8 June, 2023


The Cruel Bite Of Conscience

By Shyamon Jayasinghe –

Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

On Prasanna Vithanage’s Movie: “Oba Nethuwa, Oba Ekka”

We ordinary filmgoers are often baffled by the multi-varied kinds and venues of film awards other than the Oscars and Cannes destinations. It appears that almost any film maker in humble Sri Lanka can find a berth at least (leave alone an award) to present his/her product at global level in some sort of festival and come home happy for all the massive effort. We are now being educated about Montreal Film Festival, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Pusan International Film Festival, Singapore International Film Festival, Grand Prix at the Amiens Film Festival, Venice Film Festival and so on. It seems endless.

Prasanna Vithanage, born in 1962 and educated at DS Senanayake College, has made great strides in the Sinhala movie industry recording outstanding awards and not mere ‘also-ran’ status at most of the above festivals. Vithanage is both a pride and honour for us, Sri Lankans. His latest, “Oba Nethuwa, Oba Ekka,” (With You, without You) was first released in India this year. One of the best Sinhala movies I have seen is his “Ira Mediyama.”

In getting Indian collaboration and showing his movie in India Prasanna has shown a marketing prescience. The Sri Lankan market, saturated with cheap and shoddy melodramatic tele drama, is not the place to sell a serious movie. Movies are costly to produce and making them to deliver to the Sri Lankan cinemagoer is bound to be ill-fated.  The Sri Lankan Film Corporation, set up originally to boost movie production, is a dead duck.

Oba-Nathuwa-Oba-EkkaGlancing at the websites I notice that  “Oba Nethuwa, Oba Ekka” is described as showing  a ‘ deep and unbridgeable chasm’ between a young woman and young man belonging to the North and South of Sri Lanka respectively.  I did not see it that way. To me it was about the ravage of conscience that was curable with the right cognitive therapy. We each of us live in our own respective realities formed by our unique backgrounds and experiences. We interpret the doings and sayings of others in the framework of our specific personal reality. Given space to participate in the shared human experience that prevails is an illuminated understanding arises. The Spanish philosopher Spinoza said that our task in the review of human events is not to condemn but to understand. Prasanna’s movie showed glimpses of how mutual understanding can be creative in developing human cooperation. For some misguided Sinhala ‘patriots’ who have attacked Prasanna without seeing his product (their judgments are always predetermined) the light is there to see. “Oba Nethuwa, Oba Ekka” is a story of a bitter post-war situation; but the movie gives insights that can help clear misapprehension of both sides of the post-war divide. Sinhalese will understand the mindset of Tamil victims of war and Tamils will comprehend the true nature of the Sinhala soldier. Stereotypes will show up to be unreal.

Selvi (Anjali Patil) and Sarathsiri (Shyam Fernando) find each other in an unromantic situation but they unusually get attracted to each other and enter the marital bed. They try to live together drawing  clear lines off their past and they do a pretty good job of that with a good dose of sexual love until Sarathsiri’s long-lost pal Gamini  (Wasantha Moragoda)  puts in a casual visit. Gamini and Sarathsiri had deserted the Sri Lanka army that fought the war with the Tamil Tigers. Sarathsiri left over a serious prick of conscience about having lied to save a fellow soldier over charges of criminal rape of innocent Tamil civilians. He didn’t like the brutality of war and admits he joined the forces because he had no other job.

The army job was not Sarathsiri’s meat and it impacted harshly on his conscience turning him into a neurotic introvert. He was crushed in guilt and tried hard to get over it. Sarathsiri is seen ritually worshipping before the image of the Buddha. His visage unveiled the tension within and he couldn’t open himself freely with others-least of all with his new bride, Selvi. He is seen performing the sexual act   with brutal gusto and no emotion. He cannot open out the gentle side of his personality. Indeed Sarathsiri is an inherently soft man sensitive to the suffering of others. He shouldn’t have become a pawn broker in the first place but I suppose this phase in his career was imposed on him by his circumstances as did his bout as a soldier in the army. That he was a humane person sensitive to the suffering of others (this made him leave the army, too) is seen in the numerous occasions he returned jewelery taken as security and lent money, unsecured.

Selvi recalled her horrific, painful past experience upon hearing of her husband’s role in what she refers to as the ‘Sinhala army.’ Her two young brothers, who played no role in the Tiger army, had been bashed and killed.  Her family had been raped. The resultant trauma had lasting obsessive impressions obstructing her ability to get on with life after tragedy. Like other Tamils, she hated the ‘Sinhala Army.’

