In the field of Sri Lankan electronic media creations, specifically in video and film Director Bertram Nihal, has achieved an unassailable height, as an individual of outstanding abilities. His track-record is astounding,to say the least. Such products as Gamperaliya teledrama, Dadabima (Hunting Ground), Kadawara (Demon God) and Bhavana (Meditation) remain seminal works, by their path-finding and exploratory spirit. As public opinion and critical pronouncement would assert, a work like ‘Bhavana’ could quite easily rate as one of the best teledramas, in the whole history teledrama production in Sri Lanka.
He has been able to win these glorious peaks, through a dedication and discipline that is quite rare in our time. His current production ‘Amarapuraya’ (The Immortal City) possesses the creative excellence, quality heights, cinematic vigour and compelling narrative power to hold the attention of audiences anywhere.
‘Amarapuraya’ rises above the currently prevailing domination of the teledrama landscape by tinsel-dazzle works, most of which celebrate only a surface glitter. They have no depth to them. Besides such works, to a great extent, do not possess an inner being, that could appeal to the deeper issues of life.
On the other hand, director Bertram Nihal’s new creation is a total departure from that general trend. In ‘Amarapuraya’ he has presented to teledrama – viewers a classic play that depicts vividly the troubled soul of the modern man.
What is exceptionally praiseworthy in his work is the unerring identification of the mood of the contemporary society. People everywhere are caught up in the rat-race, seeking frantically the values dictated by the cash-nexus. The insatiable hunger for money, robs them of their in-born humanity. They are ready to sacrifice anything and anyone to gain monetary advantages. Wholesome human values have diminished to such an extent, that an affectionate son can point a loaded gun at his ultra-wealthy father. This situation that occurs in director Bertram Nihal’s ‘Amarapuraya’ at a poignant and climatic moment in the drama, symbolises this inhuman pursuit of material well-being. What is remarkable about Bertram Nihal’s creativity is that, this incident is not forcibly tagged on to the story for sensationalism, but it emerges as an inevitable outcome of the personality development and the progress of the story-line.
In this scene the doting son, is the shadow of the rootless, radical youth-cults that haunt some areas at the edge of western urban societies.
The teledrama adopts an unusual structural format. Two diametrically opposed forces evolve along parallel lines. Ultimately they merge with each other, producing a climate that enthrals the audiences.
The father at whom, the son points the gun, is a prestigious tycoon, running a business empire with tentacles spread far and wide. He is substantially affluent and inhabits a palatial mansion. He is emotionally emaciated and leads a life of crowded loneliness. His inner feelings are so much parched, that he has no emotional mechanism to accept the love offered by his wife, two daughters and the son. In this central character, veteran actor Jeewan Kumaranatunga crafts a cinematic role, which, without any doubt may prove, the most exquisite in his long and sustained film-career. Charles Balawardene’s (Jeewan Kumaranatunga’s) relentless chase of entrepreneurial power, leads to the world of political intrigue. He manipulates his financial weight, to shift the political balance at will.
The chaotic emotional storms within the family have been captured by Director Bertram Nihal, with the precision of a novelist recording the human detail, implicit in a crisis. The deftness exhibited in these sensitive cinematic portrayals, is sufficient reason to rate director Bertram Nihal as an outstanding practitioner of cinema stylo style. The harsh and sickening world of the soul-destroying rat-race is in total contrast to the second narration stream running right through the Teledrama. This movement is the outcome of the disenchantment with the power-driven cash fuelled world, bent perpetually on the pursuit of material gains.
This world is free of the ‘angst’ the harrowing anxiety that plagues the ardent devotees of the cash-cult. A soothing serenity pervades the sylvan hermitage, set in the midst of a green forest, beyond an alluring stream. The tranquillizing rhythm of the flowing waters, provides a spiritual background music to the gentle and peaceful way of life led at the hermitage.
