Siri Gunasinghe passed away this week. I have never met the man but knew him through his work Sath Samudura. Denawake Hamine, Cyril Wickramage. They inhabited my conscience through the years. If not for horrible sites like You Tube that flout copyright rules or un-rules these memories would die with folks like me.
It’s not every day, while living in a Western metropolis, albeit one that is arguably the most mixed culturally given its state as a beach of sorts where people from everywhere wash up like dead cats, rusty tokens or debris, that you go – let me go look for an old Lester James Peiris film on You Tube or Siri Gunasinghe’s work. The rough and tumble, the silences and rusty noises of living in a purportedly Western metropolis on stolen lands soaked in blood and lies and the day to day grind and survival keep us away from the truths resident in these hidden works although they are out on full view on You Tube. Except for Sath Samudura.
Sath Samudura is not available on You Tube. I remember vignettes of the film well from the etchings on my heart. I was but a child and my parents did not miss a Lester James film in those days except this was not him. We all went. Often for the late film – the childhood beginnings of my late night inhabitations. The fearsome ocean where brave men plunge on sea craft made of wood or coconut trunks. So strong and wiry like the men themselves. Even the women. In search of fish to make a small living on the edge of a precipice of abject poverty. Waiting to be gobbled by the monster that is the sea. The waiting, the storms the hungers and wild madnesses of the ocean that is a devil and a giver of bounty. Lives tied to the sea and the stories of those lives tended like torn nets on the beach under the burning sun or the moon’s light.
Mahagama Sekara‘s words and music in Amaradeva’s voice. Speaking and painting the truths in our hearts. Truths created by a culture fed to us through the cinema and music so resonant of the sensibilities many of us grew under. The desperation of the poor that many looked the other way from. These are some of the things I remember but mostly what Denawake Hamine told us. What Cyril Wickramage portrayed. I was hungry last night to see them again. Except for song clips on You Tube, there’s no film. This is not a manifesto for incursion into copyright laws (or not) however a cry out for the hunger of a few hours in time at Elphinstone cinema in the sixties.
I have this bad habit of emoting memories when you hear when someone in the arts has died. More rarely in politics. Regretting why we did not value the person and his/her works while they were still on earth. What point in going on when they’re dead I said in arrogant cynicism. But isn’t that the whole point that their works will live for ever. Death a time of celebration of what one single human life can achieve. Isn’t that it?
First seen when about ten or eleven at the Elphinstone, if my memory serves right. Then and now. Here I am sitting at home on an off day in early summer/ late Spring in Toronto with bits of the film reel flashing across my brain and heart in celluloid. Isn’t that the point? Especially in cinema. The unsung cinema of Ceylon then, Sri Lanka now.