Multiple award-winning film director Vasantha Obeyesekere, whose adoption of real life stories onto the big screen made him one of the biggest names in the country’s film industry, passed away last morning at a private hospital in Colombo. He was 80.
In a film-making career that spanned nearly five decades, Obeyesekere won several presidential awards and numerous other awards, nationally and internationally, while courting both fame and controversy over the years for his work.
Having passed out of the University of Ceylon in 1962, he dabbled in a teaching career before joining the editorial staff of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited. His foray into cinema came in 1967 with the film Sath Samudura, on which he worked as an assistant director. His first film was Wes Gaththo, which Obeyesekere not only produced and directed, but for which he wrote the screen play and acted in too.
He wrote and directed some of the most talked about films in the Sinhala cinema, bringing to life real life stories that were etched in the collective memory of a generation. Most famous among these was Dadayama, which he directed in 1983, bringing to the silver screen the infamous Wilpattu murder case of Adeline Vitharane. The film won Obeyesekere a presidential award for Best Director and propelled Swarna Mallawarachchi to stardom, winning her a string of awards for her role as the ill-fated murder victim.
The film also led to a court case against Obeyesekere with the District Court in Colombo ordering a ban on his film on the grounds the story was copied from a book written by former Supreme Court Judge A.C. Alles. However, in a landmark judgment, the Court of Appeal in 2002 upheld an appeal in favour of the film director.
Obeyesekere won the award for Best Director at presidential awards conducted by the National Film Corporation for several of his films including Palangatiyo (1979), Dadayama (1983), Dorakada Marawa (1998) and Theertha Yaathra (1999). His other films such as Kedapathaka Chaaya (1990) and Salelu Warama (2003) were also well received. The last film he directed was Aganthukaya (2007). In 2005 Obeyesekere was conferred the national honour of Kala Keerthi for his contribution to