The Gamini revelation played havoc with their burgeoning marital happiness. Here is a classic clash of conscience. On the other hand, it is ironic that this situation opened up an opportunity for Sarathsiri to confess all and thereby release himself of the guilt that had plagued him. He manages to reconcile with his wife and assuage her. He decides to sell up his business and go to India with her. The problem was that the renaissance of Sarathsiri converted the latter into an unbounded lover and romantic. Selvi, with past traumas never cleaned off the slate, develops a new internal conflict. Can she yield herself fully in the altar of love with the entire haunt inside her? The naïve demands of her husband intimidates her.

“Oba Nethuwa, Oba Samaga” deliberately gives the end of the storyline at the beginning. The objective of the filmmaker was not to surprise the audience with the string of events but to let the audience share the internal conflicts of the character generated by the war. This narrative format enabled our focus on the mental interplay.

Prasanna is someone focused on the camera. Long shots, bird’s eye view and close shots are employed with dexterity. The business transactions of the pawnbroker, replete with close shots and appropriately darkened, were made to look grim and deadly-the poor having to part with their life’s savings in order to get desperately needed cash. Paying back will be very difficult so that that parting of valuable jewellary seemed to give the impression of parting with life itself. The tragedy of penury is open for all to see. There is nothing so sad as being poor! The pawnbroker himself was made to look like an executioner although, as we noted, he wasn’t actually that. The hands of the giver and taken were shown in contrast.

There was a small bit of humour in an otherwise humourless film, when the Muslim buyer entered. Showing his sharp circumspection he taps even on the steel doors of the enclosed area of trading! That single act was merciful to the audience and it was performed superbly.

Anjali Patil, the Indian actress, was well cast to play the female protagonist. She played beautifully showing all the permutations of mind that took place. Shyam Fernando could have, perhaps, shown less monotony and more variation but he was deeply convincing. Lakshmi and Gamini were also well cast. And of course the Muslim trader!

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Latest comments

  • 2

    BBS says it is Sinhala army, Tamil know what the Sinhala army did to them – I don’t have to say it again, and Gota said “api army” meaning we Sinhalese are the army. You can count the others in the Sinhala army – a miniscule number.

    Why do you need inverted comas to describe it? – it is the the established fact.

    That’s why they are grabbing Tamils’ lands to swamp them and pave the way for more anti-Tamil pogroms!

    • 0

      Tamils are racists. they are not from Sinhale. Tamils always show that they are migrants in Sinhale.

      they should not be in the army.

      Every one know how Tamils did and how they built LTTE when they were in the army.

  • 1

    Shyamon Jayasinghe

    “Glancing at the websites I notice that “Oba Nethuwa, Oba Ekka” is described as showing a ‘ deep and unbridgeable chasm’ between a young woman and young man belonging to the North and South of Sri Lanka respectively. I did not see it that way. To me it was about the ravage of conscience that was curable with the right cognitive therapy. We each of us live in our own respective realities formed by our unique backgrounds and experiences. …”

    Thanks. Good and thoughtful write up.

    Prasanna Vithanage, born 1962, w need more of them, than the Monks who run berserk.

    One such Sinhala, born in 1905, is Dr E W Adikaram.

    Well, Well, the core problem is the Para-Sinhala-”Buddhism”, Racism and Chauvinism, in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho. This was aided and abetted by the Dipawansa and Mahawansa. This is the Core sickness of the Para-Sinhalese “Buddhists”.

    Isn’t the Nationalist a Mental Patient?


    Reproducing historic article by Dr E W Adikaram

    At a time when few practice what they preach, Lankan scholar, writer and social activist Dr E W (Edward Winifred) Adikaram (1905-1985) was an illustrious exception. As a public intellectual, he had the courage of his convictions to speak out on matters of public interest — even when such views challenged widely held dogmas or went against populist trends.

    As a sceptical inquirer as well as a spiritualist, he always ‘walked his talk’. He never hesitated to take the often lonely (and sometimes bumpy) high road.

    Adikaram’s worldview was shaped by both science and the humanities. He initially offered science and mathematics at Colombo University College but later switched to Pali and Sanskrit. Having won a government scholarship, he went to England where he obtained his MA and Ph D from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His 1933 PhD thesis titled “Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon” (published in 1946) is still considered an extraordinary body of historical research.

    Young Adikaram was a contemporary — and personal friend — of leading Ceylonese leftists like Dr N M Perera, Dr Colvin R de Silva and Leslie Gunawardana. While he shared their broad ideals of self rule and equality among humans, he did not join socialist movements as he disapproved of using any kind of force — even for the greater good. Instead, he preferred the (Gandhian) non-violent approach to political and economic independence, and chose a career in education upon return to Ceylon.

