19 September, 2018

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Not Golden, But The Beginnings Of An Aathal Age Of Television For Sri Lanka, Measured By Cups Of Tea – Koombiyo

By Renuka Satchithananthan (Mendis) –

Renuka Satchithananthan (Mendis)

They eat katu karawala, drink plain tea, and play cricket inside their abandoned garage home.

Since when Weinstein was fully exposed recently and the arrival of #MeToo I have walked away from much of Hollywood and especially North American entertainment media. Truth be told the walk-away started well prior but this sealed the deal. We may or may not still be in the West’s golden age of television but the alienation felt as a woman who is neither economically privileged nor white made TV and their gold and silver intolerable. The stories have been amazing and I have obsessively followed some but the time had passed to let it go. It does not serve or reflect my reality even by a stretch. My time is better spent away from screens and with novels mostly. A more humane experience. Great novels will always be written. It has been a good holiday away from irrelevant realities, with even less time on YouTube – being cut off from manufactured reality on line I guess. The situation was further compounded by drastically reduced Facebook time after Zuckerberg’s exposure in data mining. I plan to stay away.

Living in far off Canada, had I not shared the same speech and drama teacher in Kotahena with Peter D’Almeida long ago I would have missed everything. I am no fan of Ted Talks but accidentally encountered D’Almeida’s Ted Talk on YouTube. He has not changed one bit. The same fellow who I heard recite bits of Shakespeare et al on Bloemendhal Lane in our early youth. Along with the usual obeisance and sir’ification of D’Almeida, Koombiyo was mentioned in comments and I had to look. The timing couldn’t have been better. But I did not come here to talk about Peter D’Almeida except, if not for the long ago connection Koombiyo might well have passed me by like a private bus for I would never have seen that Koombiyo on line comment. So I went looking.

Priyantha and Jehan (played by Thumindu Dodantenna and Kalana Gunasekara). From Koombiyo. (Photo credit www.itn.lk)

Fifty-seven thirty minute episodes with the finale in Sri Lanka on March 17, 2018. The first episode premiered in August, 2017 and I had no idea this had been going on. Everything is on YouTube (horribly interspersed with ads which you learn to tune out as you binge, binge, binge). That’s what happened to me and I found a world which I inhabit in my heart. A world not made of puffy sofas, neatly kept homes, newly painted walls, draperies, fancy cars and constructed class privilege in big tall houses behind high walls.

This is only an introduction and a memento to how easily I would have missed this movement. Api okkoma than koombi kaala inne. Harima aathal. I could write a book and sit at Galleface with other koombi and talk till the cows come home. Yet bills have to be paid, dishes must be washed. So I am not going to get into political theorizing but mention a few things that stole my heart and stood out.

Let us start with Jehan. Here he is –

As to the other young man who claps and watches, that is Jehan’s brother of sorts but a brother nevertheless. Say hello to Priyantha. They met on a bus. Do you see the freedom and the sadness in the video clip? The Neela Wickremesinghe song mesmerizes. An epic pick by the Director.

Of late I’ve been tracking down old Sinhala cinema and saw Kadawunu Poronduwa, then Sarawita. After Kadawunu Poronduwa and its bathos driven drama Sarawita was a masterpiece. Joe Abeywickrama’s role harkens to Raju (played by Raj Kapoor) in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. Yet I saw a lot of that Joe Abeywickrema in Kalana Gunsekera’s role as Priyantha in Koombiyo, but with a more complicated and vulnerable innocence.

More on some favourite scenes and possible references to themes. The scene where cricket is played. Inside the house cricket where grown men become small fighting children. Magic. Lau.

Something else I noticed was the tea. They should have kept statistics of the gallons of tea that were used in this film. Tea at meetings, tea made by Priyantha for Jehan (well most of the time) and for Jehan’s visitors. Ordinary cups of tea. Usually made by someone less powerful. A constant reminder of your place in the system. Priyantha makes tea at Shakya Holdings. The lowest rung makes tea. Nothing happens without tea. And then in one of the later scenes you will see Maldeniya “pouring” tea (or was it coffee) with a set of fine china, the true mark of arrival in the top rungs. That I found really interesting. But don’t let me get started about Maldeniya. The tea story is telling us something all the time. Rubbing it in. There is another great tea/coffee power play between Priyantha and Meesha, the software guy. A completely different tone.

