24 June, 2024

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‘A Death In An Antique Shop’: Challenge To Our Cognitive Capacity?

By W A Wijewardena –

Dr. W.A Wijewardena

Return of Handagama to the stage

Asoka Handagama is notorious for challenging our cognitive capacity through his artwork, be it through poetry, fiction, stage drama, teledrama, or movies. His newest stage drama, ‘A Death in an Antique Shop’, is the best, or worst in some sense, in this tradition. You can watch it not on stage but on YouTube.

Viewing the drama on YouTube

In many respects, watching the drama on YouTube is better than doing it in a theatre-environment. First, it is free from the attention deficiency which we will face in a theatre. As Salman Khan, creator of the Khan Academy, has told us in his autobiographical professional experience, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, we can keep attention to a single object continuously not more than for about seven minutes; beyond that, we lose focus on the object. In a theatre where we sit for hours in an uncomfortable posture, it is certainly not possible to pay full attention to what is being unfolded on the stage for the whole duration of the drama.

Second, with its class preferences, front-seaters in a theatre get a better view of the drama and could listen to the dialogue more clearly compared to mid-seaters and back-seaters. Hence, though all are in the same auditorium, some are better served than others. Thus, it is not inclusive but exclusive. Third, in a theatre, if we lose some dialogue, we cannot play back and listen to it again whereas we can do it on YouTube. Fourth, the negative externality exerted by fellow viewers in the auditorium like noisy laughter or cheering or sobbing diminishes our hope of enjoying the drama. Fifth, theatres do not give us the option of leaving the drama midway through for urgent needs like answering a call of nature and come back to it again when we are ready.

Therefore, in my view, YouTube channels are a better way of enjoying a stage drama than doing so live in a theatre. With apologies to theatre-lovers, this was exactly what I did with Handagama’s newest creation. Playing it on a wide screen, connected by earphones, I watched it not once, but three times until I got the full meaning of the drama. Defeating the law of diminishing marginal utility, each subsequent watching gave me a higher enjoyment because I understood Handagama’s ploy better than before.

Bird’s eye versus worm’s eye

We normally see people around us through a bird’s eye. We see their form, behaviour, interactions and so on from a distance. We, therefore, make judgments on them based on our visibility which invariably takes us to misconceived perceptions. For us, there is nothing wrong or weird about them. They are also reliable and trustworthy. This is called macrocosmic view of the world. But what happens if we look at them through a worm’s eye? We are able to notice every bit of their unusual way of life. It is called microcosmic view. Macrocosmic view is useful to know the generality of the world. But it hides many things from our view and does not challenge us to drain our energy to learn of the subtleties associated with it. Microcosmic approach, in contrast, gives us the opportunity to see the world as it is.

The worm’s eye will show us how people behave differently in response to challenges posed to them by changing circumstances. Those pure black or white people we have seen through a bird’s eye will suddenly disappear and, instead, appear as a mixture of blackness and whiteness making it almost impossible to pass any clear judgment. On one occasion, they are pure white but commences a process of transformation that ends finally in pure blackness. But this process can be very short or instantaneous or time taking or long drawn. For instance, your partner may be a quite sane person right now. But in an infinitesimally brief time, he may turn out to be a killer of another or of himself. To understand this process is a formidable cognitive challenge we face.

Extension of the destroyed Aksharaya

Handagama has offered to us in his drama three main characters plus one supporting character whom we can watch through a worm’s eye. The main characters are related to his previous cinematic creation, Aksharaya, that was destroyed by the establishment by releasing a hastily formed cultural police force to hunt him down with the support of some law-enforcers who offered a yielding hand. It seemed to me that Handagama has taken revenge of this establishment through his new stage drama. He has beaten them by representing Aksharaya in the new drama.

Attack by cultural police

In Aksharaya, a judge, a respectable man in society when viewed through a bird’s eye, unknowingly cohabits with his illegitimate daughter and fathers a son who is fully attached to the mother. Because of the unusual family background, the child is not in proper mental balance and commits himself to be ‘a boy of felonies’ from a very early age. One thing that has remained stone-carved in his mind has been the regular bath he had got with his mother, both fully naked. By seeing mother’s naked breasts, he becomes a breast worshipper. There was nothing erotic in this nude bath scene contrary to what had been projected by the cultural police to hunt Handagama down. He was to be charged under the provisions relating to child abuse in Sri Lanka’s law books.

