Continued from last week
Sunil Ariyaratne, to me, is less a film-maker than a film-devotee. When considering all the films he has made over the years, it is quite clear that devotion outweighs any distinctive identity of expression. It is quantity and not quality that is prominent in the man’s work which of course is not a bad thing from the point of view of the industry, for cinema is an industry whether we like it or not. A film, perforce, is a product.
When we take cinema to be a composite of multiple art forms it is disturbing that a multiple-media personality like Sunil Ariyaratne sits in the quantity column in terms of appraisal. The script was authored by the late Tissa Abeysekera. That itself is spark enough, but ‘Kusa Paba’ did not erupt in the colour and light promised by script. Perhaps this is because the cinema devotee resident in Ariyaratne for 30 years overshadowed the film-maker he ought to be. One is tempted to say that this is the source of fortune that Sunil enjoyed and the likes of Wasantha, Pathiraja and Dharmasiri did not. It is for this reason that producers gather to provide so many opportunities to this cinema-devotee.
The devotion, moreover, gels perfectly with present day populism and the market. This is why ‘Kusa Paba’ becomes a ‘running film’. Somaratne Dissanayake (co-producer), Renuka Balasuriya (line-producer) and Dhammika Siriwardena (co-producer) are naturally very fond of this devotee. A film-devotee, after all, has greater value than a film-maker in the contemporary media culture. Indeed this is not a preserve of the film industry; the devotee has similar demand in today’s culture, economy and politics and it is devotion and not wisdom that has the telling impact on mass consciousness. It is vividness and not meaning that counts. It is the surface and not depth that matters. Philosophy is bested by emotional titillation.
Sunil Ariyaratne, who has been active in the cinema scene for 40 years has been immensely successful in hiding his mediocrity thanks to the cover he gets from giants. Their light obliterates the dismalness of the fact that his devotion is greater than his power of expression. Gamini Fonseka was this ‘shining light’ in Ariyaratne’s ‘Sarungale’ (The Kite). Jackson and Tissa played this role in ‘Kusa Paba’.
Although he has made a dozen and a half films since the short film ‘Saragi’ (1970), Ariyaratne will not hold a candle to Lester, Pathiraja, Handagama or Vithanage. His ‘bests’, i.e. ‘Siribo Aiya’, ‘Sarungale’ and ‘Podi Malli’ are not counted among the top films made in this country. His claim to fame is that he made 10 films before one of them was screened. It is not surprising then that his devotion is held in such esteem by the producers. That’s his good fortune. What is sad is that the quality of ‘Kusa Paba’ is only inversely related to this luck.
The cinematic poverty begins with the make-up on Jackson’s nose and spreads throughout the entire piece. The script itself contains errors that one would not expect someone like Tissa Abeysekera to make even on his worst writing day. The queens refer to their sons as ‘Aney Puthe’, a term that is not congruent with station and relevant terms of address. The Kusa that Jackson portrays is not the disfigured and yet jovial and innocent character of the Jathaka story. We see Jackson more than we see a Kusa. There are even moments when we see ‘Thunmulle Padme’ and not Kusa. Jackson flays his arms monotonously as he did in the stage plays ‘Mora’ and ‘Maraat-Saad’ and does not allow Kusa to emerge.
On the technical side, there are deficiencies in both camera and set. One of the greatest disservices done to this colourful story is by the dancer Chandana Wickramasinghe. The little girls wearing butterfly colours do not do enough justice to the grandeur of the royal setting. The quality of the choreography does not match the magnitude of the investment. The problem is that we cannot avoid comparisons with films such as ‘Devdas’ and ‘Ashok’.
Kusa’s nose also appears to be pliant, changing every now and then. All the makeup artistes seem to have been determined to retain Jackson and limiting Kusa to alterations in Jackson’s nose. It is as though they’ve tried to create Kusa without erasing Jackson.
‘Kusa-Paba’ opens with the promise of a magnum opus. The film proceeds as though determined to destroy all expectations, systematically. It ends as a cheap effort filled with all kinds of trivialities. Sad.
Continued from last week