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Comment: Samige Kathawa



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by Nanda Pethiyagoda


The film of Captain Elmo Jayawardena’s 2001Gratiaen Award winning book Sam’s Story is now being screened at the Regal Cinema. It almost crept in to the cinema circuit with no fanfare or announcement, or so I felt. This to me is unjustified since the film, through its chief actor, brought prestigious kudos to the country. He, Jagath Chamila, won the award for the Best Actor 2013 in the NYCIFF which is the New York International Film Festival. The awards ceremony was on June 20 last year. Publicity for this achievement was given in the newspapers, which was so deserved, but as I mentioned, the film being on in the local cinema circuit was inadequately announced.


I watched the YouTube presentation of the awards in New York as relayed by Boston Lanka News. It was so gladdening to see Jagath Chamila go up for best actor award beating four contenders including an American and a Dane. His delight was captured plus the magnanimity with which he accepted the award as an award for and achievement of the country.


The story


Captain Elmo Jayawardena, true to his magnanimous nature and personality, wrote very sympathetically about a houseboy who is not all there. As the film shows, the second of his employers asks him what he can do: Can you cook, `no’ is the answer. Can you iron clothes, `no.’ And then Sam brightens up and says: "I can break cobwebs!" The story reaches across Sri Lanka "a country gasping for fresh air in the midst of an unending cruel war and the chronic trauma it creates in the people, afflicting every race." The cinema pamphlet announces "There are different meanings to life." Thus we have maternal and filial love addressed in the novel; poverty and being trapped by it in villages; the ethnic crisis which less bigoted people resolve with understanding; loyalty of employee to employer and the humaneness of the latter. The most significant of the issues dealt with is the behavior, strains and stresses, childlike devotion; trauma of being exploited (the servant woman seeking sexual gratification) and the manner in which the mentally deficient live by intuition and instinct with however, flashes of strong understanding and of course honesty and integrity coming through.


Elmo Jayawardena skillfully and subtly word-depicted these issues, a delicate task achieved which surety of touch. This depiction of the character of the chief protagonist is more difficult on screen. The childishness of intelligence- deficient Sam, his bumbling walk, his grins of joy could so easily have descended to farce and broad, cruel humour. But this is not so. The viewer is touched by the boy/man and always had sympathy for him, plus admiration for him in many scenes. The director and particularly the actor who played the role of the servant boy Siriratne, named Sam for ease, succeed brilliantly in the sensitive portrayal of the awkwardly bumbling yet full-of-good-qualities main character.


The film


The film was produced by Priyankara Vittanachchi with Nimal Deshapriya as deputy director and cameraman Ruwan Costa. It took five years to complete but the time spent is well worth it, since the film is very commendable.


A number of stars depict the characters; well known and less known. Sanath Gunatilake and Menik Kurukulasuriya are the sympathetic employers of Sam; Sanath playing his role very convincingly since we seldom come across truly sympathetic employers. The mother of Sam (Nilmini Bhuveneka) was striking in her total persona as the poor mother of two sons, one of whom joins the army. Her face, stance, few words accompanied by subtle facial expressions are very convincing. Commendably the cook appu and maid who were Tamil in the story looked like Tamil actors.


I have not touched on the depiction of Sam by Jagath Chamila. How could I and why should I when a prestigious film awards establishment selected him as the best actor in a main role. Two comments: the ease with which he wore his disfiguring denture as if they were his natural teeth and the totally convincing breaking into uncontrollable sobs as he finds that the only article preserved by his brother and returned to his mother with the flag that covered the coffin is the T-Shirt he gifted him with his first salary. The viewer is either totally with the actor in difficult-to-carry-through scenes like this, or feels uncomfortable. Jagath Chamila was near perfect.


The one criticism is that the film is a mite too long. Did the director and producer bow to the local cinema demand of a long film to ensure commercial success? One hour forty five minutes seemed too protracted. Some of the slow movements of Sam could have been deleted without compromising the depiction of the character and the audience’s correct reaction to him – one of sympathy mixed with affectionate regard and even admiration. The film keeps close to the award winning novel, hence also its success. It is a must see film to cinema buffs.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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