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Sumitra Peries Celebrates her Fiftieth Year in Sinhala Cinema

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By Radhieka Peeris

Ganga addara ma sihil senehi sanahi…” an all time favourite hit song from the 1980 Sinhala classic movie Ganga Addara starts playing in the background.

Vijaya Kumaranathunga comes to mind on the banks of the Kelani river, balancing on his left palm a miniature boat made of dried leaves, extending it towards a young and coy Vasanthi Chaturani in a gesture of friendship mixed with the innocence of pure love.

Sumitra Peries the award winning film directress of the movie enters the hall hand in hand with her husband Dr. Lester James Peiris.

Sumithra Pieris is no stranger to the world of Sri Lankan cinema. She is hailed as the best and one of the pioneering women film directresses in Sri Lankan cinema.

Ganga Addara

Ganga Addara – one of the purest forms of cinematic romance is a best loved classic with its original sound track etched in many a Sri Lankan’s mind.

The movie starred Vasanthi Chaturani and Vijaya Kumaranathunga, the plot was simple and beautiful with just the right balance of love, trust, and tragedy to touch anyone’s heart but, it was the skilled film direction of this trailblazing cinematic lady that made the film touch every viewer’s heart – she makes magic happen.

Taking a glimpse at the Ganga Addara original music video on youtube, one is able to witness how well she has directed Chaturani and Kumaranathunga in the three minute song – be it the speed at which they walk towards each other, their eye contact, their facial expressions, the coy hiding behind a jack fruit tree, and finally leading to a teaser of physical contact starting with the touching of hands – a superb balance just enough to tease and please the senses, with just the right portions of the ‘not too much and not too little’. Pieris shows off her profound knowledge of human emotions thus transforming her into a maker of stars so to speak.

Launch of biographical book

Her directorial debut was in 1978 with Gehenu Lamai, which led to Ganga Addara in 1980, Yahalu Yeheli in 1982, Maya in 1984, Sagara Jalaya Madi Handuwa Oba Handa in 1988, Loku Duwa in 1996, Duwata Mawaka Misa in 1997, Sakman Maluwa in 2003 – all eight of her films have won local and international awards alike. While speaking with Ceylon Today, Peiris mentioned that her latest film Vaishnavi recently completed shooting, and is in the editing stage.

Pieris has been in the cinema industry for half a century now, and has made her signature mark in each and every film she has directed. On Wednesday last week, Film actress Sangeetha Weeraratne and Sherin Kumaranatunga organized a ceremony held at the Hilton Residencies for the triple launch of a biographical book about Pieris, a first day cover and a stamp which was issued in the presence of Minister of Postal services, Jeevan Kumaranatunga.

Introducing the biography, the author – Ajith Galappaththi mentioned that he had spent three years researching for this photographic coffee table book written in Sinhala. From his school days, Galappaththi had always been in love with films made by Pieris starting with Gehanu Lamai. “It was during my research on Sumithra Pieris that I found out that she travelled and lived in a yacht in search of her brother.

As a young girl she had walked into the Boralugoda walauwa – the ancestral home of the three Marxist brothers – Philip, Robert and Harry Gunawardena (her father); intent on seeking her lost brother out she had his name written on a piece of paper and thus began her adventurous travels; landing her squarely in a remote French island where she finally found her brother Gamini Gunawardena who was living the life of an artist in a boat anchored off the island.”

Pix by Pamod Nilru

Speaking to Ceylon Today, Galappaththi seemed positively awestricken when he said, “Sumithra Pieris has held the roles of a director, assistant director, producer, co-producer, and editor of many films. She made her entrance into the cinematic world as an assistant director of Sandeshaaya in 1960 which was directed by Dr. Lester James Pieris, and was the editor of another landmark movie in 1964 – Gamparaliya. It was after these initial experiences that she felt the need to direct her own film.”

About Sumithra

Teledrama and film director, Jayantha Chandrasiri, speaking at the launch said after having done an intentional analysis on the book Sumithra – an extraordinary cinematic biography spanning half a century. Chandrasiri said, “She does not have one perspective that runs through all of her films. Each and every film she has directed has been different, they provoke thought. None of her work has ever bordered on the crass or perverse in any sense. Her life, whether cinematic or personal can be studied many times over.”

Silver screen actor Ravindra Randeniya delivering the vote of thanks mentioned that, “Sumithra Pieris is a film-maker who went in search of her own style and thereby enriched the Sinhala cinema culture by doing so. Her contribution to the Sinhala cinema is unparallel.” Having starred in two of her films, Randeniya considered it as being a “merit that was passed down to him from a previous lifetime.”

“It was when I saw the way Lester shed tears when Sumithra was ill that I realized the depth of the beautiful bond they shared,” he said speaking of the bond between a devoted husband and wife.

Sharing an amusing experience on the sets of the film Maya, Randeniya said “while shooting an intimate scene between Geetha Kumarasinghe and myself, Sumithra kept directing us to be more intimate, and this went on and on, until Lester finally said – “Sumithra, parissamen, meeta passay minissu kiyay ‘kaamay-su-mithra’ kiyala!”

Sumithra Pieris’s keen sense in portraying real human emotions without the frills, coupled with her refined eye for aesthetic appeal has provided the precise quotient that makes each and every one of her movies unique and rich with substance – it may also be the reason why her movies are amongst the best loved classics in Sri Lanka. courtesy: Ceylon Today

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