From tea to rubber. The rubber estate scenes. These scenes are iconic in Sinhala cinema especially in Golu Hadawatha where Sugath and Dammi explore first stirrings of love. For someone conversant in Sinhala cinema history Golu Hadawatha comes to mind as the scene unfolds. But with a powerful man and his dog it is an entirely different idiom. Dharmarathna turns the romance and glorification of nature and innocence in Golu Hadawatha upside down in these later scenes changing and uprooting Sinhala cinematic language. That is revolutionary.

I felt the director Lakmal Dharmarathna was informed by the mostly American works that have come out of the golden age of television; yet retaining an uniquely Sri Lankan and urbane reality in its script and language. Also locations. The contrast between the language and mannerisms in the city and that which we observe back in Priyantha’s village during a visit – is stark. How does one bridge that dicohotomy. Or has the director not made the leap. Again, could it be there is a gap still between city and village. As to the influence of American TV’s golden age, I presumed the Director lived outside the country to have absorbed this level of fluency. As I dug deeper (YouTube is full of Koombiya stuff, award shows, etc. Go have a look) I found I was wrong. Director Dharmarathna is well rooted in Sri Lanka. While he follows closely international screen arts, Koombiyo is a masterful creation by a genius ably assisted by his main men and the entire cast and crew. Lakmal Darmarathna co-authored the brilliant script with Damitha Chandrasiri.

I only have one question however. Who wrote the introductory music clip which is played at start of every episode. Was that too written by Achala Solomons?

These comments are only a drop in the bucket of all I want to say. Now go binge and get bitten by Koombiyo. It will change you from the inside and somewhere in your heart you will become Jehan Fernando. That’s what happened to me. And even more, Priyantha will become your brother. Defa.

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Latest comments

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    Koombiyo marks the entry of a generation of ex TV viewers’ return to ITN. In an unbelievably crafted, compelling drama series. Koombiyo captured a large cross section of society. Rivalled by Sahodaraya, the unparalleled and haunting TV series running back to back with Koombiyo it is your weekend opium. In my opinion Koombiyo and Sahodaraya are the only two things I look forward to , living in Sri Lanka, this country shot to hell.

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      Koombiyo is an oasis in the desert of Sinhala TV programming. No weeping women, sanctimonious Buddhist monks, excruciatingly slow characters in paddy fields or recently invented ancient heroes. More strength to the young team.

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    Renuka Satchithananthan-Mendis
    Take on the hyphenated name and set to music “Don’t cry for me Sri Lanka”.
    The music will be melancholic whoever sings.

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    You stopped watching north american tv because of weinstien? lol thats a pretty stupid reason to discontinue viewing a whole hemisphere of television. Koombiyo is, admittedly good tv, but the only reason Sri Lanka has been overwhelmed by it is because thus far NO network has given the go ahead for something of this stature to be made, instead vying for the same old brain cell killing tv shows it has always spawned out, but for this I blame the viewing public that never demanded some thought out well scripted TV and film to be made.

    But even Koombiyo is not without errors, after a certain amount, I would say in to its 25th episode, the story begins to drag and the end results are a unbelievale twist of event which arent even explained properly how it came to be, i mean by all account jehan is literally the James Morriarty of Sri Lanka, a napolean of crime, but the answers did not match the questions. But still that can be overlooked as this is the ONLY Sri Lankan TV show that i have watched and the reason I watched it so intently is because it was a breath of fresh air in a country where TV and Film is complete trash (expect for a small number of film one being Machan)

    So all in all congratulations go to the creators and actors of this TV show for sure (although it could have done without Jehans constant smirking everytime he deems it be fit to potray to the audience that he has outsmarted everyone, he does this at least 4-5 times an episode and it began to just piss me off).

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    Thanks Renuka,
    I also enjoyed the tele a lot. Lakmal has done a good job.
    As you’ve highlighted there is a lot of tea drinking.

    What you failed to see was that there is a lot of alcohol promotion as well. When one thinks of the target audience, it is hard to believe that the promotion was accidental, though it was so subtle.

    But to get such a large number of veterans on board, especially people like Jayasiri ayya, he’d have had some support from someone I suppose. At least financially and socially. The tele is the first that Laka came up with; of course he has a long track record in ads. Its too good to be true for a first time director to come up with such a good tele. And the subtle promotion of alcohol probably is linked with some others who were there as well.
    BalaN

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