Dr Somaratna Dissanayake and Renuka Balasuriya should be commended for the grand cinematic creation 'Siri Perakum' for three reasons. Firstly, although the theme and the plot deviates from the already established historical accounts stated in Rajawaliya and Mahavansa, both Somaratna and Renuka have reconstructed and recreated a subjective history and have created a film which produces a 'truth effect' upon the audience.
Secondly, the superb aesthetic technique explores all aspects of human life experiences including, childhood pleasures, love, conflicts, loss and gain and even death. Thirdly, the genre, style and structure of the film are powerful with strong historical as well as contemporary relevance as it argues a persuasive political and moral case while offering convincing characters and a realistic setting.
The creators of Siri Perakum have selected a turbulent period in Sri Lankan history when the Polonnaruwa regime was crumbling and the Dambadeniya era was being born external forces were playing havoc while internal treason and power conflicts were boiling.
King Vijaya Bahu 111 (1238-1271) had to fight against Magha and in 1235 he had to shift the seat of Government from Polonnaruwa to Dambadeniya. It was in the village Kalundava the prince Parakramabahu grew up as Appuva in a Gamarala's cottage together with Gamamahage and their two daughters. The prince was brought there by a washer woman (redi nanda), given to her by Vijaya Bahu's faithful minister. It was a safety measure taken to save the prince from the evil plans of Vijaya Bahu's second queen who was planning to place her son Vathimi on the Sri Lankan throne.
This queen was not a Sinhala Buddhist. Vathimi could not become king and the Buddhist clergy, in particular the Chief High Priest (Sangaraja) was against the queen's evil plan. So the film builds on this main conflict and Somaratna has expertly crafted this film during a hard time in history. It is an outstanding film on account of this strategy itself.
The title of the film is symbolic of an outstanding hero. The wondrous countryside with hills, forests, lakes, waterfalls, paddy fields together with simple hard working folk fauna and flora appear and reappear as icons right throughout the film. The joyous rhythm of childhood is quite impressively portrayed with music and dance.
The flocks of white cranes lifting over the fields and the buffaloes roaming are symbolic of freedom. The dream of Appuva of a swarm of bees covering his leg up to the knee level is a traditional symbol heralding a wondrous fortune. Accordingly the Royal Tusker kneels before him and Appuva becomes the king of Sri Lanka.
The Gamarala's cottage, the village blacksmith's workshop, and many other places symbolize the rural life was during the chosen historic period. In the structure of the film the traditional linear pattern is retained with an impressive breath taking introduction followed by interwoven conflicts and a bright resolution is observed.
There is also a sub-plot woven around Appuva, Gamarala's family with the two daughters and the washerwoman. But it merges with the main plot and leads into the big finale shattering all dreams of the villagers of Kalundeva and the audience.
The opening scene of the film is impressive and remarkable as it introduces the key characters placed in the proper perspective, setting and relationships to be followed by the terrible war to save the nation from the imposters/invaders.
It also sets the basic socio-economic and political situation in a turbulent period in history. By and by Somaratna takes the audience through a voyage towards a heritage by this serial masterpiece cinematic creation. It is not a romantic fairytale. It imples that during that turbulent period. Sri Lanka was really a divided or even class based society, with different standards and different lifestyles for people according to their means and not according to their merits.
The crucial and unique strength and power of the Buddhist clergy for saving Buddhism and the nation are concentrated in the Sangaraja.
Somaratna and Renuka have been blessed by a team of excellent artists. Chandani Seneviratne (Redi Nanda), Jayani Senanayake (Gama Mahage), Bimal Jayakody (Gamarala), Palitha Silva (King) and Sampath Tennakoon (The Sangarajaa) are outstanding. Sonali Fonseka as Sirimal Etana has a long way to go.
Somaratne and Renuka have been very careful in selecting children and teenagers for the budding roles. The child actor for the prince offers a memorable performance. Akila as Appuva displays his performance potential quite impressively.
Somaratne could have faced two challenges. Firstly, aspects of the Sinhala language used in communication-speech acts and speech events-could have given him enough headaches in reproducing. The second is related to the dress/costumes worn during that historic period.
Siri Parakum is represented as a legendary hero. Stylistically this creation is realistic and naturalistic and character, dialogue and narration.
The presentation is impressionistic with instantaneous and fluidly scene shifts blurring time and space. The most remarkable scene in the film is the appearance of the queen before the Sangaraja when the Sangaraja declined accepting the queen's order to appear before her.
Dr Senarath Tennakoon - www.dailynews.lk