Prof. Carlo Fonseka
Ever since I saw innovative director Jayantha Chandrasiri’s fancifully named “Butterfly Symphony”, the recurring sentiment I associate with it is “beauty”. As it happens, beauty, truth and goodness were the three values secular-minded undergraduates of our time (1950s) fashionably professed to pursue. Butterfly Symphony is a beautiful film. Its rich music composed and conducted by up-and-coming young musician Darshana Ruwan Disanayaka(a known Amadeus Mozart fanatic) is enchantingly beautiful.
In fact it was the heartbreaking rendition in a television ad for the film by superlative vocalist Amarasiri Pieris of the phrase “mata mage novena magema aadarayak thibuna” from the theme song of the film that induced my whole family to see Butterfly Symphony. The film is based on a beautiful fantasy, to wit, the passionate love of a young musician for an older woman whose letter to her betrothed went astray and accidently fell into the hands of the young musician. The musician Vadeesha Devaminda Wickramanayaka is sensitively portrayed by Uddika Premaratna, and the woman Punya by the iconic Yashoda Wimaladharma. Her perfectly proportioned face greatly enhances the beauty of the Butterfly Symphony.
From the contents of Punya’s letter the musician creates in his imagination a mature woman of flesh and blood for whom he takes a fancy which gradually transforms itself into an unrequited passionate obsession. This experience seriously disrupts his domestic life. Deprived of his mother’s love from early childhood, there is evidently a void in Vadeesha’s life crying to be filled by a sensitive mature woman. He yearns to return the undelivered letter to its rightful owner, but the search for her takes an unconscionably long time, in actual fact 20 years. The agony and ecstasy he experienced in the interim before delivering the letter to Punya make up the substance of the film expressed mainly as the music of Butterfly Symphony.
Source of inspiration
In an attempt at achieving self-knowledge the musician Vadeesha explores the inspirational source of musical creation. He recalls Ludwig Beethoven’s view that musical inspiration has a divine origin. On the basis of his own experience, however, Vadeesha feels that the anguish and pain of unrequited love is a potent source of musical inspiration. The haunting music of “mata mage novena magema aadarayak thibuna” which is the cry of his soul, exemplifies the reality of his belief. It brings to mind English poet P. B. Shelley’s memorable line that “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts”.
At all events, Vadeesha’s music captures the public imagination and he becomes quite famous as a musician. His song “mata mage novena magema aadarayak thibuna” tugs at the heart strings of many including Punya herself who becomes one of his adoring fans. Totally innocent of Vadeesha’s relentless search for her, she is delighted to introduce herself to him on a particular day (7 March) at a specific spot (a certain bench) in a special park. (To understand why you must see the film.)This marks the beginning of the resolution of Vadeesha’s guilt ridden retention of Punya’s letter which had become something of a fetish for him. Such, then, is the complex emotional structure of the beautiful Butterfly Symphony.
The question arises whether a man could be passionately obsessed by a woman he has created in his own imagination. I have reason to believe that he indeed could. One of the most intelligent men I have ever known was a Roman Catholic priest. He once told me when I was in my late teens and he in his early forties, that his devotion to the Blessed Virgin, mother of Jesus, was so intense that he would have gladly sacrificed the rest of his life for a glimpse of her. He believed without a whisper of doubt that the Blessed Virgin had ascended into heaven located somewhere in the sky. Thus there seems to be no limit to the human imagination. So Vadeesha’s love for the woman he imagined could well have been something he really felt. At any rate, it inspired in him the impulse to create real music.
You will recall my claim that the Butterfly Symphony was the personification of beauty. Unfortunately, once you judge that something is beautiful you reach a dead end. The only thing left to do thereafter is to enjoy the beauty. If the beautiful thing in question is a piece of music, you can listen to it till the cows come home. Finally the beauty will bore you. As I have already remarked, beauty, truth and goodness were the values we rated highly in our youth. In fact there was a time when I believed that beauty alone gave significance to life. I came to regard a beautiful work of art as the most valuable thing a human being could produce. I have long since abandoned that view. I now realize that beauty is very subjective and very transient. John Keat’s insight that “beauty is truth and truth beauty” is only a variety of unreal poetic truth. Of the three values of my youth beauty, truth and goodness, goodness seems to be the only worthwhile and enduring one. In its own special way Jayantha Chandrasiri’s Butterfly Symphony proclaims the intrinsic potential for goodness in human beings.