Uthpalawanna portrays the
life of a bhikkuni
I wanted to tell the public that just because
someone wears a yellow robe, it does not mean he or she is not a human
being like any others with shortcomings and temptations. I wanted to
show the difficulties a monk goes through to play the role he is
expected to do. Here, the bhikkuni goes against rules but ethically,
what she does is justifiable or justified.”
Pix by Nissanka Wijerathne
All of us have heard the story of Bhikkuni Uthpalawanna. But the film
Uthpalawanna directed by Sunil Ariyarathna is not the story that we are
familiar with. Ariyarathne’s story is about the conflict between
discipline, rules and regulations and humanity brought forth through the
life and the hardships that a priest, wearing a yellow robe has to go
The story takes place in 1989, in a time of a revolution where a wounded
rebellious university student escapes into a forest near a hermitage. A
young bhikkuni finds this rebel and is faced with the choice of saving
his life or leaving him to die. The story develops with this conflict
and the protagonist’s mind travels back to the past, a flashback about
her life before she became a priest.
Upuli (Sangeetha) is a dancer who comes from a very rich high caste
family; she has a relationship with the son of her guru who belongs to a
lower cast. She elopes with her lover, and her heartbroken mother dies
when she hears the news. When she comes to pay her last respects to her
mother at the funeral, Upuli’s infuriated father kills her husband.
Shattered by the demise of her young husband, Upuli decides to become a
bhikkuni and enters a hermitage.
The Nation had a brief interview with the director of the film, Prof
Sunil Ariyarathne to find out more about this film.
Why did you choose Sangeetha for the main role?
“We wanted whoever is going to play the main role to have the head
shaved. There is a real mahana pinkama in the film, and shaving the head
was to be shot in real. In the beginning, we were afraid to approach
Sangeetha, but she said that she will read the script and decide. We are
very thankful to her for considering to do that role and what she did
was a service to the Sri Lankan cinema.”
What message do you want to give the audience through the film?
“I wanted to tell the public that just because someone wears a yellow
robe, it does not mean he or she not is a human being like any other
with shortcomings and temptations. I want to show the difficulties a
monk goes through to play the role he is expected to do. Here, the
bhikkuni goes against rules but ethically, what she does is justifiable
What were the hardships that you had to go through during filming?
“We did the shooting in Thanthirimalay in a bikshunee aramaya. So, I was
afraid that a lot of people might come to watch the shoot and we will
not be able to create the atmosphere that we needed. But I’m glad there
wasn’t any disturbance and people gave us all the space we wanted. It is
said that at Thanthirimalay, Sangamiththa Theraniya had spent her first
night in Sri Lanka and there is a little shoot of Sri Maha Bodiya still.
We used that for our shooting also.”
What do you consider as the climax of the film? “I think the climax of
the film is where Uthpalawana has to leave the hermitage because the
villagers accuse her of helping a rebel. It is a very moving event.”
What are your hopes for the film?
“Every director has hopes on their films. My last film was Sudu Sewanali
and I’m making this film after a break of five years. The story is very
powerful and this is the first time that a bhikkuni plays the main role
in a Sri Lankan film. And it is the first time I’m making a film of this
nature. We have used advanced technology in this film and I hope that it
will be a success.”
What is a good creation to you? “I think a good creation means a well
handled film which is created with immense financial expenditure. But it
won’t be a success if it does not please the audience. The purpose of a
creation is not individual pleasure. So I hope people will watch this
film. Receiving an award is only a plus point but my hope is that people
will like it”
The story, dialogue and screenplay are by Thissa Abeysekara and produced
by Sumathi Films. The cast includes Malini Fonseka, Sangeetha
Weerarathna, Sadali Wallikana, Roshan Ravindra, Saman Wimalasiri, Jagath
Chamila, Suminda Sirisena, Chithra Warakagoda and Rohana Beddage. The
assistant director is Wimal Deshapriya. Art director is Darmasena
Hemapala and the Camaramen Suminda Weerasinha and the music is by