Artistic licenses and their liberties – A critical look at sentiments of film maker Sugath Samarakoon


The article titled Rejuvenating Kuveni which appeared in the Ceylon Daily News’s ‘Magazine’ supplement (4th July 2011) covers a great deal of the film project – Kuveni which no doubt is set to make its presence felt as an ambitious cinematic creation of the epic genre. The article which presents a great deal of the director’s views focuses on the objectives of the film project that carries the central idea of the project being –an endevour to unearth the roots of Sri Lanka and uncover a glorious past that seems to have been lost over time with the advent of Prince Vijaya. But what is highly noteworthy is that the article very pronouncedly declares that the heritage of the Hela people (who were made of four tribes – Yaksha, Naga, Deva, Raksha) to which Princess Kuveni belonged, is the heritage of Sri Lankan people of today and very effectively severs the legacy of Prince Vijaya and his place as the founding father of the Sinhala race. This stance taken warrants questioning. Further, one cannot help but notice that the legacy of Prince Vijaya is more or less being questioned on grounds of moral fiber and through which the objective seems to disregard the significance of that historic event in charting the origins of the Sinhala people and the civilization built consequently.

The Hela people were by all means a greatly advanced civilization whose glories must be sung. The great mighty King Ravana and his predecessors such as the great king Bali or better known as Maha Bali who ruled over a vast empire were of the Yaksha dynasty. But what one needs to note is that the Hela heritage is not the root of the Sinhala race but certainly a part of the gene stream since we may believe the people of Prince Vijaya would have cohabited with the indigenous people of Lanka and the population would have developed thus over generations. However the original inheritors, heirs to the Hela legacy should be the present indigenous community of Sri Lanka – the Vanniyalaththo (Veddha) community, for they would be the ones whose ‘genetic heritage’ did not blend with the migrants from India and maintained themselves as a distinct community. The core objective of destabilizing the Mahavamsa ethos through this film project is somewhat disheartening; especially in the manner in which the director Mr. Sugath Samarakoon puts forward his ideas and goes to the extent of calling the Mahavamsa "hypocritical". Though not a religious text like the Bible, or Koran or the Dhammapada one must understand that the Mahavamsa is a chronicle that is bound with deep rooted sentiments of the collective senses of the Sinhala community. I for one am of the opinion that such remarks are very much injurious to the sensibilities of the Sinhala community. Further I feel a somewhat critical look needs be taken at the manner in which Mr. Samarakoon pontificates over the matter in ‘debunking’ the Mahavamsa in favour of what he is planning to present as the ‘real’ history. How authentic are Mr. Samarakoon’s findings to present his version of history that seeks to ‘correct’ the narrative of the Mahavamsa?

Surely as a work of cinematic art the film can be appreciated for its artistry, and had it been spoken of as an ‘alternative’ narrative that seeks to make no claims of absolutism, then the sentiments aim of the director would be more appreciable. However going by the article concerned the objective seems to be to ‘finally put the record straight’ and in the course of it purport to do justice to a great error of history! Questions need to be raised in this regard –how can the director make claims to be the one knowledgeable on the ‘real’ story? Why has he deemed the origins of the Sinhala community need to be severed from the ethos of the arrival of Prince Vijaya and obscure the legacy of the founding of the Sinhala people? If he is intending to make his film equal in authority to that of a document, why did he not make a documentary film instead? (Perhaps that is in the cards as well?). But then the media of film as art is far more powerful to the mass audience than a documentary, and can appeal more to the emotive aspect of audiences. This is one of the great powers of the art of the moving image.

Thinking about the merits of this cinematic enterprise that seeks to undermine and destabilize the

Mahavamsa, I believe it is worthwhile to state the fact that one of the earliest and strongest advocates denouncing the Mahavamsa, who sought to undermine its authority and made a vociferous argument to ‘debunk’ the Mahavamsa in its position as the historic narrative that is foundational of the Sinhala community’s legacy and heritage in Sri Lanka, was the late Dr. Anton Balasingham the outspoken theoretician of the Elamist project.

By no means am I seeking to undermine the artistic licenses of Mr. Samarakoon. But it would be greatly appreciable if Mr. Samarakoon shows more consideration in making his pronouncements which I find very disheartening and injurious to certain collective beliefs of the Sinhala community who are also after all part of the Sri Lankan ethos.

Dilshan Boange,


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