To director Bertram Nihal, the natural stream that flows at a gentle rhythm at the edge of the forest, is the demarcating line that separates the serene and tranquil oasis of Truth-seekers, from the greed-ridden anxious world of those who wage an anxious struggle to grasp monetary power. The main personality, whose gentle and compassionate ways pervade the serene hermitage in the heart of the forest, is a disciplined, calm monk. This role is interpreted with telling effectiveness and impressive distinction by highly experienced dramatist Bandula Vithanage. His presence exudes a tranquillizing sense of serenity.
The ersatz happiness and gaiety that keep the pleasure seekers deploying their bodies in tantalizingly erotic postures, offer a sharp comment on both these worlds. At the night-clubs, love is bought, sold and at times stolen. In the forest hermitage, compassion bubbles up at a humane pace. There the kindness and affection are natural forces that well out of loving hearts and souls.
Perhaps, it is in “Amarapuraya” that the horror, the ugliness, plot and counterplot, murderous conspiracies and also the farce and the stupidly in politics are all vividly and rivetingly captured for the first time in a teledrama in Sri Lanka.
The teledrama “Amarapuraya” begins to cast its spell on the viewer, from the opening scene itself. The symbol of the gently wafting flower-seed, communicates the essence of the wayward world, floating aimlessly, apparently without a set goal. The preliminary phase of the teledrama, amounts to an aurally and visually effective exercise to define the characters who enact this perpetually contradictory human drama, propelled forward by the contrasts that impart a sustaining vigour and power.
The impressive deftness with which the director achieves his cinematographic aims, is eloquently exhibited by the visuals that portray the goings-on at the night club. The disarray, the confusion and the riotous marinade of sounds, sights and body-rhythms are authentically captured, without allowing the camera to be bewildered by what it sees and records. The inevitable outcome of this creative restraint, is a disciplined cinematic portrayal of club-life. Perhaps, such a concentrated and highly focused club-scene as is seen in “Amarapuraya”, is a rare visual treat in Sri Lanka teledrama. The scenes of pathetic moral decay of the club-hopping generation, make a telling social comment, while allowing the central plot line of the drama to move forward without even the trace of a disturbance to its planned progress.
The director unifies many facets. As a Teledrama “Amarapuraya” is a multi-layered edifice. Occupying the centre-stage Balawardene and his corporate lieutenants wage their entrepreneurial war-fare. In her own way, Veena Jayakody in the unscrupulous role of Kamini, manages her son’s election campaign, in a multi-pronged no-holds-barred ruthlessness, reducing the old-worldly virtues of her gentlemanly, ex-politician husband into ineffective fossils. Veteran actress Veena Jayakody’s incarnation in “Amarapuraya” as a Machiavellian political boss, will register a highly satisfying impression in the viewers’ mind. With her built-in experience she presents an ultra sophisticated portrayal of elaborate craftsmanship. The extensive range of sub-plots which traces the fortunes of the younger generation, bristles with conflicting ideologies, that cumulatively undermine the super-structure built by their elders.
This deterioration of the world of the rich and the powerful is wrenchingly communicated through the vicissitudes amidst which Balawardene has to pick his way carefully. His only son Keminda (Dhananjaya Siriwardene) goes astray, seeking refuge in a stratum of society that his millionaire father loaths. The love-hate relationship that the recalcitrant son has with his father, results, from the directionlessness of a lost generation. The youngest in the Balawardene family, Daughter Nikini (played with admirable verve by Anjula Rajapaksha) is dazzled at first and later dizzingly victimized by the world of drug addicts.
The elder daughter, jilted by her super-ambitious lover, after making her the ladder for social climbing, achieves a sentimental victory, in spite of the cruel attempts by her status-craving father to break asunder her love affair. The mother of the family, adroitly portrayed by Vishaka Siriwardena, remains unmoved like a rock until she could not take her husband’s ways any longer. The unassailable Balawardene, ultimately falls prey to the web spun by a cunning and scheming woman, adding a superb piece of irony to further enrich the sophisticated plot line.
