by Thilak S. Fernando

On 29 April, the latest Sri Lankan stage drama ‘Madama’ (Home for the Aged) created, produced and directed by the well known young actor and director, Sanjaya Leelarathne, hit the London Acton Town Hall boards at 3.30 p.m . It not only entertained those who thronged to see this play but managed to send shock waves on the changing trends of the bourgeois society in Sri Lanka - sending their elderly parents to ‘comfortable homes’ to be looked after. This could be regarded as the best Sinhala New Year message sent to thousands of Sri Lankans living in England and who are still concentrating on sending their parents in Sri Lanka to an old peoples home in Colombo and its suburbs.

The main theme of the plot was to highlight the changing trends in the Sri Lankan society today where the bourgeois and petty bourgeois social order becoming alienated and disintegrated from the hundreds of years old Sri Lankan traditions of family bond between parents and children and their ‘ unwritten traditional law’- to look after their parents in their old age - and taking an uncaring and easy path of just ‘dumping’ their beloved parents into ‘caring’ homes - a sad but a frightening fact in the eyes and minds of helpless parents who are shedding uncontrollable silent tears confining their shock, fear and sadness unto themselves.

According to the creator of the drama this untoward situation is increasingly becoming more of a new social trend in keeping up with the Jones’s in a fast changing society in Sri Lanka which is threatening the very fabric of a ‘dharmista’ (civilized) society which Sri Lankans were once proud of, and today it is becoming a prey and many so called ‘ educated’ people are playing into the hands of money making business sharks who are trying to promote a new wave of a money spinning lucrative business ventures in the name of ‘ homes for the old people’.

Every best novel and award winning film or drama is usually based on true to life story line to a certain extent. ‘ Madama’ was no exception. Sanjaya Leelarathna was inspired to create this drama out of a personal experience when he visited old peoples homes and speaking to inmates. Having seen a melancholy looking ‘ amme’ he had approached her. With a lot of resistance at the beginning, the poor woman had subsequently broken down in relating her predicament.

She had lost her husband when their only son was very small. Stricken by a massive blow of poverty she has had no alternative but to hand over the child to her sister to look after the baby where she fought a hard battle to make a living by working as a female labourer at building sites and doing many a menial job to help her sister bring the child up. The son grew up to be a bourgeois executive and he only knew the real mother as his aunt (Loku Amma). When he got married to a ‘sophisticated’ Colombo woman, the ‘mother’ and the aunt (real mother) lived with the young couple. As time passed and the two women were becoming a ‘ burden’ to the daughter-in-law the ‘ mother’ had expired leaving ‘ loku amma’ which turned out to be a real burden in the eyes of the ‘Leli’ (daughter-in-law). She had not spared a moment in making a fuss and persuading the husband to send her to an old peoples’ home. The son consequently visited the ‘aunt’ only once a year. In an exclusive interview in London to News Lanka, Sanjaye said, his heart was ripped apart when he heard her tormenting story and the saw through the poor old ‘mother’s grief-stricken feelings of not being able to tell the son that he was her own flesh and blood, yet she maintained a constrained exterior hiding behind a frail and melancholy face.

All the actors in the play were young who were exhibiting their talents disguised in old characters. It carried a theme loud and clear to everyone that ‘ no parent goes to an elderly home with a free will’ and ‘every parents wish is to be with their children in their final transit lounge from this life, and no outsider is able to see the anxiety, despondency or the dejection they try to bear up within their feeble hearts.

A posse of eminent thespians carried this message in drama form, as food for thought to Sri Lankans, includeded Sanjaya Leelarathne, Deepali Silva ( sgt. Nallathambi character), Samantha Apasinghe, Sunil Premakumara, Lalantha Alwis, Donald Maplagama, Sunil Galhena, Damithu Saluwadana, Manel Chandralatha, Nilantha Ananda, Ranjith Rubasinghe and Saman Sigera. Music is by Sumit de Alwis and Jayantha Gamage.

“Madama” opened its curtains first from Lumbini Hall in Havelock Town, Colombo on 1st March 2001 and soon it has become the talk of the town in Sri Lanka. So far, there are forty bookings in the waiting list of their order book. Awakened and inspired by its motto, “ Lets look after our elders” it has received the blessings of the Ministry of Social Services and Fisheries Development in Sri Lanka and the play will be staged at the Maharagama Youth Centre on 21 June 2001. In the meanwhile, Director of Education at Wellawaya, Mr. Weeratne, has organised to stage Madama in all the schools in the Wellawaya district to inculcate this vital message into the young children’s minds from an early age. Internationally, the team has received invitations to visit Japan and Australia already and USA programme is pending. Hours prior to the teams departure from Colombo Taru FM Radio in Sri Lanka devoted two hours of their broadcasting time ,free of charge in an explicit interview, to the creator of ‘ Madama’.

The Director of Madama, who also took an import character himself in the drama is a well-known name in the cinema and teledrama world. He has so far acted in twelve Sinhala tele-dramas, of which six stories were written by him and worked as a Director in three. He has also acted in sixteen films of which he has written fourteen stories. Sanjaya Leelarathna is a determined young man, who has been able even to trick the death in real life, when he met with a serious car accident along with the late actor Granville Rodrio, who has taken a second leasing of his life to tell the Sri Lankan society that we all have an obligation to look after our elders.

The audience had two hours of full entertainment absorbing its single pointed message while watching Madama. Although it touched every heart, it also made people shed a silent tear. But it was not that all bad right throughout, a combination of laughter had also been incorporated into the play introducing a young amorous couple working in the old peoples’ home and projecting their fear to get married having seen what they see in the Madama and not wanting to end up in their twilight years as the inmates they look after there!