Source: Wijeya Newspapers Ltd
Rajitha Dissanayake has done it again. Seven years ago his play 'Weeraya Merila' bagged most of the top awards at the 2002 National Drama festival - and come 2009 - his latest production 'Apahu Herenna Behe' (No Return), did the same.
The play, which juxtaposes politically sensitive issues with personal ones, has to date completed 49 shows and sparked much public debate. It has, to a large extent, achieved Rajitha's goal of social discourse through drama (a dying art in today's lounge-room media culture).
With the awards for 'Best Play', 'Best Director', 'Best Actor' (Saumya Liyanage), Best Supporting Actress' (Jayani Senanayake), 'Best Stage Management' (Ruwan Malith) and second place for 'Best Script' under his belt , Rajitha can look forward to more full houses as 'Apahu Herenna Behe' continues to tour. Its 50th performance will be at the Lionel Wendt on 30th January 2010 - as part of the Neelan Thiruchelvam memorial performance.
Rajitha was motivated to write 'Apahu Herenna Behe' during his term as a visiting scholar A visiting scholar, in the world of academia, is a scholar from an institution who visits a receiving university that hosts him where he or she is projected to teach (visiting professor), lecture (visiting lecturer), or perform research (visiting researcher at the Ballstate University in the US in 2006. He used this period to watch as many plays as possible - both in the university and on Broadway. "During this time I began to feel that news and information is distributed to the public from a certain central powerbase. In this process, many stories are lost, hidden from the public eye, or not reported at all" says Rajitha. This was particularly evident in the western media's reportage of the Afghan and Iraqi wars - and Rajitha began to feel that the same could be said of the Sri Lankan situation as well.
"In the Sri Lankan civil war The Sri Lankan Civil War is an ongoing conflict on the island-nation of Sri Lanka. Since the year 1983, there has been on-and-off civil war, predominantly between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), a separatist militant too, I realised that the centre manipulates news and information, and hides facts from the public. So in writing the script, I made the protagonist a character that opposes this process", he adds. However, being the good writer that he is, Rajitha did not simplify the protagonist's role by making him a one dimensional 'holier than thou' character. Conflict creates drama. And the protagonist is a man who grapples with deep personal conflict. While crusading for the public's right to information on national issues, he in turn hides information from his wife - that of a close friendship (relationship?) with another woman. "This is the dilemma I wanted to create. Can one fight the system for the public's right to information on national issues, and then hide personal information from one's own wife?" asks Rajitha, with a wry smile.
The script is multi-layered. While dealing with the main issue of the 'right to information', it also deals with a system that uses and discards people with scant scant
adj. scant·er, scant·est
1. Barely sufficient: paid scant attention to the lecture.
2. Falling short of a specific measure: a scant cup of sugar. regard for their feelings or rights. Everyone is a victim in this process. Even the ones who seemingly seem·ing
Outward appearance; semblance.
seeming·ly adv. brandish bran·dish
tr.v. bran·dished, bran·dish·ing, bran·dish·es
1. To wave or flourish (a weapon, for example) menacingly.
2. To display ostentatiously. See Synonyms at flourish.
n. power and position.
But the theme and storyline Noun 1. storyline - the plot of a book or play or film
plot - the story that is told in a novel or play or movie etc.; "the characters were well drawn but the plot was banal" alone are insufficient to make a good drama script. "It was important for me to maintain the artistic element of this play. I feel the text saw me develop as a writer - especially in terms of character development. The behaviour of my characters is essentially a reaction to the socio-political culture they face in engaging, or even clashing, with the system" says Rajitha.
One of Rajitha's main concerns is to prevent a drop in the quality of the performance as familiarity with the play grows. "I spend a lot of time working with the actors. We keep searching for new meaning to the characters, and try and make each performance more perfect than the one before. I don't want the life and energy of the play to drop as we perform more shows". Rajitha has always worked with the best in the trade. The cast of 'Apahu Herenna Behe' consists of well known names like Saumya Liyanage, W. Jayasiri, Jayani Senanayake and Dharmapriya Dias.
"As a director, the main challenge is to keep developing the text and form of the play with each show. Developing the central themes and characterization is vital in this regard. The relationships, struggles and discussions of the characters must be reanalysed and given new meaning" emphasizes Rajitha.
"We live in a society now where reality is more dramatic than drama. In the future, dramatists will have to experiment with different styles and forms of theatre to draw audiences. The challenge is to do drama 'for the people", he adds.Rajitha feels that people today find it hard to define their goals and roles in society. "People lack direction, and often react to situations violently". This is because people's lives are in a constant collision course collision course
A course, as of moving objects or opposing philosophies, that will end in a collision or conflict if left unchanged: two planes on a collision course; dissidents on a collision course with the regime. with the economy, media, advertising and consumerism consumerism
Movement or policies aimed at regulating the products, services, methods, and standards of manufacturers, sellers, and advertisers in the interests of the buyer. . "As artistes we have a responsibility to make people think about this situation. The mainstream media ignores it. Therefore artistes must fill the void. This is not an easy task".
One area where Rajitha and his 'Freedom Theatre Group' have tackled this situation quite effectively is in the university system. Local universities are, unfortunately, notorious for their lack of tolerance. Opposing political or ideological views are often met with hostility and violence from the student body. But Rajitha has, in a small way, managed to encourage healthy debate and disagreement in universities through his plays.
Performances in universities are often followed up by discussion sessions with the students and cast, says Rajitha. "Students come and freely express their views. Some agree with us, some don't. It's a very fulfilling experience for all. We consider their reading and interpretation of our plays to be very important".
The discrepancy DISCREPANCY. A difference between one thing and another, between one writing and another; a variance. (q.v.)
2. Discrepancies are material and immaterial. in drama and politics as a vehicle of creating social discourse, Rajitha says, is a matter of discipline. Politics is an undisciplined medium, where violence and chaos is the norm. Drama on the other hand, requires discipline on the part of the performer as well as the audience. A culture of tolerance and discipline engulfs drama, and this naturally spills over to discourse and debate arising from it. "This is where the role of drama is important in addressing social issues and making people think in a healthy proactive manner", says Rajitha.
There were many people who helped make 'Apahu Herenna Behe' a success, says Rajitha. Apart from his dedicated cast and crew Rajitha would also like to thank Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, Prof. Nihal Perera and Hashini Haputhanthri for their support and guidance.