Reel and Religion

By Ramesh Uvais, Daily Mirror, May 2, 2007

Sinhala movies made on Buddhist themes

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- The significance of Wesak lies with Lord Buddha and his universal peace message to mankind. Today – the day following Wesak Full Moon Poya Day, we wish to take a look at Sinhala movies made on Buddhist themes during the past 60 years.

Buddhist teachings centered on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, is the path for the purification of beings - for the overcoming of sorrows and lamentation, for the destruction of all mental and physical sufferings, for the attainment of insight and knowledge and for the realisation of Nibbana.

It should however be noted that despite the existence of 550 Jathaka stories only a few have been transformed into movies in this country, though well-known tele drama director Thusita dse Silva is making a bold attempt to make them into tele drama in his Paramitha series which is being telecast on ITN. Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne once commented that besides the 550 Jathaka stories, innumerable themes that can make thousands of films could be extracted from the Saddharma Rathnavaliya and the Poojawaliya.

Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne has just completed work on a movie based on a Buddhist theme. The film titled ‘Uthpalawanna’ produced by Ms. Milina Sumathipala on behalf of Sumathi Films, has been much-talked about largely because Sumathi Films were making a comeback after several years and also because popular actress Sangeetha Weeraratne fully shaved her head to play the title role.

Movie-wise, only Wessanthara Jathakaya (Wesathuru Siritha) and Seriwanija Jathakaya (Bangali Walalu) have been made into films based on Jathaka stories, while there are other movies made based on Buddhist teachings.

Dr. Lester James Peries’ fifth feature film ‘Ran Salu’ (The Yellow Robe) which was made in 1967, is regarded as the first 100% Buddhist film made in Sri Lanka. The theme was Buddhist in a kind of theological and doctrinal way. Ironically, a Roman Catholic made the film. And it is known that since Dr. Peries was not willing to take a risk or make mistakes with the sensitive theme, he had requested scriptwriter P.K.D. Seneviratne to be on the sets everyday while the film was being shot, to ensure that no last minute changes were being made that would eventually affect the story. Interestingly, Ran Salu also represented Sri Lanka at the Asian Buddhist Film festival in 1994.

In 1952, the movie ‘Siri Sangabo’ also touched upon a Buddhist theme and a Buddhist monk - Ven. Wathuregama Somalankara Thera, scripted the story.

‘Hathara Peraliya’ – directed by L.M. Perera in 1969 also becomes special because it was the first movie that depicted historical scenes of Buddhist heritage in India.

Among other Sinhala movies that touched upon Buddhist themes were Senasuma Kothenada, Sadol Kandulu, Sarawita, Lasanda, Sambudu Mahima, Siri Pathula, Patachara, Ajasatta, Angulimala and a few other movies including Suriya Arana, which was screened a few years ago.

Meanwhile, it might also interest one to know that several film songs based on Buddhist themes have been popular among the masses even today.

Once again, a non-Buddhist – Al Haj Mohideen Baig is considered to be the singer who has sung the most number of Buddhist devotional songs in Sri Lanka. His evergreen song ‘Buddhang Saranang Gatchami …’ in Angulimala is probably the only song that’s played over and over again especially during the Wesak season.

Among his other popular songs are Dam Sugandhe Mal Sugandhe, Minisamai Lowa Dewiyan Wanne, Budhunge Ama Dharme, Ko Sepatha Me Sansare.

Pandith W.D. Amaradewa’s Thanha Ash Ologu karela, Sansara Gamane Thanha asha, Paramitha Bala Pujitha are also popular film songs on Buddhist themes. Lata Walpola, Dharmadasa Walpola, Narada Dissasekara, Nanda Malini, Sujatha Attanayake are also among key singers who have enriched our cinema with a large number film songs based on.