The subtle technique employed by “Amarapuraya” to profile political intrigues, resorted to by some in that profession, is in effect a new chapter in the portrayal of political personalities and their activities in Sri Lanka’s cinema or television. The expansive array of characters, that breathes life to director Bertram Nihal’s “Amarapuraya” is not constructed out of monochrome-black-and-white-personalities. A so-called ‘black’ character may possess a redeeming shade of white. Equally, a character that may seem white could very well have shades of grey. It is this naturalness and the realistic portrayal that ensure the authenticity of Director Bertram Nihal’s characters.
In most teledramas that occupy the Sri Lankan small screen, the actors and actresses, are drawn from the younger generation – as a rule, one may even say. But, in such a teledrama-world, Bertram Nihal reflects the real world. His Amarapuraya, is enlivened by characters in a wide range of ages. Through all these, the facets depicting the positive human progress of the seekers after spiritual liberation, provide the news of a wholesome sanctuary that is entirely free of the sick-hurry of those, frantically chasing after their mirages.
The rural youth Amesh (Ruwan Wickremasingle) living largely true to life in Amarapuraya, is the model of the unspoiled son of the soil, to the extent of being vulnerably naive. The role of the young American played with commitment by Christophe Henri who crosses the oceans in a quest for inner tranquillity is a gem of a performance.
The sustained quality-levels of Amarapuraya, are largely the outcome of the director’s unwavering consciousness of the detail. This is impressively present in his selection of bit-part players, as well as in the arrangement of the minutest elements in the total production. In the climatic movements of Amarapuraya, the diverse strands approach towards a final resolution of all the crises that fuelled the progress of the narrative line so far. The transformations of characters, the evolution of some of the central issues, the establishment of links between people, are quite likely to surprise the viewers no end.
Once the series has been comprehensively imbibed by viewers, they will, have a hero, who sweated and struggled, behind scenes on a sustained scale with no let up whatsoever. This is director Bertram Nihal. In his chosen field, he has been a hero most of the time. When he releases a new product, it never fails to stir interest and enthusiasm. His quest for perfectionism makes his creative explorations a harrowing ordeal. What is highly praiseworthy about his professionalism is his disaffection with what is half-done or improperly created. He concentrates on creative details with such an arbour that one may very well, think that life dependend on it. In his career at TV stations, he demonstrated a pioneering style of professional commitment, with no regard whatsoever for what profit will accrue to him at a personal level.
His serialised teledrama, based on Martin Wickremasinghe’s epoch-making work of fiction “Gamperaliya” (The Changing Village) was a triumph for the search of the telling details that should be the soul of creativity. He continues this streak unabated in all his works. He is perpetually preoccupied with the exploration of the new: it could be technology, the art of film and TV making; or else, it could be the production of literary works. He has several works of literature to his credit. Some among these are the scripts of his successful teledramas. Others are books on his profession. He writes short stories in a style, specifically his own. The sum of it all is, his “Amarapuraya”, will elevate Sri Lankan teledrama, to a new and distinguished height. His professional creative reputation too will reach higher peaks. Those who view “Amarapuraya”, with sustained concentration, will experience a satisfying advancement of appreciation and taste. In sum, after “Amarapuraya”, teledrama in Sri Lanka will never be the same.
The exquisite creative distinction of “Amarapuraya” teledrama, will appeal to viewers everywhere. But, there is a deeper meaning that will attract audiences to Amarapuraya, from all parts the world. To a world troubled by wars, conflicts, dissensions and vast frustrations, Buddhism offers a tranquillizing and subduing dimension. The affluent segments of human society, as well as the under-privileged of the earth, earnestly seek solace, relief and liberation. People from sophisticated lands trek to Oriental countries, to find spiritual salvation. “Amarapuraya” provides a brilliant solution to these inner yearnings.
Preview by Kalakeerthi Edwin ARIYADASA