Q: What are the factors that led you into creative arts?
A: Being an only child in my family, my parents left me with a lot of books at an early age because they found it difficult to provide me with a playmate. I was an avid reader, and one day I declared to my mother I want to be a writerā.
Q: How old were you then?
A: I was eight years old.
Q: Who were your early influences in cinema and art?
A: My father took me to watch every new release of Sinhala films on Saturdays. I saw lots of movies made by Lenin Moraes featuring Gamini and Malini and Vijaya and Malini. At the same time he took me to watch English language movies like Born Free and To Sir with Love with Sydney Poitier. I think that film where a black teacher trying to comply with unruly white students struck me because of its human sentiments. During this period my father supplied me with a lot of books from his office library and I remember well the impact Les Misarables by Victor Hugo and Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas had on me.
The film that changed the way I saw the world, was Dharmasena Pathiraja's Ahas Gawwa. A story about unemployed urban youth had a freshness that I had not experienced before. Then later at a Lester James Peries film festival I was able to see most of the films he directed. What attracted me to his films were the lyricism and the gentleness of the handling of the craft, where you felt he made the film with almost a velvet glove. Later I discovered Sathyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa, Andre Vida and John Ford. I felt like Christopher Columbus, discovering new worlds!
Q: Did your teenage years of life or school support you in your interests in play writing and acting?
A: First I studied at St. John's girls' school and I used to sing Sinhala songs from the commercial films in drama society meetings. Then I was transferred to Cyril Janz College where I directed plays while acting in them to raise funds for the school development projects. I did the same when I was studying at D.S. Senanayake College later. When I was in school I went for an audition for Titus Totawatte's famous film Handaya¯. When he informed me that I have not been chosen for a role, my acting career came to an end. But he offered me a position as a production assistant, and that is when I became more and more interested in the making of films.
Q: As a person who started his professional artistic career as a stage director, can you tell us what made you to go into the world of films ?
A: Though I was involved in theatre before I directed my first film, I had already decided to become a filmmaker early on. In my school days I was an avid theater goer, and because of a book sent to me by a friend living in the United Kingdom, it made me want to further study stage acting and directing. The book was Legacy, by the great Russian actor and theoretician Stanislavsky. I think my maiden play Avie, a translation of Bernard Shawas Arms and the Man became more of a kinetic expression because I was thinking more like a filmmaker.
Q: Were you ever inspired by the films of Lester James Peries, Satyajit Ray or Kurosawa?
A: Yes, of course very much. I think what inspired me the most was the humanity which they expressed while giving each character a deserving dignity. And their movies continue to inspire me even to this day.
Q: Critics have mentioned that your cinematic codes and language have stylistic elements of masters of the European film schools such as Krzysztof Kie lowski, the Polish film director and Russian Andrei Tarkovsky, do you agree?
A: Kieslowski once said there are two kinds of filmmakers in this world. One kind cares about other human beings and sees their sufferings as his own and relates to it. The other kind sees the weaknesses of human beings and exploits them to gain popularity or financial success. I try my best to emulate the former. Tarkovsky was a true poet who was concerned about the value of human life and the meaning of existence. Both their films have made us examine ourselves in introspect. In the art of cinema they are immortals. And us mere mortals cannot even fathom to emulate them.
Q: What inspired you to make the multiple award winning film, Pura Handa Kaluwara (Death on a Full Moon Night)?
A: Things I saw when I went for location scouting in the North Central province made me change the script and to understand its people, their environment. It inspired me to look closer into the life of the people disengaging myself from the society I used to live in.
Q: Did the banning of the film by the then Government deter you from making films with controversial topics?
A: I have never made films exploiting so-called controversial topics. Others have made my films/stories controversial. When Purahanda¯ was banned, I took it as a challenge and filed a fundamental rights violation case against the Film Corporation and the minister in charge of film industry. The incident did not deter me; in contrast, it gave me more strength to continue to follow my artistic instincts.
Q: Ira Mediyama (August Sun) was your second civil war film, in it you have highlighted the grave injustices perpetrated by the LTTE on the largely Muslim population in North. How much of an impact do you think your film had on raising awareness of those human rights issues?
A: For the first time after seeing this movie, a lot of people living in the south became aware of the sufferings experienced by the Muslims, people who were chased away from their traditional homelands by the LTTE. I was pleased, because when I was making the film I promised the real refugees who acted as themselves, that I would make their voices heard.
Q: By directing Akasa Kusum, (Flowers of the Sky), your last feature film, have you completely moved away from your usual themes such as politics, civil war etc. and their impacts on society. What motivated you to make Akasa Kusum?
A: I don't think I completely moved away from the conflict between the characters and society or politics. Sandya Rani lost part of herself because of the pressures of the institutions larger than herself such as the film industry. When she gets a second chance in life she faces society or an industry more commercialised, where there is no concern for the value of the human being. It leads her to find herself.
Raising the value of human life in a society where actors or others have become commodities for me is in fact political.
Q: Are you working on any new projects presently?
A: Yes. I am working on my first Tamil language film, and I am developing an epic period about the last days of the Kandyan kingdom, and also a film based on the events during the Second World War in Colombo.
Q: In your cinematic work, you have always worked with the cinematographer, M. D. Mahindapala? Why? What have you got to say about his contributions as a cinematographer?
A: I have worked on four films with Mahinda ( Purahanda, Anantha Rathriya, Ira Madiyama and Akasa Kusum) and look forward to work with him again. Apart from filmmaking the life of the human, our concerns are similar. He is able to bring out the characters inner feelings from the way he lights them up from outside. I consider him a true artistic partner, because when I make a film, I don't need to only talk to him about cinematography. He has been a part of my film process from the inception to the first print.
Q: Finally, can you name five films that have influenced you theĀ most?
A: Tokyo Story -“ Yasujiro Ozu
Pickpocket -“ Robert Bresson
Seven Samurai -“ Akira Kurosawa
Grapes of Wrath -“ John Ford
Citizen Kane -“ Orson Wells
Q: What is your advice or message to young film makers?
A: Patience. Patience. Patience.
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