    He became a teacher — and soon, the principal – at Ananda Shastralaya, Kotte, managed at the time by the non-governmental organisation Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS). Within a short period, he founded several schools including Anula Vidyalaya, Nugegoda; Ananda Sastralaya, Matugama; and Vidyakara Vidyalaya, Maharagama. He also emerged as a prominent champion of non violence, promoter of vegetarianism and a campaigner against alcohol and tobacco.

    In the mid 1940s, a chance reading of a book by Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti transformed Adikaram’s life. Krishnamurti was proclaiming a message of inward liberation by understanding the ways of one’s own mind. He rejected the rituals and paraphernalia of organised religion, and saw nationalism as a ‘fatally divisive force’.

    Isn’t the Nationalist a Mental Patient?

    By Dr E W Adikaram Are you a Sinhalese? If you are a Sinhalese, how do you know that? I have asked this question from many who call themselves Sinhalese. I have so far never received a satisfactory reply from any of them.

    I have also asked those who say that they are Tamils, Telegus, etc., as to how they know that they are Tamils, Telegus and so on. From them too, I have never received a satisfactory reply. When this question is asked, some get annoyed. Some ask back why I should ask this question when the reply is so obvious, some consider that the question is asked merely for fun. Still others reply that they have never given thought to this question. Anyway a satisfactory, a logical and an acceptable reply does not come forth from any of them.

    “I am a Sinhalese because my parents are Sinhalese.” This is the argument of many. This surely is not a reply but only shifting the question a little further, as the next immediate question would then be “How do you know that your parents are Sinhalese?” This shifting can go on further and further, but the question will not thereby be solved.

    “A person is Sinhalese because he speaks the Sinhalese language.” This is another argument that is usually adduced. But there are people of other nationalities who speak only Sinhalese because they happen to be brought up from early childhood in homes where only Sinhalese is spoken. Simply because they speak the Sinhalese language they do not thereby become Sinhalese. And also there are Sinhalese people who speak a language other than Sinhalese because they were brought up in non-Sinhalese homes. They are not considered non-Sinhalese simply because they cannot speak Sinhalese. It is therefore clear that one is not a Sinhalese just because he speaks Sinhalese. Similarly a person does not become an Englishman simply because he speaks English.

    If so, how can one conclusively know that a person is Sinhalese, Tamil, English, German or Japanese? There is no reply that could be given to this question. A right reply can be given only to a right question. A right reply cannot be given to this question because the question is wrong. When in truth there is no such thing as a nationality, how is it possible to give a right reply when one is asked to which nationality a person belongs?

    If you have an infant child, please examine its entire body as carefully as possible. Is there any special part of its body or mark which differentiates it as a Sinhalese child? However much you may search you will never find such a distinguishing characteristic. There are people different in colour of skin such as black, brown, white, yellow etc. That is due to the fact that their ancestors lived for thousands of years in places differing from each other in climatic and geographical conditions. But that colour does not give an indication as to what nationality a person belongs. As that child who is common to the entire human race grows up he will be given a name and will be deemed to belong to a particular race or nationality. That child who at the time is incapable of logical thinking, who cannot discern fact from non-fact and who hasn’t the ability to compare and contrast, accepts unthinkingly and unknowingly the nationality that has been thrust upon him. Having accepted it he gradually comes to believe that he belongs to that particular nationality. Please think over the fact that you become a Sinhalese not because you had some thing naturally Sinhalese but because of the belief created and imposed on you by the environment and society including your parents.

    Species of birds differ by birth from one another. Between the eagle and the dove, between the quail and the peacock there is a natural difference. Is there such a difference between the Sinhalese and the Tamil, between the Englishman and the German?

    So are the other animals. They have species differing from one another. There are natural characteristics that differentiate the tiger from the bear and the horse from the bull. Is there such a difference between the Japanese and the Jew or between the Chinaman and the Eskimo?

    Unlike birds and animals, all human beings in the world belong to one species only, the human species. In truth there is only one human race: what goes as Sinhalese, Tamil, English and a thousand other nationalities are only designations born out of belief and having no intrinsic significance whatsoever.

    If one sees things that do not exist and believes that they do exist, such a person we call a mental patient. On one occasion when I went to the mental hospital at Angoda to visit a friend who was a patient there, a person calling himself His Majesty Diyasena the King of the Sinhalese spoke to me and got into conversation with me. Not only did he firmly believe that he was King Diyasena but in his behaviour he even showed an affected regal demeanour. If any one told him that he was not Diyasena, he would naturally consider that person a lunatic.

    If we consider as insane a person who calls himself a non-existent King Diyasena, how can we consider as sane those people who call themselves Sinhalese, Tamils, English when in truth there is no such thing as a Sinhalese nation, a Tamil nation or an English nation.

