By Lakna Paranamanna
de Chickera has written and directed several plays, with her
first The Middle of Silence being written and produced when she
was just 19. Ruwanthie founded the ‘Stages’ theatre group that
prides itself on producing original scripts for Sri Lankan and
foreign audiences. Last Bus Eke Kathawa, a one man play
translated by Ruwanthie has been performed in Sri Lanka, India,
the UK and Japan. Machan was Ruwanthie’s first foray into
scriptwriting for the big screen.
Q: How did you get involved in the production of Machan?
A: One of my dear friends and colleagues, Ameena Hussain was
approached by Uberto Pasolini, the director of the movie and had
informed her that he was searching for a Sri Lankan writer for
this movie. Then she had suggested my name. Afterwards, she
dropped me a mail saying a ‘first time director’ was interested
in working with me. Before getting to know him, both of us
thought it must be a young enthusiast just out of film school
wanting to do a low budget South Asian movie project. But still,
I thought, as long as it’s not another film about the tsunami by
some well meaning white kid, I lose nothing in talking to him.
So I contacted him and it was only half way into my first phone
conversation with Uberto that I realised that this ‘first time
director’ was the producer of one of my favourite and one of the
world’s most successful films – The Full Monty!
Q: Why did you pick this particular subject of illegal
immigration to work on as your first film script?
A: When Uberto contacted me, he already had the story in
mind. Of course I knew about the incident, I think most Sri
Lankans remember it since it created quite a commotion in the
Q: The back stories to this factual news story – were they
your ideas or the Uberto’s?
A: The film is based on a true incident which is 23 men who
formed themselves into a fake handball team in order to leave
the country. Uberto gave me that basic fact and asked me to
first come up with a variety of characters that might make up
the team. By my next meeting with Uberto, I had written up a few
characters and he had thought of a few too. As the script
developed between us, we dropped, changed and added new
characters and plot developments.
Q: How did you gather material for the back stories of the 23
characters? Was there actual research into their identities and
A: Uberto got the stem idea from a news item. But other than
the bare facts, we did not do any research into the actual group
of men who pulled off this prank. We talked to people and
visited places like ‘Little Italy’ in Negombo, where practically
everyone has either been abroad or is waiting to go abroad. But
the characters are completely from our imagination.
Q: Your brother Gihan, plays the part of Manoj, the person from
whom the idea for the Handball Team germinates. He eventually
decides to stay back in Sri Lanka. Do you think there was a real
A: There are ‘real Manoj’s and ‘real Stanley’s’ all around
us. Otherwise the characters won’t ring true in the movie. I
meet these characters every day of my life and so does everyone
else. It is through simple encounters with people in our day to
day lives, like taking a trishaw ride somewhere, or while eating
out at a restaurant, when we simply inquire from the driver or
the waiter if he has ever been abroad or thought of going, these
characters in the movie come into life. Asking them about their
knowledge on immigration laws, you would actually be amazed at
how forthcoming people are about this, and how many of our
people’s lives this issue touches.
Q: What was your primary message from the script?
A: What Uberto wanted and what we have tried to do is to
provide the back stories, the human stories to this largely
anonymous group of people called ‘illegal immigrants’. This is
why the film is both funny and sad. Its objective is not to just
to create pity for these people. So, it is not just about the
harsh reality of their lives, while living in Sri Lanka or after
they migrate. If something is too wretched, too hopeless and too
unlike our own experienced reality, it’s easier to distance
ourselves from it. Instead, through humour and humanness, we
have tried to give our characters a three dimensionality that
will draw audiences in; make them laugh; maybe recognise
something of themselves in these people. It is as Uberto put it,
to make people in the West realise that the nameless person
cleaning their windscreen at a busy intersection is a man with a
story, a family, a sense of humour, a set of principles and
Q: What do you think of the movie; do you think it has done
justice to your script?
A: In a word, yes. I like the movie very much. I think that
Uberto has made the best possible film with the material that he
had. Of course I pine for the 30% or so of the script that never
made it to the final cut, but this is the nature of this art
form. You need to be brutal in your editing and everything you
leave in is at the expense of something that you leave out.
There were difficult decisions along the way and I wonder if I
will ever stop thinking of the script, as opposed to the film,
but I have decided to stop talking about it.
Q: Do you see any difference between your script and the
script of Mille Soya, which was also another movie which focuses
on the same issue?
A: Of course! They are two completely different movies. I
really liked Mille Soya. I think it’s a good movie. I don’t
think it’s necessary to compare the two movies. At least, I’m
not going to do it. You can, as a journalist, in your next
de Chickera is a much loved stage actor, talented political
cartoonist and journalist for a daily newspaper. Gihan, youngest
brother of Ruwanthie, has proved his exceptional acting prowess
in both Sri Lanka and abroad and has won wide acclaim in
particular for his role in the one-man play, Last Bus Eke
Kathawa. Gihan plays the role of Manoj in Machan, the level
headed, intelligent young man, who for all intents and purposes
looks like he ought to have a bright future, and provides the
perfect antithesis to the character of the fun loving and
Q: Tell us how you got the chance to be a part of Machan..
