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Ekamath Eka Rateka:
Conceived in France, Born in Lanka

I greatly enjoyed Sanath Gunatilake’s maiden film, Ekamath Eka Rateka, which is based on Emil Zola’s short story "Pour une nuit d’amour" For a night of love. I write this mainly to figure out for myself why I found this film aesthetically pleasing, emotionally stimulating and even intellectually challenging. I admit freely that not being a professional film critic, I don’t have the technical knowledge about the art of the film to judge its intrinsic merits, if any.

Tissa Abeysekera

How I miss my dear friend Tissa Abeysekera! If he was around we would have discussed this film at great length and dissected its anatomy down to its bare bones. TA regarded SG as his protégé. Nearly a quarter of a century ago he cast the then youthful playboy SG in the lead role of his masterpiece Viragaya which was based on Martin Wickramasinghe’s sublime novel. Under TA’s direction SG’s performance in the film won for him the accolade of Best Actor of 1987 in the Best Film of 1987. Now in the fulness of his maturity and experience in the world of film, SG has dared to plunge into the pool of serious cinema at its deep end. He wrote the screen play, played the lead role and directed the film "Ekamath Eka Rateka".

Emil Zola

Emil Zola (1840-1902) whose longish short story inspired this film belonged to the "naturalist group" of French writers of whom the best known was Guy de Maupassant. Zola said that his broad aim was to depict in his creations "a bit of humanity [and] the way in which men act and behave". (In those sensible days the word "men" always embraced "women".) Unfortunately, however, most of his characters were unbalanced men, scoundrels, thieves, prostitutes and so on. Critic George Moore said of Emil Zola that he was "a striking instance of the insanity of common sense".

Story

The film is essentially the story of the interactions between one lusty woman and two men who happen to be polar opposites in character. The one thing that is common to them is their overwhelming passion for the same woman. One of the men is a handsome young lawyer (played very neatly by Niroshan Ravindra) to whom the woman herself is strongly attracted. Indeed, the demands of womanly dignity notwithstanding, she is manifestly simply asking to be bashed on her skull and dragged to some place by her hair and……..well, my ball-point pen is too prudish to inscribe the six letter word that the woman herself would have unblushingly used in this context.

The other man is a middle-aged weirdo of a clerk. The women in the film find him repulsively unattractive sexually. His face is deformed by what is medically called prognathism i.e. a hideously projecting jaw. And his gait is awkward. But, by God, he can play the flute – or to adapt poet Thomas Gray’s phrase "wake to ecstasy the living" flute. At this point I recall Asia’s best selling pop-star Jay Chou’s remark: "Even when my female fans approach me they don’t tell me I am handsome. They tell me they like my music." In other words, musical ability by itself makes one sexually attractive. (It is of melancholy interest that the music in this film was created and directed by Maestro Premasiri Khemadasa his last film). However divine the music of the clerk is, his face is hell to the women concerned. One young woman cruelly remarks that provided with a handkerchief to cover his face, the rest of his body may still be pressed into the service of a useful biological purpose! (The supreme irony of this film is that the character of the ugly clerk is played by SG, surely one of the handsomest and most seductively eligible bachelors in Sri Lanka, on or off screen.)

Biology

As to the biological purpose the young woman alluded to, the human body, male and female is indeed a living machine for perpetuating human DNA, contained for propagation in sperms and ova. And it was not a biologist but a Nobel-Prize winning poet T. S. Eliot who said: "Birth and copulation and death/ That’s all the facts, when you come to brass tacks". Perhaps it is my background in biology that made this film so meaningful and interesting to me. If I was not aware of the many non-procreative functions of human sexual behavior, I might have dismissed this Adults Only film as an exercise in soft pornography. However, having taught medical students for years about the procreative as well as the non-procreative functions of sex such as pair-forming sex, pair-maintenance sex, physiological sex, exploratory sex, tranquillizing sex, status sex and commercial sex, I could see at once the relevance of the sexual episodes in the film. They are natural and straight and functional. I watched the film with members of my (adults only) family without the slightest degree of embarrassment (In fact, my son-in-law plays the role of the extremely tolerant father of the lusty young woman)

Nirosha Perera

The role of the young upper class woman is played with amazing vigor and flamboyance by Nirosha Perera. For all his physical unattractiveness to women, nothing can prevent the clerk from fantasizing about the young woman whom he sees every day through the window of his apartment, when she comes to the balcony of her luxurious home. In the language of cinema she would be called a sex-goddess; in common parlance a sex-kitten. Perhaps in consonance with the spirit of our times she should more appropriately be described as a "sex-bomb". A large part of the film is devoted to the exploration of the evolution of her unorthodox, uninhibited personality. In our society as presently constituted, to play the role of that young woman with conviction requires immense reserves of moral courage and artistic commitment. She deserves a special salute for her courage and display of sexual pyrotechnics.

Female Dog

Apart from fantasizing about the sex-goddess, the clerk has the deep satisfaction of enjoying the unconditional love and blind loyalty of his pet female dog, his sole partner in life. The role of this creature is played by a dog of extraordinary canine beauty and character. As loving dogs so often do, she too dies tragically and prematurely leaving the clerk heart-broken. Those who feel that the more they know of men the more they love their dog, should see this film if only to have their prejudice substantiated.

The End

In the end, the weird deformed clerk gets the opportunity for a night of love, or rather, I should say, for a few hours of a form of commercial sex with the object of his fantasy. But as it turns out he has to pay for it with his life. Was it worth it? In his autobiography Bertrand Russell says that one reason why he sought love was that it brought ecstasy – "ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy", rhapsodized Russell. If that was, indeed, how the foremost philosopher of the 20th century felt, why speculate about the feelings of a humble clerk concerning the supreme value of a night of love!

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