The cultural police have failed to prove its point even today after the lapse of more than one and a half decades. But it did not take long to destroy Aksharaya as a cinematic creation. It had the promise of taking Sri Lanka’s fledgling film industry to the outside world just like people talk about promoting the country’s ICT industry as a forex earner. But that was killed in the bud. The ordinary film-lovers could not watch it because it was not permitted to be screened in theatres though an unauthorised copy had been released to the media possibly by a corrupt officer in authority. Later it was reported that the producers who had suffered a massive financial loss had sold it to a pittance to an online movie channel.

Second generation of Aksharaya

In the new stage drama, Handagama takes us back to this old episode as a prelude to the story unfolding before us in the present period. The three main characters are from that old episode, the owner of the antique shop, Joseph, his daughter known in the drama as the girl, and the boy in question who had been the main character in Aksharaya presented to us as the youth. These three parties tell us the old story from time to time as they had experienced it in the movie.

Handagama has projected the audio-visual clips from the movie to the background of the stage in black and white to illustrate the narration by each character. This is an amazing technique to beat the establishment which had not permitted him to screen the movie in cinema theatres. If those characters are in the first generation or 1G, those who in the current period are the grown-up version of them in the second generation or 2G. Thus, the viewers of the drama are afforded to see both 1G and 2G simultaneously.

Boy’s old addiction

Joseph, the owner of the antique shop, had been the guard of the museum when the boy in question was found hiding there after stabbing a woman to death. At the time he was found by Joseph, the boy had been suckling the nipple of the stone statue of a naked woman reminiscing the boy’s addiction to the breasts of his mother as the provider of life saving elixir. Joseph says that when the boy’s mother who herself had been a judge was informed that the boy was in the museum did not want him to hand him to authorities. Instead, going against her judicial obligations, she had wanted him to keep the boy in a safe place until she rescues him. But the ensuing course of events had unexpectedly produced two disasters.

Accidental killing of mother

Joseph says that the boy’s mother, the judge, was raped by him when she visited the museum to get the boy. It had not been premeditated but due to a spontaneous impulse. He confesses that he too cannot understand it because he had not felt that way for a woman for a long time since the death of his wife. There had been a raging battle between the two causing a massive damage to the artifacts that had been protected in the museum. Naturally, it resulted in his losing the job at the museum. But he immediately changed from the role of protecting history to retailing history by opening an antique shop.

The other disaster was more frightening. The boy was taken to Joseph’s house for protection. His daughter who was of the same age as the boy got a crush for him and they both chatted freely trading their experiences. The girl was chopping onions with a knife and the boy wanted to show her how he used the knife to stab the woman. Unfortunately for them, the boy’s mother walked in, and she was accidentally stabbed by the knife-wielding boy in his demonstrative act. Mother also died of the stab wounds. The boy who had killed two women was sent to a correction centre for minors. That was the end of 1G episode.

Return of the boy

The current story depicting the 2G episode starts with the arrival of the boy, now a youth, at the antique shop after release from the correction centre in search of the girl who is also a young woman by now. The girl is an undergraduate at a university engaged actively in students’ protests against the establishment. She had been into these protests prompted by her boyfriend who also happened to be a student activist after disrobing himself of the saffron clothes worn by a Buddhist monk.

Joseph recognises the boy but pretends not to know him. He thinks that the boy will once again bring disaster to his family which has now recovered from the previous catastrophic event. He runs a lucrative antique business and is on to a frivolous life with women he finds in the street. He sends the boy away saying that the girl is at the university.

Reignition of old crush

The boy says that his father who had been a judge had been a dead man walking ever since he knew of him. However, the boy who had not learned of anything at the correction centre but been subject to both physical and mental abuse by other inmates seems to be a replica of his dead father now. He is without purpose, without knowledge, or without an aim. He visits the girl at the university and that initial meeting causes the old crush to get ignited.

Joseph, after realising that the boy cannot be kept away from their life, plans to own the property belonging to the boy by giving his daughter in marriage to him. He leaves them alone in the house so that they could develop an intimate relationship. But the boy who is a dead man walking does not want to do it. Instead, he prefers to repeat what he did with his mother like having a bath together with the girl. He says he can do it without even touching her. The girl who has other ideas gets frustrated.

Murder in the antique shop!

Her boyfriend, the disrobed student activist, gets angry and protests to Joseph. But Joseph who is a pure money-loving man now dismisses him saying that without money, he cannot give the needed luxury to the girl. Hence, Joseph advises him to return to the temple and wear saffron clothes again. Joseph gets intoxicated to allow the boy and the girl to be alone again. The hope is that they might get intimate, develop love for each other, and decide to marry so that the property and wealth belonging to the boy comes under Joseph’s hands. But unexpectedly, the second disaster in 2G episode takes place.

