PRASANNA VITHANAGE ACCLAIMED PIONEER IN THE THIRD GENERATION CINEMA MAKERS EXCELLED TO UNPARALLELED TALL ALTITUDES WITH MANY AWARDS
Udaya Prasanna Vithanage born 14 March 1962 is an acclaimed Sri Lankan filmmaker. He is considered one of the pioneers of the third generation of the Sri Lankan cinema. He has directed many feature films including Death on a Full Moon Day (1997), August Sun (2003), Flowers of the Sky (2008) , With You, Without You (2012) had won many prestigious national and international awards , had also been commercially successful director cum producer of films in Sri Lanka. Prasanna’s parents in Panadura had instigated and stimulated him, the duo’s only child to like films not having any intention of making him a monthly wage earner in a government department. When Prasanna was taken to watch films , he was in the second standard at the St Johns College Panadura had taken him to watch the Sinhala film “Welikathara”,while in the fourth standard had witnessed the film ‘Hatharadenama Soorayo” while at the Cyril Janz Vidyalaya also in Panadura which he reminisces, confessed in a television dialog. Likewise, he had been taken and encouraged to watch Sinhala films initially in cinema halls in Panadura and then in the Colombo city which had automatically made him to be a curious film fan. Prasanna simultaneously had begun to appreciate and love film actors and actresses had begun to find details of their careers by reading all available cinema newspapers, magazines which contained news on them with tremendous curiosity. Prasanna has had his secondary education at DS Senanayake College in Colombo where he was exposed to the film zone more intimately. This was the foundation that was laid for him to begin a career in directing and producing films as he grew as an ardent film fan. He was determined to commence a career in this field by year 1985. Prasanna had sensed he could achieve his ambition had challenged himself. Initially through sheer coincidence had teamed up with legendary Jayalath Manoratne in a translation endeavour of Bernard Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ directing jointly the stage drama “Puthra Samagama”.This stage drama had been shown in many parts of the country approximately one thousand times which became an ideal learning curve for young Prasanna. Subsequently was competent sufficiently to produce and direct his own stage play. Before long in year 1989 had directed the film “Sisila Giniganee’ which was screened in year 1991.Prasanna had affirmed that to complete a film after the receipt of the screenplay would take to two to three years to complete as several phases of the film need to be navigated over using expertise knowledge . Prasanna had added that he belongs to the third generation of Directors. In the “Sisila Giniganee’ film the lead roles had been portrayed by popular duo Sabeetha Perera and Sanath Gunatilleke who were sought after acting pair then. Prasanna repents that he was unable to emerge during the era of Gamini Fonseka,Joe Abeywickrema and Tony Ranasinghe as he could have learnt more from their experiences and association. At a recent television confrontation Prasanna did admit that to complete a film before screening is a cumbersome process involving many stages once the script is ready which too takes a fair amount of time even to the most experienced. The process from the time shooting on locations is weighty exercise consisting of vital areas commencing in finding suitable locations, then dubbing which too is hefty as numerous sounds which tallies with different locations need to be precisely included when dubbing exercise in unfolded, along with mixing colours,hence the entire processes to complete a film before screening takes two to three years. More details if one needs could be found from Prasanna Vithanage you tube channel.For those interested Prasanna conducts work shops in between the time he completes a film until work starts in his next film endeavour. As a typical example on finding locations for shooting he quoted in his ‘Gaadi’ film for which sixty two days of shooting had to be utilized.
. In 1991, he translated and directed a production of Italian Dario Fo’s Trumpets and Raspberries, ‘Sisila Gin Gani” (Ice of Fire) in year 1991. It won him nine OCIC (Sri Lanka) awards, including Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.There were many more in the following years mostly international awards. In year 1996 he released his second feature Anantha Rathriya (Dark Night of the Soul) which he wrote and directed. It was based on Leo Tolstoy’s last novel Resurrection. It was shown at several international film festivals and won a Jury’s Special Mention in the First Pusan International film festival. The film won all the main awards at the 1996 Sri Lanka film critics Forum awards (affiliated with FIPRESCI), including awards for Most Outstanding Film, Best Director, and Best Screenwriter. In 1997 his third feature, ‘Purahanda Kaluwara’ (Death on a Full Moon Day), in which the screenplay and direction was his, was produced by NHK (Japanese Broadcasting Corporation). It won the Grand Prix at the Amiens Film Festival. Initially banned in Sri Lanka by the minister in charge of film industry, it was released after a yearlong legal battle. It was released by the ruling of the Supreme Court. It has become one of the most commercially successful films produced in Sri Lanka. ‘Pawuru Walalu’ (Walls Within) was also released in that year. It won the Best Actress Award for Nita Fernando for her role as Violet, at the 1998 Singapore International Film Festival which she had represented herself. It won ten of eleven awards, including Best film and Best Director, at the Sri Lanka Film Critics Forum Awards event.In 2003 Prasanna Vithanage completed ‘Ira Madiyama’ (August Sun) as his fifth film. It won many international awards and was featured prominently in the world festival circuit.
