we only have a superficial understanding of the war. One must live it to believe it," he says with fervour.

He quickly illustrates this point with some of his recent experiences in the Northern peninsula.

Squadron Leader Thushantha Edirisinghe and Major Samantha Ginimellage assisted the crew in finding exact locations and refining the military aspect of the tele drama. Having lived like one family in the war torn areas amidst artillery shelling, it devastated the artistes to witness the two war heroes becoming victims of the continuing operations while the shooting process was on.

"It had such an impact.For days we felt benumbed by pain. It is by living with them that we understood the impact of war on civilians and the military alike," he said. Inspired by the work of Rajini Thiranagama(Co-author of The Broken Palmyrah who was later killed by the LTTE) the main female character is fashioned similar to her life, as a dedication to the humanitarian view she had of the entire question of war.

The story written by veteran dramatist and author Sugathapala de Silva evolves around Rajitha, a young doctor (Palitha de Silva) and Revathi (Ranjanie Rajmohan). It critically speaks of the arms traders who wish for the continuation of war to amass wealth and the political follies which have contributed to the disaster

But Sudath Rohana admits that the recent episodes have had a daunting effect on him. Even the media did not play its vital role as impartial commentator, instead siding with those advocating falsehoods, he says.

"There was witch hunting and distortion of facts. I was accused of having extended my teledrama by using Rupavahini library shots to accommodate a government requirement. The story originally had 24 episodes and we have stuck to it. It was sold for Rs. 68,000 and not 80,000 as some claimed.

"Infact there are more people who know about the production cost of my tele film than I do. It was demoralizing to me, all the artistes and the crew because only we know the difficulties we faced," he says.

The only library shots were of the 1994 elections and Presidential Secretary K. Balapatabendi leading a delegation to Jaffna. Sudath poses the query whether it was possible for him to get Mr. Balapatabendi to be included in his cast for him to personally shoot the necessary scene.

Yet, sweeping changes in the Rupavahini top rung were made recently and Yuga Willakuwa which has the blessings of the government was the alleged cause of such speedy changes.

Sudath emphatically refutes the charges, adding that he has requested SLRC authorities to make available the Saturday 8.30 pm belt once the telecasting series (Ingammaruwa) was concluded, treating his creation as a priority concern due to its relevance to the present situation. Traditionally, the Saturday 8.30 pm belt was reserved for SLRC productions and the director was told to wait.

"No daggers were drawn as certain people imagined, and I was provided the alternative of telecasting at 9.15pm instead. Dayaratna Ratagedara's tele series Dolosmahe Api scheduled for the 8.30 pm belt soon began telecasting. It was the same Deputy Director General who helped me to find an alternative belt who also caused a stir with his controversial resignation, though not linked at all to my production," Sudath says with emphasis.

Earlier his Wanawadulehi Wasanthaya caused a controversy with then Deputy Media Minister seeking to either ban it or to heavy edit it owing to one Muslim trader's character in the tele film.

The young director says that all his creations have had some impossible stumbling blocks put in their path by others. Several years ago, the senseless censoring reached such heights that a Tele Guild was founded to fight unfair and destructive censorship of tele dramas. Then came the many wars with the authorities due to the controversial topics he chose or the characters, culminating with the Yuga Willakuwa controversy.

The affable man adds he has always felt that what prompted him to do this tele drama despite the heavy criticism was his plain belief that a military solution would not resolve the ethnic problem.

"The package is not the answer perhaps," he says reflectively. There were too many provisions contained in the package with which he disagreed.

But, if he wanted to dedicate his much talked of creation to anyone, it would be to the heroic soldiers and not to politicians who prolonged it, he says with candour.

Watch out for Widows

Stage Light & Magic Inc. whose hi-tech production of Julius Caesar, The anatomy of an Assassination shot them into prominence last year, will stage Widows by Ariel Dorfmann in May. Fans of Ariel Dorfmann who enjoyed plays like The Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Death & the Maiden will no doubt enjoy this play which explores the sensitive issues of social and sexual prejudice in the background of a brutal suppression of an 'insurrection'.

For this production Stage Light & Magic Inc. has collaborated with The Workshop Players.

The Workshop Players under the guidance of Jerome L. de Silva, have produced a string of mega- productions such as Les Miserable, Cats, Lost in the Stars and The Royal Hunt of the Sun. Stage Light &Magic Inc's modern production of Julius Caesar saw multi-media on a scale never seen before in English theatre.

With Widows however, gone are the hi-tech effects and gadgetry and in its place they intend to thrill audiences with a combination of energized acting and powerful characterization.

The play is directed by Feroze Kamardeen and Tracy Holsinger who has returned to Sri Lanka after 5 years in England. Both Kamardeen and Holsinger also play roles in Widows, whose cast comprises some fine actors and actresses. Some of the other members of the cast are John Benedict (Brutus in Julius Caesar), Ifaz Bin Jameel, Karen Balthazar, Wanda Gottleib, Michelle Pereira, Dr. Neluka Silva, Hasini Halpe & Ruwanthi de Chickera.

Widows is set to go on the boards of the Lionel Wendt Theatre from May 14-17. The play is sponsored by Keells Super Crescat. The media sponsors of the play are TNL Radio, The Sunday Times & The Midweek Mirror.

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