A doyen of Asian cinema | Sunday Observer

A doyen of Asian cinema

21 February, 2021

We have one Sri Lankan film maker who has contributed to world-class Asian cinema. He is Dr. Lester James Peries.

Along with Satyajit Ray of Bangla in India and Akira Kurusowa of Tokyo, Japan and also of the same place Ozu, Peries has been a pioneer from the Asian continent of vintage fame to compete with the New Wave Directors of France, such as Francois Truffaut or the Italian, Michael Angelo Antonioni or Swedish Ingamar Bergman, to emerge as someone to look forward to in producing different kinds of films that had humanism as a base. They were different from those clever craftsmen across the Atlantic.

Lester James Peries is an international celebrity and needs to be understood particularly by the Western world.

Books on Lester

There are a few books in Sinhala, English and one or two articles in Tamil on Lester James Peries. There are various interpretations on him as a film maker by our film critics in the calibre of Reggie Siriwardene, l A. J. Gunawardene, Philip Cooray, Donald Abeysinghe, Tissa Abeysekera, Ajith Samaranayake, Gamini Haththotuwegama, Vernon Abeysekera and a few others who have written in English. There are many more writings on him and his films in Sinhala and English.

We must get the exact information from the horse’s mouth – Lester’s own estimation of his films. That is why ‘Lester by Lester – as told to Kumar de Silva’ gains a significant place in the library of Lester James Pieris Studies. This illuminating book was first published in 2007 by the Vijitha Yapa Publications.

The 212-page book, which has a few photographs of some of Lester’s major films partly speaks about the growth of the Lankan Sinhala cinema. Besides the Introduction, Foreword, Publisher’s Note and Acknowledgement, information and critiques of Peris’s own films beginning with Rekawa (1956), Sandeshaya, Gamperaliya, Delovak Athara, Ran Salu, Golu Hadawtha, Akkara Paha, Nidhanya, DessaNisa, The God King, Madol Duwa, Ahasin Polowata, Veera Puran Appu, Pinhamy, Beddegama, Kaliyugaya, Awaragira, Wekande Walauwwa, and Ammawarune (2001) are succinctly analysed. There is also a filmography of Lester’s short films from 1949 to 1971.

The credits of all the films have been listed. This too would help the student of cinema identify the veterans in Sinhala Cinema of yore.

The Maestro also lauds Kumar de Silva in his Foreword to the book - “…Kumar’s wise counsel prevailed. Excavating the past, when film making has been part of your life and that of Sumitra’s (editor of some of my best known films), has triggered off many pleasant and creatively important memories. Remembering them has been painful sometimes, but often deeply satisfying. A final word - if not for Kumar de Silva’s persistence over five long years, this book would never have been published.”

Amazing film maker

The publisher, Vijitha Yapa writes about Lester: “He was famous but he was very humble. Popularity had not led to a swelling of his head. He was easily approachable, friendly and in no hurry to chase you out because he was busy. Since then, each film he made exposed the talent of an amazing film maker.”

Kumar de Silva is an electronic and print media journalist proficient in English and French. He is a Public Relations and Media Consultant and holds a degree in English and French. He worked for the Cultural Service of the Embassy of France in Colombo and became popular with his presentation of the television program ‘Bonsoir’. A versatile artiste at his comparatively young age, he was recently conferred with the honour of ‘Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters’ by the Government of France in recognition of his contribution to promoting French culture in Sri Lanka for more than a quarter of a century.