By Ramesh Uvais
Sri Lanka is such a diverse country not only in terms of natural resources but also human beings who have played significant roles in the past, leaving behind memorable stories that can be told, retold and retold – all about peace, love and understanding human beings.
This feature coincides with International Day of Peace that falls today.
This is an amazing country where the country’s first Sinhala silent movie was produced by a Muslim, the first talkie movie produced by a Tamil and the first Tamil movie created by a Sinhala.
How refreshing it is to realize the huge potential that arts and the media possess in playing crucial roles in promoting peace among people eventually transforming them into good humans.
Our focus today would be on the roles played by film world personalities from various communities – Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers – in building bridges and fostering understanding to create a culture of peace through cinema.
They committed themselves sincerely and created works for the people. In return the people loved and cherished the people in our cinema, irrespective of race, religion, language or colour. In the good old days Sinhala movies were watched by the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers because there was a sense of ‘ourness’ imbibed in it. It is possible that H. R. Jothipala, Gamini Fonseka or Vijaya Kumaratunga might have had more non-Sinhala fans than the majority.
Working as a team helps build self-confidence while being wide-open to diverse views. It also teaches you to listen to the views of others, helping the promotion of peace.
Striving for peace, committing yourself and communicating for peace and believing in peace is all about attitude.
Though Sinhala cinema’s talkie era started with the screening of ‘Kadawunu Poronduwa’ (Broken Promise) in January, 1947, the very first Sri Lankan film is considered to be ‘Rajakeeya Wiickramaya’ (Royal Adventure) in 1925.
The silent era movie Rajakeeya Wickramaya which starred the late politician Dr. N. M. Perera in the lead role, was produced by Sri Lankan Muslim film enthusiast T. A. J. Noorbhai and the film was directed by South Indian Gupta. The incident involving the destruction of the film after being screened in India and Singapore is a different story and still a mystery.
Then came the talkie ‘Kadawunu Poronduwa’ after 22 years, in 1947. The film was produced by Tamil businessman S. M. Nayagam and directed by Jyothish Singh based on a script by B. A. W. Jayamanne.
Sinhala cinema’s first heroine and playback singer Daisy Daniels alias Rukmani Devi was also a non-Sinhalese, but there was no difference among them whether they belonged to any religion or race.
In 1962, Sri Lanka’s first Tamil film ‘Samudayam’ was made by a Sinhala national Henry Chandrawansa and it was premiered at the Borella Young Men’s Buddhist Association Hall.
Of the 39 films screened in the first decade of the Sinhala cinema, 24 films were directed by Tamils (South Indian) and Sri Lankans directed only 15. Among the key music directors in the first decade were R. Narayan Iyyer, C. N. Pandurangan, M. R. Padmanabha Shashthri, S. S, Veda, S. Dakshinamoorthi, T. R. Papa and R. Sudarshanam while B. S. Perera, R. Chandrasena and P. L. A. Somapala worked as co-music directors in that decade. R. Muthuswamy and Mohamed Ghouse were also instrumental in composing music to Sinhala films in the first decade. Then came the contributions of M. K. Roksamy, Premasiri Khemadasa and others who worked hand in hand with all communities.
Al Haj Mohideen Baig and Ghouse Master made their debut in Sinhala films with Ashokamala and they made a significant mark in the local movie industry.
Ceylon Theatres founder Sir Chittampalam Gardiner, Cinema’s group founder K. Gunaratnam and Cinema Entertainment Ltd. founder Jabir A. Cader also played crucial roles for the welfare of the Sinhala cinema industry.
Among the other Tamils and Muslims who contributed immensely towards the Sinhala cinema are T. R. Sundaram, M. S. Anandan, V. Vamadevan, M. A. Gafoor, Lateef Master, Galagedara Haq, Haroon Lantra, Stanley Oumar, J. Selvaratnam, Hussain Mohamed, Mohamed Sally, Zain Zuhair, M. J Abdeen, V. Sivadasan, Joe Dev Anand, Thirunavakarusu, T. F. Latheef, M. S. Aliman, A. A. Junaideen, G. Pathmaraj, Nilar N. Cassim, S. Kalavathi, Muttalage and several others including Niranjani Shanmugaraja, Dharshan Dharmaraj in recent times.
This tri-combination was indeed the decisive factor during the golden era of the Sinhala cinema, but things took a turn for the worse after 1983.
The first Sinhala movie made on a Buddhist theme ‘Ransalu’ was directed by non-Buddhist Dr. Lester James Peiris.
On this significant day when the world marks international day of peace, many insist that filmmakers should shoulder the responsibility of fostering peace, unity, harmony and friendship among people belonging to all religions. Why can’t a special award be allotted annually for the best film promoting peace? Ironically there is an award for the best fighters (Stunts) but not for promoters of peace. This platform will create opportunities for filmmakers and industry personnel of different cultures and religions to meet and share their ideas.
Movies like Prof. . Sunil Ariratane / Gamini Sarungale, in addition to Saroja, Suriya Arana and Tsunami of Somaratne Dissanayake and Renuka Balasooriya were some significant movies that touched upon the crux of humanity, promoting peace, love and understanding fellow humans.
Let’s earnestly hope that the Sinhala cinema strives to create a cine culture of peace where the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers could all continue to work together like in the past, leaving no room for intolerance.