A Scintillating Evening of Appreciating Dr Lester James Peries


Co-author Kumar de Silva, Anarkali de Silva, Yashodha Wimaladharma, French Ambassador Monchau, Alexandre Martinez and Mrs Monchau.

The auditorium of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute was packed full on the evening of Tuesday October 27 when the Sinhala translation of Lester by Lester as told to Kumar de Silva was launched. Kumar’s 2005 publication is the collaborative biography of Dr Lester James Peries (LJP) as narrated by the great man and written down and published by Kumar de Silva. The Head of the Department of Fine Arts, University of Peradeniya, Athula Samarakon, recently translated the book - Lester Pavatha - which was published by Ranjit Samaranayake. The event was also a public appreciation extended to LJP as the final event of the French Spring Festival in Sri Lanka. Billed as Homage to Dr Lester James Peries, the event was hosted by the Alliance Francaise de Kotte.

Dr Peries was unfortunately indisposed and unable to be present, but Sumithra Peries graciously substituted for her husband. It was a star studded occasion of paying homage to not only an excellent film maker but a great man and true patriot of Sri Lanka.

The event

Kumar de Silva and Yashoda Wimaladharma smoothly compered the event which had pairs of Sinhala film artistes narrating incidents as documented in the book being launched and their parts played in the films directed by LJP, while excerpts from films ranging from Rekawa through Gamperaliya to Wekande Walauwe were projected on two screens. The first pair to get on stage and reminisce was Sangeetha Weeraratne and Kamal Addararachchi; Sangeetha taking time off from a modeling assignment and arriving in brilliant bridal dress. They were followed by Sriyani Amarasinghe and Nadeeka Gunasekera; the former recalling her role as a blind girl playing opposite Joe Abeywickrema in Desa Nisa and the latter as Hinnihami in Baddegama. Ravindra Randeniya paired with Malini Fonseka with film snippets from Wekande Walauwe as backdrop to what they had to say. Randeniya ended his recollection of working with the great man by saying Lester James Peries is a ‘most valuable’ Sri Lankan and that Sumitra deserves acknowledgement for caring so well and protecting this ‘national treasure’. Glowing tributes which Dr Peries richly deserved were paid him by these artistes who all acknowledged gratitude to him for launching them, or helping them in their film careers.

Music was provided by young Nuran Gomez on piano, Nuran being a great grandnephew of LJP. Two film songs were sung by Suriya Dayaruwan who starred in Butterfly Symphony opposite Yashoda. Nuran was introduced as a wizard on the piano who gifted the Peries’ a DVD of their film music played solo on the piano, on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. This music filled the hall before the event rolled on.

The translator, Athula Samarakon spoke next. His task had been far from easy as he had to retain the idiomatic style of LJP’s conversation in English and capture and present his ideas, feelings and the nuances of meaning of what was told and recorded by Kumar de Silva. This we could well understand. Though Kumar’s task was onerous, pinning down LJP’s ideas and thus character traits of the great man while retaining his style of narration and the very essence of the person he is, the translator’s task was even more difficult, delicate and pitfall full. Samarakoon was fully appreciative of the diverse facets of LJP that made him a truly great man. He mentioned the fact of his being a store house of local and international film lore; possessing extensive knowledge of the history of Sri Lanka and the world; his ideas on colonialism having experienced it when young; his intimacy and use of the French language and familiarity with French, particularly Parisian culture. He mentioned that which was most noteworthy in this man born to privilege: his deciding to settle down in Sri Lanka when he could so easily have lived in comfort in London or Paris. And through his films, his projecting the land, its culture and unique diversity, internationally. Filmmaking was neither easy nor cheap. LJP did it by selling his properties and devoting his life to filmmaking, ably and affectionately aided by his wife, a kindred spirit in the love of country and the arts, more especially films.

The planning of this huge event was by Kumar de Silva who is a trustee of the Lester James Peries and Sumitra Peries Foundation, assisted at the event by another trustee – Yashoda Wimaladharma. All praise to Kumar since the event was worked out very smoothly, seemingly effortlessly, with others playing active roles in it. I was surprised when he told me they had hardly had a full rehearsal. Not even a minor hiccup was discernible. And in all that rush, he remembered it was Yashoda’s birthday so there he was mentioning it, a film version of the birthday song being played and she gifted a huge cake and bouquet of flowers. She looked elegantly refined in a superbly draping dull beigy sari with an embroidered blouse.

No one was left out

Kumar narrated a heartwarming story to me when I phoned to congratulate him the day after the event. A devoted fan of LJP had travelled all the way from Anuradhapura and appeared at the SLFI auditorium in the early afternoon. Dressed very shabbily and looking fatigued, he fortunately spoke with Kumar before anyone else saw him and turned him away as a mendicant. He told Kumar how he had arrived to be part of the felicitation of the great man he so admired. Kumar invited him to stay on, witness the proceedings, partake of the refreshments served at the end of the event and gifted him a book too, which last was what he really wanted. There was another such person who had not travelled so far, but hearing of the event, wanted to be part of it. He too was invited to participate.

I will not write about Dr Lester James Peries. He is too well known and admired in all corners of the Island; internationally too. Nevertheless, I need to mention it is heartwarming to know that not only the stars he opened the door to and brought fame to but the man on the street who knows he has brought honour to the land and appreciates him. Both LJP and Sumitra are friendly with not an iota of hubris in them. I did not want to intrude into the crowd that was surrounding her at the end of the event, but when I went to wish her, she indicated she would like to speak with me. It did not happen since some older film woman dragged her to pose with each member of her family separately! Sumitra smilingly obliged. I missed congratulating her but I am sure she knows she has won the hearts of people and is as revered as her husband is.

Kumar needs appreciative thanks for organizing the event on 27 October which turned out to be a great success.

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