I am not a regular moviegoer, nor am I a movie critic. But with my limited exposure to Sinhala cinema directors, I had taken a firm decision not to see any more of Professor Sunil Ariyaratne’s movies after watching Kristhu Charithaya (on TV) and Sudu Sevaneli (on big screen.) They were very feeble attempts of movie making and I didn’t think he could ever improve as he does not follow the basics of movie making.
When all these euphoria came up in the media with Prof. Ariyaratne’s latest attempt, Kusa-Paba, I was not moved. But when I read in some website that the movie had collected almost 50 million rupees within a short period I was pretty inspired that a Sri Lankan movie could achieve such a feat. So I decided to watch the movie and I decided not to be prejudiced about the movie.
So, I found myself at the cinema. Alas! From the very first scene of the movie that appeared on the screen I was astonished. The scene was miserably blurred. I knew that it would continue to be so and it did till the end of the movie. With the advent of new technology, other Sri Lankan movie-makers have proved that what a better camera can offer to the moviegoer. Then came the actors who looked more like puppets than actors. Not a single scene of the movie could offer a natural flow of acting. Can one expect this from actors like Ravindra Randeniya, Chandani Senevirathna and Jackson Anthony? They didn’t do anything more than just reading the dialogues that were very poorly written. I read somewhere that this is the last movie script that the late Tissa Abeysekara was involved in and I expected a marvel at that department of the movie. Unfortunately he had only written the synopsis of the movie and not the dialogs I. The new dialog writer has taken the biscuit!
Whole costumes, backgrounds looked very amateurish and one could clearly see that they were made of cheap material. The gold statue of Princess Paba didn’t at all look like her and the material used for the statue was not remotely close to gold. The two guards of the king carried it as they were picking a plastic replica of a girl. The weight of the gold never seen. Can a director go this insane? Artwork in the palaces looked like the works of unprofessional temple painters of these days. What we have read is that the arts were perfect in the olden eras and that is what we still see in ruined structures that are still available to see. Why couldn’t the art director do something professional with this movie being a big budget movie? They talked big about the budget of the movie but it is not seen in the movie. Compared to this, Aba was well ahead of Kusa-Paba when it comes to epic (?) movies in Sri Lanka.
The next big joke was using two jokers to carry out such a serious job as finding the girl that looked like the statue. The movie being a commercial, the director does need to insert some humor but the way it was done was very unprofessional.
When seven regional kings surrounded the Princes Paba’s palace, the viewer excepts large armies around the kings as it was what can be expected. I don’t know what the real Jataka story says about it since I haven’t read it but the more practical approach is to have large armies behind the kings. But the director has taken a jocular approach here by using a funny camera angle that shows the elephants bigger than usual (suggesting that the armies are not visible since the elephants cover them) and the kings on the elephants’ back. Why couldn’t the director who is doing an epic movie think of enough people for the movie? It is not easy to make an epic movie, but at least the director should have watched some epic movies before embarking on this project. If hiring and handling people is difficult, the director could have at least used computer generated armies as the Troy director did. The computer animation that was used for the change of face of the Prince Kusa was very amateurish. Moreover, one can expect the nose being changed into a normal one and prince’s face become handsome but addition of a beard is ridiculous. These things distance the viewer from the credibility of the movie.
Bubbly Pooja Umashankar failed to impress the audience with her charms as she did in other Sinhala movies she was involved. It is crystal clear that the director chose Pooja for the movie simply because of her overwhelming popularity among the Sinhala cinema-goers. She never failed in Sri Lanka. Her addition to the movie didn’t bring what was expected. If some other actress were taken for the character, the movie would have been a financial failure.
I feel sorry for Jackson Anthony. In the first place why did the director opt for an aging actor for Kusa’s character? Kusa was ugly but he was young according to the story. Jackson failed miserably as an actor completely due to the fault of the director. We can remember how well he performed in Jayantha Chandrasiri’s Agnidahaya.
