'Uppalavanna' - a human interest story well related

By Ranat, The Sunday Times, Aug 12, 2007

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- It's good to hear that Professor Sunil Ariyaratne's latest effort, 'Uppalavanna' is doing well with all the cinemas where it's being screened recording the best returns in three years, during the first two weeks. It's indeed a good sign that cinemagoers are prepared to support quality stuff.

There were reservations about 'Uppalavanna' because it was a Buddhist theme. Some wondered whether it was the story of 'theri' Uppalavanna of the Buddha's time. The publicity material carried pictures of yellow-robed 'dasa sil mathas'.

It was described as a contemporary 'therigatha'. (Ven.Dr.Walpola Rahula defines 'theragatha' and 'therigatha' as "ancient Buddhist texts which are full of the joyful utterances of the Buddhist disciples who found peace and happiness in life through Buddha's teaching"). Though the story is woven round the 'sil mathas' , it's a film that can be enjoyed by everyone irrespective of religious concerns.

'Uppalavanna' is a fine team effort. Tissa Abeysekera displays his skills once again with his pen with a strong story, script and dialogues. His cleverness makes it a fine human story set in the era of terror in the late 1980s when young rebels harassed and killed not only people whom they did not like but also their own comrades whenever the leadership felt they were straying.

In 'Uppalavanna', sister Upuli (convincingly played by Sangeetha Weeraratne who created a sensation by shaving her head to give genuineness to the role) meets a severely injured young rebel (Roshan Ravindra plays a difficult role credibly) after such an altercation. She is 'delovak atara' wondering as to how she should respond - ignore him and let him die or look after him within the limitations of how a nun should behave with a male.

Though in an isolated 'aranya' she is able to tend the injured young man, but the secret had to be out some day and it happens. The head of the nuns (Malini Fonseka playing a subdued role displaying her maturity in the field of acting) handles the situation intelligently not yielding to the pressures from the authorities.

Suminda Weerasinghe's camerawork is excellent. Tantirimale has offered him ample scope to turn out a picturesque setting for the story. Dharmasena Hemapala with his art direction and Vasantha Vittachchi with his make-up add to the authenticity of the theme.

Sunil Ariyaratne has been fortunate in gathering a team which has delivered exactly what he expected. He shows maturity in direction and is quite at home with the subject. Possibly he should have handled the village monk a bit more cautiously. It would have been better if the monk's tone and actions were more subdued.

Young nun Sandali Chaturika, Chandra Kaluarachchi who looks after the nuns, Jagath Chamila, the rebel who is assigned the task of killing his comrade and many others play cameo roles making 'Uppalavanna' a treat to watch.