    There is only one human race. We are human beings and not Sinhalese, Tamil or English. Biologically this is so. But those who are fettered with the belief that there is racial difference are incapable of seeing this fact. As the idea of nation has come into being by assuming as existent something which does not exist, nationalism has to be necessary considered a form of insanity. Not only here but in the whole world the vast majority of people are tethered with that belief, with that delusion.

    The main cause for all the wars that took place in the world in the past was this psychological aliment, namely nationalism. Even in the modern world which, due to advancement in Science, has all the opportunities for comfortable living, man has to suffer because of this disease of nationalism and its inevitable political tentacles.

    In big countries those who suffer from this madness contrive to bring about murder on a big scale with nuclear weapons etc. In small countries like Sri Lanka they kill human beings on a smaller scale and they hurt people’s feelings with various ridiculous mad activities such as the defacing of name boards written in languages other than their own. Mankind today is living in a most critical stage. Many do not understand how dangerous the present situation is. We should understand that the forces that work in the world today are different from those that existed in the past. Even a slight mistake can make the entire human species disappear from the face of the earth. We can avoid that catastrophe and survive this critical period only if we act sanely with the feeling that this is our world and not by murdering each other saying that this is our nation and our country.

    Shouldn’t we therefore be free of this insanity of nationalism and thereby cease to be enemies of mankind?

    Nationalism is not the road to peace. Truth alone will bring us peace and freedom. The truth is that Lanka, the land of native Veddah belongs to native Veddah, and all others are paras, Para-deshis, prangios. This include Para-Sinhala, para-Tamils, Para-Muslims. para-Portuguese, para-Dutch, Para-Malays, para-English and other paras.

    See: The Veddah Tribe.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f89NuukY32U and

    Tamil-speaking Veddas of Vaharai await war recovery support


    Remember, the Native Veddah Aethho learn Para-Languages so that they can communicate with the Illegal Paras who STOLE their Land.

  • 0

    vanakkam Amarasri
    Why I feel I am a Tamil?
    I felt I could write my monologue here since I will not be occupying the space for others as there will be not many contributers to this topic. Also if Prasanna Withanage reads this reply possibly he will be able to understand Tamil minds even better and make his contribution even more meaningful. Nationalism is not detrimental for the world community if the true nature of it is well understood and applied accordingly. We become to belong and not as lost souls if we can relate to our identity. Identity comes from the value system you belief in. The environment and the circumstances allow a group of people to coalese and form a nation for their survival. The Tamil poem below explains it very clearly. There is no point in defying the nature. As far as the conscience of the Nations run together to reach the common destiny there will be less conflicts and less miseries.

    “யாதும் ஊரே ; யாவரும் கேளிர்”
    “All are our place; every one is our relatives,
    Bad & Good does not come from others,
    Similarly pain & relief as well,
    Death is not new at all, we neither
    Feel proud to live, nor
    Feel distress to end, like the
    Water fall from sky as stone after lightening
    Thunder, though clean and colourless, after touching
    The earth takes the colour and quality of the place of fall,
    And run with river, Our life also takes shape depending upon circumstances
    And these facts realised & understood by the learned elders,
    And hence we don’t flatter privileged and more than that
    We don’t snuff the disadvantaged” – Purananuru.
    The above versus were written by a Tamil poet during Sangam period which is about 2000 years old. You will observe the secular nature of the poem with no reference to karma or a supreme. I am very comfortable in accepting the above wisdom and to cultivate my mind to live accordingly. Since there is no contradiction between my belief system and the ancient wisdom of my ancestors I feel I am a Tamil.
    Daya Thevi

  • 0

    “There is a soupcon of humour in an otherwise humourless film, when the Muslim buyer enters. Showing the sharp circumspection that is attributed to the image of the Muslim trader he taps even on the steel doors of the enclosed area of trading! This single act pleases the audience longing for laughter.”


    What you have called the instance of humour was for me the seriously disappointing flaw in Prasanna Vithanage’s very thoughtful film.

    To have a muslim person appear as the one who was going to take over the pawnbroking business was to buy into a horrible stereotype, especially given the rampant whispers around – “the muslims are buying up everything” – about that community for some time now.

    These whispers by persons who choose to be blind to the obvious reality that the rich and the poor, the selfish and the avaricious, the investing and the consuming, are to be found in every community, do not take long to be acted upon energetically. That is a lesson we have learnt over and over.

    If the audience was pleased as you say, was it because, though momentarily, it also diverted the pointing finger away from where it was directed by the film until then? One hopes not, for that would have been a poor undoing of what the film had achieved until then.

    To me the film’s success was how it invited / compelled the audience to realise how real and tragic the impact of cruelty and bestiality is and ought to be, on real people. It was thus another effort – as good art always tries – to redeem us from the stupor and apathy into which we fall comfortably as we move on easily from one deadening statistic to another.

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