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Where reality and fantasy collide!

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Captivating visual symphony: Kshira Sagaraya Kelabina:

Kshira Sagaraya Kelabina happens to be the title of a Sinhala narrative of a rare kind penned by the late Simon Nawagattegama. I had the opportunity to read the manuscript and make several comments on it. I spent several hours reading it in his apartment. Initially, I felt that the contents and the embedded human experiences were hidden, touching the layers of reality and fantasy, similar to the works of Kafka and Sartre.

We later had long discussions about it. I never thought that this narrative would be brought to life visually, but that’s exactly what happened through the screenplay written by Jackson Anthony, directed by Professor Sunil Ariyaratne, and produced by HD Premasiri.

When I had the chance to attend the premiere show at the PVR cinema, I was overjoyed as it allowed me to shuttle once again between reality and fantasy. Without deviating from the central theme of the narrative, the visual attempt aimed to depict the dual nature of an emperor who excelled in various skills, making him powerful, but also tempted him to reconsider his role as an emperor. This led him to indulge in lechery and intoxication, at times neglecting the duties expected of an average being in his kingdom.

The phrase Kshira Sagaraya Kelabina is used to illustrate how a turbulent stir in the milky ocean caused the shore to be flooded with valuable items for humans. This is depicted in various oriental sources by the creator named Maha Brahma. The reality in this mythical tale lies buried as a truism, resurfacing when power-hungry emperors are compelled to reflect on their roles. This may happen due to rivalries, rebellions, and wars. Most ancient oriental texts state that when power-hungry kings indulge themselves and neglect their necessary duties, nature and its natural forces tend to punish them.

Beyond thrills and wars

More than the historical factors, the film’s significant factor lies in its visual interpretation. The unnamed emperor (played by Jackson Anthony) reveals to his dearest consort that he feels the absurdity of his existence.

The discourse continues primarily through visuals, where the emperor hands over his most valuable ornaments to her. Their intimacy has reached a point where they can converse about this for hours. In a few words, she reveals that there are seven virgins waiting for him, but he dismisses it and leaves, instructing her to ask the second-in-command to take over the ownership.

This act of retiring from emperorship and assuming a disguised identity is captured superbly and with great aesthetic care, allowing the renounced emperor to encounter and experience the various rivalries and challenges he was previously unaware of due to his greed for power. In some scenes, I was reminded of Bunuel’s movie “Viridiana,” where a saint-like lady, who is wealthy, renounces her possessions, enabling beggars to enter her palace and enjoy its offerings. I was also reminded of the great renunciation episode of Prince Siddhartha, who became disillusioned with the barren and futile domestic possessions, such as the harem and luxurious comforts.

By and large, the director Sunil Ariyaratne and his skilled cinematographer Channa Desapriya ought to be commended for their higher level of visual communication. It is a level of skill unseen in any other visual works I have come across.

They possess the visual imagination of cine aesthetics such as Ingmar Bergman. Perhaps with luck, such works will continue, as the team of actors involved in this production surpasses the average film work, demonstrating much training and discipline in their gestures and facial expressions. Most of them have backgrounds in other visual mediums like theatre and television.

The concern here is the impact of visual beauty, a factor often forgotten by other filmmakers.

Metamorphosis of the Emperor

One of the finest and most picturesque scenes in the film is the depiction of the emperor’s metamorphosis in the commoners’ arena. While retaining his skills, he becomes the most sought-after person, the heroic character among the commoners as well. This duality is the hallmark of the film. The depiction of arms and weapons, though minimal, never reminds the audience of a thriller, crime, or war film.

Instead, the film is packed with humane experiences and has an underlying layer of spiritual guidance. Those who grasp the message of understanding oneself will always remain powerful as humans, while those who fail to perceive the same message will live inhumanely in a world filled with sorrow and suffering.

As the German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once declared:

“There is no way of more surely avoiding the world than by art, and it is by art that you form the surest link with it.”

Although the English subtitling is well done, I sincerely believe that the entire visual impact could be stronger and reach a wider audience worldwide by dubbing the local dialect into English. This work deserves to reach a wider circle of viewers around the world. The music and dances are aptly utilized without any banalities.

Embark on a mesmerising cinematic experience with Kshira Sagaraya Kelabina, a rare Sinhala narrative that pushes the boundaries of visual storytelling. Directed by Professor Sunil Ariyaratne and brought to life by the skilled cinematographer Channa Desapriya, this film weaves a captivating tale of the emperor’s journey from reality to fantasy. With a stellar cast drawn from diverse visual backgrounds, their gestures and expressions bring an exceptional level of training and discipline to the screen. Immerse yourself in the profound beauty of this film, where humanity, spirituality, and the power of self-understanding converge in a world filled with both sorrow and hope. Prepare to be enchanted by the ethereal music, enchanting dances, and the sheer artistry of Kshira Sagaraya Kelabina.

Friday, May 26, 2023 – 01:00

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