Unable to stand the girl who is now naked with her carnal approach, he takes a sword from the antique shop and stabs her to death. When sobered Joseph returns to the antique shop to learn of the good news, it is another catastrophe. He has not only had shattered dreams but also lost his precious daughter. The boy who has now killed for a third time is taken away by the Police. The disrobed student activist chooses to return to the temple. Joseph, whose fury did not know its bounds, grabs a spear from the shop and shouts angrily that he will kill all of them. That was the end of the death in the antique shop.

Challenge of the cognitive capacity

As a dramatist, Handagama has taken his viewers through a journey of microcosmic experience relating to human life. It is a challenge to our cognitive capability. Every minute, we are kept in suspense without knowing what will happen next. That is what is expected of an artist. Handagama is also known for engaging the new blood in all his artworks.

The present drama is also a testimony to this tradition. Apart from the veteran actor Saumya Liyanage, the other three – Pasan Ranaweera, Nipuni Sharada, and Stefan Thirimanna – are all newcomers to the field. Handagama has got all three of them, to live in their respective characters rather than acting in a drama. That is the beauty of Handagama’s work.

*The writer, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 3
    4

    Dr. W.A Wijewardena, You are just not an Economist. Storytelling comes natural to you!

    • 5
      2

      “You are just not an Economist. Storytelling comes natural to you!”
      Story telling comes naturally to economists. They can explain almost anything.

    • 3
      2

      Yes, Nathan.
      .
      I’ve got almost all of Dr. W.A Wijewardena’s books in Maharagama. How come?
      .
      He gifted them all to me, having visited me in 2018. He is a truly amazing man. When I am in Maharagama, and able to quote from them whilst writing, I will give you the ISBN numbers.
      .
      I have met him only on that one occasion, but I have his contact details; the email address is always given at the end of his articles, but he’s also given me a mobile number. I paused just now, to see if WhatsApp works on it. It does! And I’ve sent him a text message about you!
      .
      I first wrote to him on a minor point regarding the grammar of English,
      .
      https://byjus.com/english/few-a-few-little-a-little-exercises/
      .
      and
      .
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjzr-hTNqdQ
      .
      I was going to say that I couldn’t remember the link that I’d sent him, but I’ve got at my email of Tue, 13 Mar 2018, 02:01; this is what the link that I’d sent him:
      .
      https://www.grammarly.com/blog/few-a-few/
      .
      The world would be a wonderful place if all humans were like him, Rajan Hoole, and you!
      .
      Best wishes,
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe

      • 2
        2

        Dear Panini Edirisinhe,
        Some of the compliments, I am not fit for. Thank you for your kindness.

        • 0
          1

          ?? …. !!!

          • 0
            1

            Nathan, Apparently Jeevan Hoole has fallen out of the list of great humans.

            • 1
              0

              This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy. The key to maintaining the website as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.

              For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

            • 0
              1

              “Apparently Jeevan Hoole has fallen out of the list of great humans.”

              Hooray! …… I’m back in: just one foot …… and regained a few of my former great attributes …….

              Well, until the next time ………. :))))

            • 0
              0

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  • 3
    0

    Thank you. A very good review. Educative.

    • 0
      6

      sonali, I respected you until I read here that descriptions of sexual distortions and their malappropriations were admired by you as educative.

      • 7
        2

        DTG,
        If you read your Bible properly, you will find plenty of “descriptions of sexual distortions and their malappropriations” .
        Please check out what Lot did with his daughter or what Onan did. Very educative indeed.
        For those ardent Sinhala Buddhists who are about to throw a fit, have a look at the Vinaya Pitakaya and what monks should not do while lying down.

        • 2
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          Good heavens! old codger!!
          .
          I can only say that I fully comprehend what you say.
          .
          Now, please be a good little boy, old as you are!
          .
          Panini Edirisinhe

        • 3
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          OC,

          “Please check out what Lot did with his daughter or what Onan did. Very educative indeed.”

