Renowned Film director and screenplay writer Dharmasena Pathiraja popularly known as “Pathi”has passed away at a private hospital in Kandy on Sunday Jan 28th. The 74 year old film maker made waves in Sri Lankan cinema through films like “Bambaru Avith”, “Eya dan Loku Lamayek”, “Soldadu Unnaha” and “Ponmani” etc
Educated at Dharmaraja College, Kandy, Pathiraja graduated from the University of Peradeniya with an honours degree in Sinhala and Western Classical Culture in 1967. Subsequently he began work as a lecturer in Drama and Performance Arts. and later obtained a PhD in Bengali cinema from Monash University in Australia
.His Thesis was The Dialectic of Region and Nation in the Films of Bengali Independents: Ghatak, Ray and Sen(2001) .
He learnt the language of cinema from the film society movement which was very popular in Sri Lanka in early sixties. He also recognized their socio-political limitations in a country which was heading for a period of deep turmoil. He also studied the cinema of radical activists like Jean-Luc Godard, Third Cinema filmmakers like Fernando Solanas and Glauber Rocha, and Asians like Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak.
Pathiraja made a short 10-minute film titled Saturo in 1970. His full-length feature film “Ahas Gauwa “followed four years later. Dealing with the urban lower class, the film was atypical of most commercial films of that period. It was critically well-received, sweeping the FCJAC Awards landing Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor and winning the Office Catholique Internationale Du Cinema (Sri Lanka) awards for Best Film and Best Director.
1975’s Eya Dan Loku Lamayek was Sri Lanka’s entry at the 9th Moscow International Film Festival, winning a Special Diploma for Female Performance in 1976 and the Special award from the peace council of the USSR to be screened at the 18th Venice Film Festival in Bergamo, Italy in 1975.
1978’s Bambaru Avith is widely considered Pathiraja’s masterpiece. That year it represented Sri Lanka at the 10th Moscow International Film Festival and was screened at the Venice and Los Angeles Film Festivals. In Sri Lanka it was awarded Best Director and Best Film honors at the first Presidential Film Awards and the OCIC Awards. In 1997 a special council selected to celebrate 50 years of Sri Lankan Cinema named it the fourth best Sri Lankan film of all-time.
Later that year, Pathiraja made the Tamil film Ponmani shown at the International Film Festival in India. 1980 saw the filming of Para Dige which was shown some time later at UCLA in the Third World Cinema Program and in France and Melbourne.
1981’s Soldadu Unnahe would be Pathiraja’s last film for 13 years. It was Sri Lanka’s entry to the 8th International Film Festival of India and was awarded Best Film, Best Director and best Script at the third Presidential Film Awards and Best Director and Best Film at the OCIC Awards. OCIC named it the best Sri Lankan film of the 1980 –1990 period in 1990.
1994’s Wasuli was a relatively minor film. In 2001 Pathrija returned on a bigger scale with Mathu Yam Dawasa shown at the Singapore International Film Festival and the 4th Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema, New Delhi.
Dharmasena Pathiraja started his academic career at the University of Kelaniya as an assistant lecturer. Later he worked as a lecturer in several Sri Lankan universities, including, University of Jaffna, University of Ruhuna and University of Colombo. Dharmasena Pathiraja was serving as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Media Training Institute at the time of his passing away.
He had been ailing for a while and had been admitted to a private hospital in Kandy where he breathed his last in the morning of Sunday January 28th 2018. The last rites of the veteran filmmaker will be conducted in Kandy.