Comment: Sinhala film Vijayaba Kollaya


I went to the Regal Cinema recently with great anticipation expecting a semi-documentary historical film on King Vijayabahu VI of Kotte (b 1445, d 1521) and the arrival and cunning colonization of the maritime provinces by the Portuguese in 15/16 century Ceylon, with brave resistance or cunning connivance of the Sitawaka and Kandyan Kingdoms. What else would one expect from Vijayaba Kollaya directed by Sunil Ariyaratne, produced by H. D. Premasiri with music by Rohana Weerasinghe. Someone had mentioned in passing it was adapted from a novel by W. A. Silva – famous author of decades gone by – and so I said: much the better. And what did I sit through? A totally melodramatic love story in Bollywood style. I could not believe the director who gave us the cinematic production BimbaHYPERLINK "" Devi HYPERLINK ""hewathHYPERLINK "" HYPERLINK ""Yashodhara (2018) with Pallavi Subhash could descend to bringing forth a melodrama billed as a love triangle, even though from a 1938 novel. Maybe I am too harsh; this film will appeal to the average Sinhala cinema film-goer. Box office takings are important!


The history depicted was only a fat, very sick reclining Vijayabahu, with a traitorous wife or mistress attending on him. The king’s three sons, escaped from prison, are expected in the palace, and the aforementioned carer plans for them to be murdered. She tutors her son to lead them into the palace along a devious path. He finds he cannot lead them to their death. The youngest son enters the king’s bedroom in high dudgeon and does him in. Poor king who was waiting to greet and receive his sons, stabbed to gory death. That was the history in the film.

The historical fact of the Portuguese settling down on coastal areas to trade in cinnamon but having an eye on colonialism was also shown in mere flashes. The camera shifts to the cantonment of the Portuguese on the beach with Hans Billimoria (Captain) who plays around with his luscious Muslim mistress - Chulakshi Ranatunga; crafty Ryan van Rooyen and another Portuguese sailor Gavin Ludowyk. Concentration was on their imbibing and the Chief’s dallying with his keep.

The film per se

The rest of the film – most of it - was on the so advertised love triangle between Neelamani (played by Senali Fonseka), daughter of an important courtier of the Sitawaka regime (how was he on the coast?) and Asanga (a fine Ashan Dias), her betrothed from their very young days and spy/courier Nayanandana (Hemal Ranasinghe) from the Kingdom of Sitawaka or Kandy, I did not catch which though subtitling in English helped.

The film starts with Neelamani riding her horse along the beach, then dancing and prancing on ocean waves, and voluptuously posing on sand. Tying her horse in the stables she is confronted by refugee Nayanandana. The first unbelievable in the film is that she instantly falls in love with him and brings him food and also pleads with her father to save him.

The melodrama continues with Asanga bequeathing his betrothed to the new man in her life. The final scene has Navanandana with Neelamani in a favourite coastal meeting place saying he could do nothing to save Asanga caught as they were by the Portuguese. The melodramatic frame of mind I was in prompted me to expect Asanga to appear though he was sorely wounded. And yes, he did! Prostrate on his horse he is brought to the two, chivalrously blessing their union and magnanimously dying in the girl’s arms.

The title of the film translates itself to ’Sack of Vijayabahu’ which made me expect much of the Kotte Kingdom and King Vijayabahu VI himself. I wrote earlier what we saw of him! In the Internet blurb the film is said to be "a historical and romance film" with the screenplay written by Tissa Abeysekera. It was produced with the cooperation of executive film producer BoodeeHYPERLINK "" HYPERLINK ""Keerthisena to celebrate the 71st anniversary of Sinhalese Cinema. Apt, I suppose, to have a song and dance film of love and buxom dames and whoever the choreographer was, s/he gave us diaphanous costumes and a belly dance cum Bollywood shake from Chulakshi Ranatunge showing much leg to her slave driving Portuguese master.

I was personally disappointed. However I am sure those who have read W A Silva’s long ago novel and are hooked on Bollywood and melodramatic tele-films will appreciate the film.

It is pertinent to recall what I wrote about the director of this film in my comments on two of his previous productions, published in this newspaper in May 2018 and May 2016 respectively:

"Bimba Devi hewath Yashodara (2018) is directed and much else by Prof Sunil Ariyaratne and produced and released by H D Premasiri. Excellent background music and singing is by Rohana Weerasinghe. Prof Sunil Ariyaratne has cleverly, with great intelligence and care made a beautiful film on the life of Yashodara."

And my comment on the film Pathini (2016): "… directed by acknowledged film expert Sunil Ariyaratne, was to me a hybrid and as such fell between stools. Frankly I was disappointed with it. Why do I use the word ‘hybrid’ in relation to the film? To me, a mere film-goer who however sees films with critical faculties alert, the film attempted to be an epic with a strong religious and particularly Buddhist approach but it brought in too strong the Bollywood genre of musical with stunning hip-shaking gyrating dances and loud music."

That latter verdict applies to Vijayaba Kollaya. We expect more from this expert director. Perhaps his next film will satisfy the more critical of film buffs.

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