08 April 2015

True love and true lovers celebrated

Review of Udayasiri Wickramaratne’s ‘චිත්‍රපටයකට සැබෑ පෙම් යුවලක් ඕනෑ කර තිබේ’ (‘Chitrapatayakata sabae pem yuvalak ona kara thibe’ or ‘True lovers needed for a film’)

Udayasiri Wickramaratne’s literary versatility is well known.  This creative copywriter also writes and directs plays, writes short stories and novels, is a poet and an author of several regular newspaper columns.  He also writes commentaries on a wide range of subjects.  In short he does many things on many subjects that interest him. 

He is endowed with a sharp mind and a keen sense of humor which often hide the philosophical preferences that arguably frame his literary forays across genres.  The versatility of expression and subject naturally finds expression in his plays and for this reason ‘චිත්‍රපටයකට සැබෑ පෙම් යුවලක් ඕනෑ කර තිබේ’ (‘Chitrapatayakata sabae pem yuvalak ona kara thibe’ or ‘True lovers needed for a film’) resonate with his earlier productions ‘සුද්දෙක් ඔබ අමතයි’ (‘Suddek Oba Amathai’ or ‘A white man addresses you’) and ‘රඟපෑම් ඉවරයි’(‘Rangapaem Ivarai’ or ‘Performances are over’).  We find similar cultural, historical and political allusions, the latter ones naturally amended to suit the particular political moment.  These ‘tidbits’ worked into the script entertain and prompt reflection but they do not distract from storyline or theme, a sure sign of a mature playwright.    

‘True Lovers’ (if we were to call it that) however is a departure from the highly acclaimed plays he produced previously.  ‘Suddek’ and ‘Rangapaem’ were serious versions of standup comic acts (with enough humor embedded in them of course).  In these two plays we saw the performance fractured deliberately.  In ‘Suddek’ we had ‘History,’ ‘A white man’ and ‘A woman’ addressing us.  In ‘Rangapaem’ Udayasiri gave us reflections by (as opposed to ‘of’) ‘Death’ and ‘A dream’.  The center-piece was a classic performance by Kamal Addaraarachchi where the character reflects on the play between real and enacted.  ‘True Lovers’ can be taken as an elaboration or a deeper exploration of the last. 

Udayasiri’s fascination with ‘the real’ or put another way ‘the feigned’ (the logical underside of flip of ‘real’) is evident in almost everything he writes.  It is a perennial theme of course which often finds expression in comment on dichotomies such as good and evil, truth and falsehood, arrogance and humility, or in more psychological terms ego and id.  The stage, which is all about depiction, lends itself naturally for incisive cuts into the subject and Udayasiri in ‘True Lovers’ exploits this to the full. 

Now it is true that people are not always who they really are.  There are ways of being that are recommended, formally or informally.  They are structured, one might say, and where there is structure there is conformity with the non-conforming ‘punished’ one way or another.  That’s part of the human condition, it can be argued.  There is always an ‘I’ and there’s ‘the way I want to be seen’.  A ‘right way’ therefore which implies a ‘wrong way’, both being subjective.  When Udayasiri chose ‘Love’ as the operative metaphor or device to unpack these complexities he created a formidable challenge for himself for of all things including human feelings love is the one thing that is spoken of most even as it the most resolute resister of definition.

So he begins exploring the real-enacted mix on shaky ground.  It is to his credit that Udayasiri using (paradoxically) actors has succeeded in keeping things coherent and extracted some hope for realistic pursuit of ‘the real’.  This he has achieved by the skillful use of contrast, almost caricaturing ‘enacting’.   He has drawn from the readily available pool of ‘resources’ that is the local film industry.  That particular industry is notoriously handicapped by a manifest inability to delve beneath surfaces. The depiction of love and lovers have typically bordered on the laughable even in ‘serious’ cinematic exercises. 

It might even be said that the cast did it for him.  It was actually a double-cast since the story is about a film obviously, with a director, producer, a cameraman and actors, props, cameras and lights.  Hemantha Eriyagama, Amiththa Weerasinghe and Pradeep Aragama were convincing as producer, director and cameraman respectively.  The ‘real lovers’ Sudarshana Bandara (as Wishva) and Theruni Asansa (as Prarthana) appeared far more plausible than most of the lovers we see on screen. Indeed even the other ‘couples’ that auditioned for these ‘roles’ were extremely good.  They played around a minimalistic but adequate set to the accompaniment of Lalith Wickramaratne’s music to produce a neat piece of theater that seemed light on the surface but nevertheless touched all the important nodes of human relationships in their cultural, political and historical specificities. 

The final scene is epic.  Reminiscent of how Bernardo Bertolucci in ‘The Little Buddha’ merges the now of three children made to read the story of the Buddha with the then of the Enlightenment Moment, the true lovers who have by this time replaced script with true dialog play even as they re-enact in an enactment of replay on camera. 

True, the ‘true lovers’ are not real (they are married to different people).  True, it’s all enactment.  And yet, Udayasiri’s script and its excellent rendition by the players make a strong statement which on the one hand laments the ‘put on’ and celebrates the real or rather the pursuit of the real.   The true ‘real’ that Udayasiri misses in this grand drama of subjectivity is probably better captured in one of Liyanage Amarakeerthi’s early short stories (Nandana Uyana) where one lover tells another, ‘මට ඕන ඔයාව රවට්ටන්න නෙමෙයි...මට ඕන ඔය එක්ක රැවටෙන්න’ (‘It is not that I want to deceive you, it’s just that I would like to be deceived with you’).  It is rarely that love (or anything else) is made of that kind of confession.  We can’t get a hang of ‘love’, we don’t know what ‘true love’ is or rather cannot really describe it. Leaving all that aside, ‘True Lovers’ succeeds in getting across the simple and yet profound message ‘things are so much more beautiful when they are real’ quite reminiscent of John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ (Beauty is truth, truth beauty…that’s all ye know on earth and all ye need to know’). 

We were left asking ourselves, ‘who are we when we are not ourselves?’ We wonder what happens to us when we are pawns of a script writer (or structures of power which mediate).  And in a classic out of script impromptu ‘real’ that mirrored the entire theme, some in the audience would have heard Udayasiri’s little daughter singing along with the songs in the script.  Yes, the ‘true’ is beautiful. 


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