In 2008, Prasanna co-produced the hit film ‘Machan’ a comedy about a group of working class scam artists posing as a handball team, directed by Uberto Pasolini, who produced The Full Monty. Film Machan premiered at the 65th Venice film festival in 2008. It had won 11 international awards.That year Prasanna sixth feature film as director, “Akasa Kusum” (Flowers of the Sky) premiered at a festival in Busan. It was screened at more than 30 film festivals and won numerous international awards. A Tamil-dubbed version of Akasa Kusum titled ‘Aagaya Pookkal’ was screened in Jaffna on 1 April 2011. It was the only movie premiere of a Sinhala film director to have been held in Jaffna during the past 30 years.
In year 2012 his 7th feature film, ‘Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka’ (With You, Without You), had its world premiere in the “World Greats” section at the 39th Montreal International Film Festival. The written by Prasanna, ‘Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka’ is designed, adapted from a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (A Gentle Creature, a.k.a. The Meek One) set in post-war Sri Lanka. Acclaimed Sri Lankan film director Prasanna Vithanage, “With You, Without You”, the third film in his war trilogy after “Death On A Full Moon Day” and “August Sun”, says he made these films because of his helplessness during the Sri Lankan war and to stay sane.“Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka”(With You, Without You”), which is about two characters who accidentally collide in the post-war Sri Lanka, released in select cities in India.”More than half of my life was spent in the war. We were mere spectators of carnage and brutal warfare. That’s why Prasanna became most sensitive as all were helpless during this catastrophe which had made him make two movies on how war has affected us. In the process, he also realised that films are his method of keeping sense.While the story of “With You, Without You” was based on the short story “The Meek One” by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Prasanna had used it “as a representation for the aftermath of Sri Lankan war.”Prasanna’s movie is about a Sinhala pawn-broker, played by Shyam Fernando and a young Tamil girl, played by National Award winning Indian actress Anjali Patil, who patronises his shop. They marry, but the memory of the war massacres persists to shake the wife.Two people from polarized ethnic backgrounds try to live together while shadowed by the past. How much can love to heal when issues are beyond their control? The film yearns for unconditional, limitless love.
Prasanna felt the reason viewers seldom get to see films on this theme is because, “most filmmakers are afraid to touch this subject because of its sensitivity and fear of censorship.””As a society, we cannot move forward without acknowledging the past,” was Prasanna’s viewpoint.He added the sensitivity of this subject has been the biggest challenge for all filmmakers. “The sensitivity of the issue and how people perceive it has become the biggest concern. People normally like to push this kind of an issue under the rug,” was what Prasanna added, Having made seven films over two decades, Prasanna previously has collaborated with Indian technicians on several occasions, such collaborations had worked in his favour.”This was not the first time Prasanna had worked with Indian technicians. This was then his fourth collaboration with editor Sreekar Prasad.
On the international festival run, by late 2013 the film won 5 international awards, including “best picture” in France and Italy. It earned a nomination for best picture at the 2013 Asia Pacific screen awards in Australia.These awards added further to the already decorated cap of Prasanna Vithanage. On 30 March 2013, Prasanna founded the ‘Prasanna Vithanage Academy of Acting’ in Sri Lanka, for aspiring acting students where he devoted full time when he had a leisure in between making a new film.In year 2015 saw his first and only documentary feature of Prasanna, titled ” Usaviya Nihandai” ” (Silence in the Courts), an investigative documentary recounting the events followed, after a wife of a robbery suspect was being raped by the presiding magistrate of the case and an alternative newspaper editor exposing that case, engaging in a protracted legal battle that extended into a probable impeachment of chief justice of the country, but eventually accused parties getting away scot-free while denying justice to the victim. When asked “Why did you choose this story to explore social justice in Sri Lanka?, Prasanna had replied saying, “The fairness of carrying out social justice is best judged by how judicial branch will act when one of their members is accused. My goal was to go into depth and unearth the real story from the original sources and a re-enactment of those occurrences in the form of a documentary.” After its world premiere at Sakhalin International Film Festival in Russia in film ‘Fall’ in year 2015, ‘Usaviya Nihandai’ had a successful theatrical run in Sri Lanka, despite being initially banned from public screening by the Colombo District Court of Sri Lanka. This marked the second occasion where one of Prasanna movies was forbidden from public screening. In both cases Prasanna won the court ruling which overturned the initial ban of both movies, which ultimately stemmed in successful theatrical runs in Sri Lanka.Prasanna’s embarked on his dream project ‘Gaadi – Children of the Sun’. It premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, in October 2019 and had its European premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, in January 2020.