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7fcvuUZPcw

          • 5
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            Hello Leelagemalli,
            Genesis 38 is full of it, the Prophet Judah sleeping with his Daughter in Law Tamar, thinking she was a prostitute. Er slain by Yaweh (probably got bored and thought it would break the monotony). Judah telling Onan to have sex with Er’s wife Tamar. Onan not wanting to give his Brother Er’s wife a Baby. Yahweh coming down and slaying Onan. Judah wanting to put Tamar to death for being pregnant and then finding out he was responsible.
            The fun we had as teenagers seeing the convolutions that the RE teachers would go through, trying to explain these obviously immoral acts, before throwing some of us out of the Class (usually me).
            Best regards

            • 3
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              LS,
              thank you.
              This is why I don’t go after religions today. True buddhist teachings are fine, but sinhala_buddhism held in srilanka is far from true teachings.
              Mahavansa is no different. From morning to evening Sinhala_Buddhism misleads the nation.
              . Why should we rely on silly narratives based on religious fairy tales?

            • 1
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              lanka scot
              “In Aksharaya, a judge, a respectable man in society when viewed through a bird’s eye, unknowingly cohabits with his illegitimate daughter @

              here the word “unknowingly ” is important.Only a depraved donkey will sleep with his daughter knowingly though i feel that some frustated arses are sleeping with their daughters when the wife goes to work in the middle east.

              as for jdah sleeping with his daughter in law can’t see anything abnormal in it.

              Mahatma ghandhi aslo slept with his cousin on same bed but claims he did not touch her.He wanted to show he had the will power to sleep but not to do it.

              I wonder if he was pumped up with Viagra and drunk, what would he have done.

              • 1
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                Hello Shankar,
                These examples were taken from The King James Version of the Bible that we were taught was the word of God. These were supposed holy men, Prophets, and above such human passions. Pointing out these contradictions resulted in me being sent out of the Class or even on occasions sent to the Headmasters Study. My point was always the same, that the Bible was full of contradictions, that the RE Teachers could not explain. Nothing wrong with Judah sleeping with his Daughter in Law, how about wanting to put her to death for it?
                Best regards

          • 2
            2

            LM,
            That woman in the video is so totally brainwashed.

            • 3
              0

              OC,
              should be blood related to DTG.

          • 1
            0

            This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy. The key to maintaining the website as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.

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        • 1
          0

          “have a look at the Vinaya Pitakaya and what monks should not do while lying down.”

          What should monks do when Ranil supporters stand in line at the dana to “enhance* their nutrition?

          • 3
            2

            Lester,
            You are no Buddhist.
            Otherwise, you would know the answer, which involves not having sex in cemeteries. I am not here to educate you.🤣🤣

  • 0
    2

    Dear Nathan, and Dr Wijewardena,
    .
    Many thanks for this:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueUnoBfcYsk
    .
    What I’m now doing is divorcing the film from Dr Wijewardena’s article. That is what Dr waw1949 himself would desire. I’ve read the entire article, and seen just 10 minutes of the 153 minutes. This must be seen by a much wider audience. The quality of the YouTube seems excellent.
    .
    I think that readers ought also to read about Asoka Handagama
    .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asoka_Handagama
    .
    And the Wikipedia has this about the video:
    .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aksharaya
    .
    I hope that readers will be sending this to many of their friends.
    .
    The time now is 18:41.
    .
    And Nathan, I find that Wije has read the WhatsApp message that I sent him.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe

    • 4
      1

      Dear SM and all others that were not aware of the arbitory killings in 89.

      If you are proficient in any Sinhala language, educate yourself. We regret the lack of political intelligence. In any case, the truth should be heard.

      I am very sorry for those who do not know Sinhala. In any case, people should be prevented from falling prey to the easy tricks of the JVP barbarians. This link brought more tears to my eyes. I have no doubt, supporters of barbarians would amuse it.
      Please check it from 1 hour 07 minutes for your handy guide- then UNP MP Lakshman Wijemanna is telling the truth.
      -.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfJUCGyzaNk

      Never give legal power to barbarians to drink our last drop of blood.

      • 1
        0

        This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy. The key to maintaining the website as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.

        For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

        • 2
          1

          Hate is short lived.
          Speedy recovery to SM.
          He thinks people like him have a lot to do. The truth about him is that he doesn’t know what he’s writing about. Such an empty vessel?

      • 1
        0

        This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy. The key to maintaining the website as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.

        For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

        • 1
          0

          This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy. The key to maintaining the website as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.

          For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

        • 1
          0

          This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy. The key to maintaining the website as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.

          For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

          • 1
            0

            That is more than a hat trick!
            We should keep it up.

  • 1
    1

    “Our Cognitive Capacity”

    That’s a laugh!

  • 0
    0

    this story is a depraved unbelievable one.Alfred hitchcocks psycho comes to mind,but unlike this one that was beautiful and believable.I can still remember the man having his dead mother in a chair.

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