A: I should first mention that the reason for me appearing
in Machan has not got anything to do with my sister’s influence
in this movie. Just because she did the script for the movie,
that does not mean that I received any favours from Uberto
Pasolini; the director of the movie. Auditions were called for
selecting actors for the characters of the movie, so Uberto
contacted me and informed me about the auditions, since he had
previously seen some of my performances on stage. The auditions
were held at the Parakramabahu Maha Vidyalaya, so I thought I
would try my luck for the characters. After a series of tryouts
I was selected for the character of Manoj. After I was informed
that I was selected, Uberto very clearly told me that it was not
because of my sister’s influence over the film that he chose me
for the portrayal of the character, but because my physical
appearance fitted with the image of Manoj as he had imagined and
also because he was satisfied with my audition performances.
Q: What is your strongest feeling about the character Manoj?
A: Although the storyline is based on a group of people who
live in shanty areas, and have turned stealthy solely due to the
fact that they suffer from all the hardships of life, Manoj does
not fit in with the common perception of young men in such
areas. He is brought up in a very closely knit family, so he is
virgin to most of the evil which operates in these areas. So, in
comparison to the other characters, he is very innocent. The
character of Manoj goes through a process of self-realisation
throughout the whole movie; in fact all the other characters do
too. If I express that idea in terms of Manoj’s character – he
grows up. He sheds the naïve ideas which he had bred in his mind
about the West, and comes to terms with the harsh truth which
is, that as long as he is serving Westerners, he is treated very
well, but the moment he becomes a part of their system, he is no
longer welcome or accepted. He builds illusions about the West
because of his occupation. He is bartender in a very prestigious
hotel in the city, which means he is always in close contact
with foreigners. But the exposure to the truth moulds him and he
is transformed from a schoolboy with dreams into a man who
finally chooses to do the right thing when it mattered most.
Q: Although you are a not a stranger to local English theatre I
believe this is your first experience in a big screen film. How
would you describe the difference in the two scopes?
A: Yes, you are correct. This is the first time that I am
working on a feature film. Previously I have appeared in a short
film by Damayanthi Fonseka which was called Degoda Thalaa and
also in another couple of short films produced by my friends
when I was in the university. So this experience indeed was very
special. I was engaged in the work of the film for about five
months continuously, taking into account the rehearsal sessions
as well the shooting sessions of the movie. It was a very
different experience from performing on stage. I do not know
whether I have done a good job because I still have not got the
chance to see the film. All my movements had to be limited.
Because when one is performing on stage, all the physical as
well as facial movements have to be slightly exaggerated. But,
once you are in front of a camera, exaggerated movements are
unnecessary, because even the slightest movement or change of
facial expression is clearly highlighted. However, coming from a
background of realistic acting which is a technique of
performing on stage which is commonly practiced in countries
like India as well as Sri Lanka, I adjusted easily to the
movements of the camera. Performing in front of a camera is all
about having natural movements, so I think I did a fairly good
job on that.
Q: What was it like working with Uberto Pasolini and the rest
of the crew?
A: Pasolini was a very good Director because he knows how to
bring out even the detailed characteristics of all the roles as
he wants it portrayed. I feel very fortunate to have been
working with him because I learnt a lot during these five
months. The rehearsal sessions of two months provided a very
solid ground for our performances in the movie, because we had a
better understanding and approach to our characters due to the
rehearsals. I had worked with most of the main characters, like
Namal Jayasinghe and Dharmapriya Dias before in various stage
plays so it was very enjoyable. They helped me a lot since they
had worked in films before. There was a very good relationship
between the directors and the crew, including the backup crew.
I believe that this great rapport within the crew resulted in
the success of the movie. Especially in the actors’
performances, the success in the combination of acting and
reacting gave the movie a very good effect. However, it was very
hectic too, especially during the filming of the night scenes,
because they continued at a stretch for about two weeks. I was
in all the night scenes, and I was so exhausted that I reached a
point of fatigue and even fell sick. Also during filming,
Pasolini would go for several takes in several angles and during
the first few days, I found it a bit tiring, but somehow I grew
accustomed to it. Each one of the takes has to be at the very
same level of performance and it was a real challenge to
concentrate and deliver at the same time. Actually after acting
in this movie, I would say that the respect I have for actors
and actresses of films have increased by several fold because so
much work goes into what we finally sit and watch at a cinema.
Q: The heart and soul of the movie – Stanley is played by
Dharmapriya Dias your co-actor. How would you describe the
experience of working with him?
A: Dias is a fantastic actor. He has portrayed very diverse
roles in numerous stage plays and has even won several awards
for his performances. I was very fortunate to have got the
chance to be working with him. Above all, he is a wonderful
human being. He is a person who takes his job very seriously and
it was very easy to work with him. As I mentioned before, my
acting would not have become a success if not for my co-actors
because the combination of acting and reacting are vital in the
success of a performance.
Q: Now that you have experienced performing in theatre as
well as in film, which would you say you prefer?
A: Well, it is still definitely theatre. Although now the
tradition has changed, most of the colossal figures of the local
teledrama and movie field started their careers as stage drama
actors. The training for a performer is provided through stage
drama. When I was performing on stage, I always thought that
acting was fun but now I realise that it is not necessarily so.
Acting in a film definitely requires more work and
concentration. But just because it is hectic, one should not
make it an excuse not to deliver a good performance when it is
required. However, overall, working in Machan was an amazing
experience for me.