Prasanna Vithanage has won several international awards to mostly in Indian film festivals in Goa was honoured at Rabindra Bhawan Guwahati Assam with the Bishwaratana Dr Bupen Hazarika International Solidarity Award .The award instituted in the name of Assam’s cultural icon Dr Bupen Hazarika was given by Assam Sahitya Sabha in association with the Numaligarh Refinery Limited.‘’My Personal Belief of ‘’Diversity’’ being a significant factor that strengthens a nation is reflected both in my personal life and my artistic endeavours. To hold an award in honour of a human being whose entire life was spent standing up for his beliefs and creating works of art backing up those same beliefs is not just an encouragement but demands much greater responsibility ‘’ said Prasanna in his acceptance speech.In his acceptance speech, Prasanna pointed out that there is still a sizable proportion of serious film-goers in Sri Lanka who supports alternate film making. However he agreed that Bollywood movies enjoy important market shares in Sri Lanka.During his stay in Assam, Prasanna had attended an interactive session titled Guest of the Month at Guwahati Press Club with the local scribes. He had bared his heart to the participants expressing his concern to the crisis of small time filmmakers based in different parts of the globe and also conveyed optimism over digital screening of quality films for the benefit of film appreciators. Prasanna stated that the present scenario of the Sri Lankan film industry is bleak, but the new technology could be used for its sustained growth. He argued that the screening of regional movies (inclusive of Sinhalese films) with multiple sub-titles through various alternate media outlets would help the industry to survive for a healthier future.
In 1991, he translated and directed a production of Italian Dario Fo’s Trumpets and Raspberries, ‘Sisila Gin Gani” (Ice of Fire) in year 1991. It won him nine OCIC (Sri Lanka) awards, including Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. There were many more in the following years mostly international awards. On the international festival run, by late 2013 Prasanna’s films had won 5 international awards, including “best picture” in France and Italy. It earned a nomination for best picture at the 2013 Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Australia. 2013–201,.GPIC award, NEPAC award at Amiens film festival, Best actress award Singapore film festival ,many awards in Sri Lanka film award ceremonies after having been nominated in many overseas film festivals.
Most films of Prasanna come back to viewers long after one had seen them.Theu make you moved, castigate or refrain.sometimes makes one annoyed frequently make question oneself. The characters chosen are always ordinary people but the situations they are placed in that are extraordinary. The selected artistes have encountered an ethical dilemma that ends up assessing their very souls.Prasanna’s characters often fail these tests, though occasionally they win. Yet the payoff in these films comes from seeing not how they win or lose, but from how the world at large reacts to their moral quandaries. In ‘Anantha Rathriya’, to give just one example, ‘Suvisal’ ends his friendships, even with the girl he planned to marry. He does so not just because he wants salvation for the sin of abusing his servant, but also because everyone disagrees with his resolution to go out into the open and seek forgiveness.
But any hopes he may have had about reconciling with that servant disintegrates when she walks away from him. Prasanna does not give audiences a valiant conclusion. The simple reality is that his world has no room for heroes; as ‘Suvisal’s’ girlfriend tells him, he wants to profess what he did not because of any guilt for his crime, but because of his yearning to free himself from the memory of his rape. Defiant and furious, she tells him that he can never escape his past. To this ‘Suvisal’ says nothing; he merely glares at her.
Such dilemmas seem so persuasive not because of the people who wind up facing them, but because of their influence on them. Not until the very last quarter of ‘Anantha Rathriya,’ for instance, does Suvisal realise the full weight of his crime. When he does, he tries to free himself from the memory of his sin. The character in ‘Purahanda Kaluwara’ is eager to know what happened to his son; like Nita Fernando’s Baba Nona from an exclusive interview Paangshu with Pulse, he refuses to believe the official record. His liberation is considerably different from Suvisal’s: he goes to a water hole and stares at a group of children frolicking in a lake nearby. Blind and a little hard of hearing, he nevertheless smiles perhaps at the children, but more likely at having confirmed his suspicions, and at the hope that his son may be alive.
Nimmi Harasamaga’s character in ‘Ira Madiyama’ also refuses to believe official accounts of her husband. Unlike the old man in ‘Purahanda Kaluwara’, the journey she assumes to find out what happened to him is both physical and metaphorical. Suvisal informs us at the very beginning of ‘Anantha Rathriya’ that he is going back to the past: again, both physically and metaphorically. This is the fate that typically awaits Prasanna’s protagonists: they have to go back to their pasts to encounter their sins. For Suvisal, the attempt is a catastrophe; for the old man in ‘Purahanda Kaluwara’, it is not; for Nimmi Harasgama, it goes both ways.
