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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Uppalavanna : A contemporary Theri-Gatha Sojourn in a nunnery



Uppalavanna : A contemporary Theri-Gatha Sojourn in a nunnery

by Indeewara Thilakarathne and Ranga Chandrarathne

Uppalavanna, a film directed by Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne and produced by Milina Sumathipala, is woven around an eventful life of a girl, Upuli who entered the Buddhist order of nuns following the tragic events in her life; the killing of her husband by her father at Upuli's mother's funeral and subsequent imprisonment of her father.

According to the pali cannon, Uppalavanna was the Buddhist nun famous for her psychic powers. However, the contemporary Uppalavanna is different in that she has, more or less, become the victim of the circumstances.

The story unfolds with Upuli, a daughter of an aristocratic physician father, falling in love with the son of her teacher of dancing and marries her sweet heart against parent's wishes.

Upuli's mother dies after a prolonged illness apparently precipitated by Upuli's out of caste marriage. On the day of the funeral, Upuli with her husband visits the funeral and furious father (brilliantly portrayed by Suminda Sirisena) kills Upuli's husband, thus changing her course of life.

Stricken hard by the fate befallen on her, Upuli entered a Buddhist nunnery with a firm resolve of committing herself to a hard life of spiritual practice. However, the nunnery does not escape from tremors of a social upheaval as the residual insurgents take refuge in the thick forest surrounding the nunnery, to carry out their military operations.

Peaceful life in the nunnery is shattered when the villagers capture the severely wounded insurgent from the nunnery premises. The insurgent was the killer of the only undergraduate of the village. In the subsequent inquiry conducted by the police, it was revealed that Uppalavanna had treated the severely wounded insurgent.

With the revelation, angry villagers stopped offering alms to the nunnery. The film ends on a note of a question mark over the fate of Uppalavanna who decided to leave the nunnery.

Although the film is set against a pastoral village with impressive nature-escapes, the film lacks depth in terms of evolution of characters and overall message that it strives hard to convey.

It is quite incomprehensible whether the film maker intends to codify the period of terror and the counter insurgency measures adopted by the Government of the day or to highlight the rigid cast system which is still prevalent , especially, among landed-gentry of the up-country.

However, the period of terror has been depicted somewhat authentically as the only undergraduate who was a former insurgent, had been killed by an insurgent showing the brutal nature of hate-mongers and hapless villagers sandwiched between Government rule and the degree of the insurgents.

Especially the dialogue was written in a way capturing the essence of social injustice suffered by the youth and Tissa Abeysekara had written those lines with a deep-understanding and insight of the issues faced by the youth and unrest.

For the Characterisation, Suminda Sirisena as father of Upuli, Rohana Beddage as Teacher of dancing and the character of the insurgent (Roshan Ravindra) who killed the undergraduate, undergraduate (Jagath Chamila) and Chandani Seneviratne have contributed to give a realistic dimension to the otherwise, meaningless concoction of events; reminding some scenes of Water and Sankara.

Although one may not be able to pinpoint that the film has copied or rather adapted some scenes from Water or Sankara, it is doubtful whether the film maker had attempted to adapt some elements of Water in a Buddhist milieu.

Especially the character of Podi Atthi remind the viewers of Chuiya in Water though it is not as lively as Chuiya.

Upuli and Uppalavanna portrayed by Sangeetha Weeraratne, is still not able to come out of her over acting mode which is apparent from induction ceremony into the nunnery as a novice.

However, veteran film maker and literatus Tissa Abeysekera should be commended for the insightful dialogues which shed light to the film. Malini Fonseka's long hair had hindered authenticity of that character which demands a mature personality (not maturity in terms of graying hair).


Malini's voice control is not at all suited for a matured nun and another shortcoming is that a long period of time had been allocated for the scene of shaving Upuli's hair. Here the editor has failed to prone the scene to suit the film rather than reporting it.

Another scene which is prominently displayed was the swimming of the severely wounded insurgent across the lake to the shore of the nunnery with one hand being almost lost and with his intense bleeding and wounds, the scene is far from being realistic.

Overall assessment the film lacks Aesthetic quality.

Navaratne Gamage's music, Camera by Suminda Weerasinghe and the vocal chords of Nanda Malini have made a meaningful contribution to the film. Dr. Praneeth Abeyasundera with his melodious wording has attempted to capture the spirit of the tone of Buddhist chanting.

All in all, Uppalavanna falls into the category of artistic films for which Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne should be praised as Sri Lanka needs more and more artistic films in order to build an informed audience.

Sri Lankan viewers expect Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne who made a lasting contribution to his field of study and to the artistic films, to make more and more films either exploring the intricacies of human nature and the socio-political changes and their impact on the society. The film is produced by Milina Sumathipala on behalf of Sumathi Films.

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