A dramatist with a new approach

by Sanjeevi Jayasuriya
Like that of many others, Jayantha Chandrasiri’s early entry into the word of drama was not noticeable. But within a decade he revolutionised theatre and cinema alike, becoming a household name.

Chandrasiri has infused indigenous theatre into contemporary Western theatre creating an interesting theatrical experiment with success.

Jayantha Chandrasiri is one among the new breed of film directors who has attempted to present something new on the screen. His efforts have been exceptional in quality and content.

Jayantha is no ordinary person. He did not go by the face value of society to produce be it a stage drama, tele drama or a film, the message he wanted was based on rich cultural thoughts.

His born talents, hidden desire and the thirst for exploring cultural and traditional concepts stood out well ahead of times unlike of some others in the field of art.

Jayantha’s journey to the world of arts began when an actor trainer Dr. Norbart Mayarr visited Sri Lanka in 1974 to conduct a three month workshop on drama. There was an opportunity for the young to participate at this workshop and Jayantha was one among them. There were about 25 such professional dramatists who followed this workshop. "I learnt modern drama techniques at this workshop and the trainer stressed the need for reviving our traditional folk drama which were of high calibre. Jayantha’s first stage drama production was ‘Ane Abilick’ which was followed by ‘Saraswathie’. In his dramas he discussed the subject of art being commercialised. Though his experimental play was not much of a success, he stamped his mark in the drama ‘Ath’ which was produced in 1985. It reached the heights of popularity very soon.

The production of ‘Mora’ was the most memorable as it earned Jayantha awards and laurels including three awards to his credit, in the State Drama Festival in that year.

Winning these state awards changed Jayantha’s life. He was offered a number of scholarships at different intervals. First it was to Sweden when Somalatha Subasinghe took him for new exposure. He went to East Berlin, on a scholarship given by the Cultural Ministry and this tour he considered as most important as he was able to study under the able leadership of Dr. Claus Shakespeare.

His American tour enriched him further with an indepth knowledge of drama and theatre and Jayantha had the opportunity of viewing over 40 American dramas. Jayantha continued with his productions by creating ‘Ottukaraya’ in 1991 and turned into teledrama production in 1993 with his maiden production ‘Weda Hamine’. It was followed by ‘Wes Muhunu,’ ‘Dandubasnamanaya’, ‘Akala Sandhya’ and ‘Rajina’. He has received awards for his outstanding work. Jayantha’s debut film ‘Agnidahaya’ (fire and water) is a film depicting a political destabilized Sri Lanka in the late seventeenth century. The film portrays relationships between people in a village and dissects emotions like love and hatred.

It touches on human relationships not only of that time (17th century) but even most relevant in today’s context. "Man has been separated not only from fellowmen but even from himself. This is the sad reality we are facing in this modern world where everthing is based on monetary values. These are hidden under the shadow of globalisation and nobody has the power to withstand this situation", says Jayantha. Agnidahaya is an eye opener on these human values which are deteriorating at an alarming speed. It also brings out natural human feelings such as anger, jealousy, love and hatred and focuses on the reality of life.

"I did not use the medium of stage drama as a ladder to enter into teledrama production. The entry into film production was based on the suitability of the story I was working on. All three mediums are different from one another and they have separate identities" says Jayantha. He stressed the point on originality in their productions.

He paid tribute to the artistes who offered their best in his maiden film. Jackson Anthony, Kamal, Yashodha, Sanath, Buddhdasa Withanachchi, Gamini Jayalath who played the main as well as support roles.

Premasiri Khemadasa’s music creation was a pillar of success for the film and cameraman Ruwan Costa, art director Jagath Imbulpe were introduced to the world of art through ‘Agnidahaya’.

Jayantha remembers with gratitude the assistance given by the National Film Corporation’s film development fund for the ‘Agnidahaya’.

If the film industry is to survive we need young, enthusiastic directors of Jayantha’s calibre. He has a long way to go. It may not be smooth sailing but he has all the potential to strike it big.