At one level, Prasanna’s stories are filmed in diverse locations: a drought-ridden village in the North-Central Province in ‘Purahanda Kaluwara;’ Batticaloa and Colombo in ‘Ira Madiyama;’ Bogawanthalawa in ‘Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka’. Prasanna frequently turns to hills and mountains instead of familiar locations then moved into metaphors; in his debut, ‘Sisila Gini Gani’, the mists and mountains form a crucial part of the story and play a significant part in the tragedy it centers on.
The very first shot of ‘Anantha Rathriya’ shows us a mist-clad hilltop. Interrupted with the sound of beating drums, it portentously foretells what is to come. In roughly the same tone, the coldness of the romance in ‘Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka’ – between the pawnbroker and his wife – is resounded in the coldness of their environments. From mist-clad mountains, Prasanna then turns to sunbaked expanses as well, particularly in ‘Purahanda Kaluwara’ and ‘Ira Madiyama’. He works with differences of atmosphere and weather: mist-clad or sunbaked, these places arouse the tensions of his characters, situating them in their surrounds.
Yet the specificity of these locations belies a universality that transcends time and space. Hence ‘Anantha Rathriya’, though taking place during the second JVP insurrection era, feels and looks contemporary. There is hardly any sense of time or place in ‘Purahanda Kaluwara’ the only object that offers a clue is the Grama Niladhari’s motorbike. Even then we are not sure when or where the story is taking place: the war seems a distant truth, its influence felt in the village only through the death of Vannihamy’s soldier-son.
In ‘Ira Madiyama’, Colombo and the Eastern Province invoke two different worlds. In ‘Akasa Kusum’, this conflict turns inward: Sandya Kumari loses her sense of time as she withdraws to the past, fantasizing about her prominence after a scandal puts her into the spotlight. Like Gloria Swanson from Sunset Boulevard, Malini Fonseka epitomizes Sandya’s avoided social imaginings. When all romantic dreams are shattered in ‘Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka’, similarly, the woman withdraws to her fantasies. Deceived by her husband’s secrets, she kills herself.
The tension between social reality and moral complexity is what determines the course of these stories. Prasanna’s characters resolve this tension in numerous ways: most of them push themselves into the thick of matters, while others try as much as they can to avoid them. ‘Suvisal,’ for instance, takes up the advice his friend, a lawyer, gives him, and refrains from exposing himself. His predictions are too dear for him to lose.
Not until much later do we realize what he has ventured until now: his wealth, his career, and his marriage. When he lets go, everyone he knows him leaves him. That is what makes the final scene so intense, yet so fitting: despite everything he gave up for the woman he raped, nothing can or will wash away the crime or his guilt. Like the hero (or villain) of Tolstoy’s Revival on whom Suvisal’s character is based, he does everything, not for the love of this woman, but to redress himself. In Tolstoy’s novel the protagonist’s quest of atonement turns our attention to the wretched conditions of Tsarist Russia’s prisons and penal colonies. In Prasanna’s film, it turns the focus inward, to Suvisal’s morality.
Weirdly enough, in only two instances do these characters choose death or are pushed into it: the boy in ‘Sisila Gini Gani ‘and the woman in ‘Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka’. The first death sets in motion the events of the film, while the second ends it. Prasanna tries to avoid this fate for his characters as much as he can. Thus, even on the threshold of suicide, Nita Fernando retreats to a clandestine affair from the past in ‘Pawuru Walalu’. Like Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire, she is saved by the kindness of strangers.
Prasanna felt the reason viewers seldom get to see films on this theme is because, “most filmmakers are afraid to touch this subject because of its sensitivity and fear of censorship.” As a society, we cannot move forward without acknowledging the past,” was Prasanna’s viewpoint. He added the sensitivity of this subject has been the biggest challenge for all filmmakers. “The sensitivity of the issue and how people perceive it has become the biggest concern. People normally like to push this kind of an issue under the rug,” was what Prasanna added, having made seven films over two decades, Prasanna previously has collaborated with Indian technicians on several occasions, such collaborations had worked in his favour.”This was not the first time Prasanna had worked with Indian technicians. This was then his fourth collaboration with editor Sreekar Prasad. The sound of my previous three films had been handled by Laxminarayan,Indian collaboration has helped Prasanna to a great extent.
All followers and fans of Prasanna Vithanage would wish him wholeheartedly for him to make many more creations draw them to cinema halls.
Sunil Thenabadu e mail email@example.com WhatsApp 0061444533242