When do we see an A. R. Rehman in Sinhla cinema? We don’t see someone who can do some good music to movie ever since veteran Premasiri Kemadasa was gone. The music was not good enough for the dance scenes in Kusa-Paba and the dancers were also pathetic. There was no synchronization with the song and dance and the dancers never looked as a unit.
Kusa-Paba is doing a very strong advertising campaign. But I did not see a single scene in the commercials that was attractive enough for me to go to the cinema. I thought that the advertising team has not been creative enough to find a suitable scene or two for the commercials. But after watching the movie I understood that there is not a single scene that is attractive enough for a commercial in the whole movie.
I feel terribly sorry for Professor Ariyaratne who has been very successful as a songwriter, academic, lecturer and a researcher. But what I cannot understand is that why he cannot realize that movie-making is not his field? We cannot expect him to make a ‘Troy’ or an ‘Ashoka’ for that matter but if he cannot impress the audience with a decent product after doing 17 (sic) movies, when can he understand that he is not made for movie making?
This new emerging trend of Sinhalese epic films started with Jackson Anthoney’s undeservingly overhyped “Aba” seems to have come only to exploit the market, so they are nothing but another form of today’s commercial exploitation. There’s a sheer difference between marketing a quality product vs running a massive marketing campaign to sell an inferior product which has been brought in merely to exploit the situation. The recent films like “Aba”, “Mahindagamanaya” & “Kusa Paba” have all belong to the latter category IMO, they all have been pretty inferior productions in true cinematic quality, yet very much overhyped in media even before being released to the theatres. If you take “Aba”, how immature its costumes & dialogues were. Can any rational audience accept the fact that it depicted an era of 23 centuries back ?. Some of the costumes were much similar to the ones you’d expect in a modern fashion show. When it comes to acting, what an utter failure & a melodrama it was ?. What was the value added by most of the scenes played by Saumya Liyanage (“Habara”) & his fiancee there ?. And how immature were the lead roles & most of the battle scenes ?. Music & dancing would have only reminded an everyday Bollywood movie, certainlly not an epic adventure movie. What a melodramatic inferior production it was as a whole & can anyone with any sort of rational mindset would think such ones would have existed 2300+ years back ?. To say the least, this new trend of so called Sinhalese epid films has come merely for financial purposes, for nothing else. They lack even the bare minimum credibility you’d expect from a film in the category of epic adventures & cannot even hold a candle to their international counterparts like “Braveheart”, “The Kingdom of Heaven”, “The Last of the Mohicans”, “The Alexander: Fortune Faviours the Brave”, “Patriot”, etc.. Even the film “The God King” directed by Lester James Peiris almost 3 decades back would still beat this new generation of Sinhalese epic films who’re very immature & inferior in quality. I have not watched “Kusa Paba”, but I can safely say that I wouldn’t expect any miracle from it compared to what I saw from “Aba”. It’s not just the fault of the directors, even most of our actors still practice over-acting more often than not which kills the credibility to a great degree. Direction is also very crude & lacks even the minimum subtlety you’d expect from a reasonable film. The music & dancing scenes become only a burden more often than not. It’s true the fact that we don’t have the actors in the class of Daniel Day Lewis, Mell Gibson, Orlando Bloom, etc., or the directors in the class of Ridley Scott, Michael Mann or David Lean for that matter. We don’t have the composers like John Barry either who can add musical scores matching with the theme without being a mere burden to the film. But most of the problems seems to have come from how we percieve this media, it should be an art whose credibility is vital to convey its message. We cannot add scenes, dialogues, musics & dancing merely for the entertainment purposes if they don’t match with the theme, thus killing the credibility of the entire movie. Unfortunates most of our directors take example from Bollywood, another classic example of what a world class failure you can end up being if you solely focus on the quantity without paying much concern on quality. If we can see beyond epic films coming from Bollywood, it would do wonders for our cinema, at least in future.
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