Whither Aba?

by V. Malini Peiris

(November 01, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It was in high spirits that I went to see the film Aba. I also knew the extraordinary capabilities of the Director and naturally, I expected a masterpiece. Actually, it proved to be a praiseworthy cinematic creation with highly competitive acting prowess and scenic beauty.
I am no critic of cinema, being an ordinary person with a taste for good films. According to my notion, films are really the dreams of a person who can translate that dream into a true life experience. Dreams are not only for script writers, but are common to all of us. Humanbeings thrives on dreams. Some dreams come true, but the majority do not. Some of the dreams are so self-centred that the fruition of the dream does not benefit others.

But then, there were the dreams of great persons like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King (Jr.). They dreamt about peace, equality and peaceful co-existence of mankind. Their lives were dedicated to achieving the goals they dreamt about, undergoing much travails in life and even facing death.

Some of us have the weakness of getting ‘obsessed’ with a particular dream. It deepens everyday so that it excludes any reality and commences to thrive on fantasy. If such ‘obsessions’ are for the benefit of mankind, or for the advancement of science and technology, they really serve a great purpose. The cinematic creations like Space Odyssey, The day after tomorrow, Cassandra Crossing, and Jurassic Park to name a few, projected positive signals for the future of mankind. When the films are sophisticated or super natural like Spiderman, Superman, Bat Man, The Terminator, etc. even though they are treated as great creations technically, everyone knew that those were absolute fiction and did not project any positive benefit for the future.

Now to get back to Aba, it is the duty of the citizens of this country to analyse some of the glaring drawbacks projected by this film, which are not so beneficial to present day society.

The once cherished episode of love and affection between Princess Unmada Chitra and Prince Deegha Gamini has suffered the death blow in this film. We see Chitra as a sensual woman, a traitor to her own family, while betraying the deep love for her by Deegha Gamini (who we once thought was related to the clan of Yaksha). Her son is supposed to be sired by Chitraraja (Yaksha Chieftain), a very trusted palace guard, later turned traitor. Chitra’s mother, the Queen, becomes a traitor herself by planning to whisk off her infant grandson away from the palace. She knows (may not believe), that this grandson is destined to kill all his uncles, that is, her sons, in future. However, it is history so depicted. Women in the palace are the traitors, to their family.

The role of Pandula Brahamana is very vague. He does not depict any religion and is most probably a devotee of nature and the sun god. He has extraordinary powers and can read the future. But ironically, he comes to know about the lineage of the young Prince Aba from the caretaker Habara. His ashram and the rituals remind us of similar institutions in India. It seems to me, more or less, a war academy, even when there seems to be no war in the country. The death squads sent by the palace, the indecent gestures and arrogant behaviour of court officials, messengers and guards is nothing new for any era. The Doramandala village - ‘a Gopalugama’ - seems to be devoid of any shepherds or cattle.

But the dreaded scenes in the film are related to child birth. The pains of child birth are only known by mothers. In the film, such instances are sometimes portrayed by young girls who have never become mothers. But they do really well as seen in most films. But the two scenes of child birth in Aba were utterly sordid. The two kids seated in our row at the cinema hall turned to their mother so as to not to see the screen. They were aghast!

An unjustifiable instance was the comparison that was set before our eyes in bearing the pain by the royal princess and the ordinary woman (probably belonging to the ‘yaksha’ clan). Unlike the princess, the woman sprawling on the mat on the floor, writhing in pain and shrieking and kicking the objects around her with the unusual glistening enlarged belly was really disgusting. It was so repulsive that it evoked no sympathy for the poor mother in pain. The same sort of scene is there at Pramuka’s abode. The wife of the village headman at Doramandala tries to delay her childbirth by pounding insanely at the mortar assisted by her husband. If such a thing was done today, it could be the end of mother and the baby both. These scenes have escaped the eyes of the censor board, even though it is a disgrace to motherhood. Such inclusions in the films may serve the purpose of attracting crowds or getting into the award lists of international film competitions. The pains, a mother suffers in gifting another human being to this world, should be treated with honour in a proper manner. Let this be an eye opener for future films.

This film does not lean towards any religion or any religious ideas. It relies on fantasies, myths, sorcery, apparitions and spirits. Its characteristics are parallel to aborigines of some countries. However, the scriptwriter seems to be inspired by a large number of international films of fame and has attempted to include such scenes without analysing the possible repercussions. He should be commended for his boldness to interpret the history of a country as far as he has the evidence to prove it. It is not an easy task to reconstruct an era, which is long past. The intelligent film audience will understand that it is a film and not reality.

With any obsession, reality tends to get diluted. The overacting becomes the order of the day. This overacting has pervaded more or less all the actors and actresses. But one conspicuous weakness is the lack of majesty in the royalty. Most of the characters are unable to exhibit the proper qualities of royalty unlike the ‘yaksha’ chieftains. Young Prince Aba did not seem to perform the expected standards of a brave future King. We still remember vividly the last scenes in the film ‘Ashok’, when the little crown prince carried himself majestically with an arrow piercing his body from behind and still not showing the pain or melancholy until he dropped dead.

As a country simmering in conflict and war, with deaths being reported on a daily basis, where would this film take us from here? Obsessions should be turned into films as long as they are favourable to mankind and not disastrous to their future. They should not pollute young minds. If the gods do bless the warriors at war, we should remember that all parties to conflicts have their own gods. Then it finally could be gods at war. War is not a phenomenon to be propagated even though it might be inevitable.

An imposed state of supremacy among various clans of mankind will lead not to any equality but to conflicts. Historians are entitled to give various interpretations. However, suspicion should not be planted in the minds of a nation as it will deepen the crisis or the enmities between communities. What is the relevance today, if the Sinhala people descended from ‘yaksha’ clan or from King Vijaya? This is an era of globalisation, where we should groom our children to accept universal values of humanity, while retaining the national traditions, which are favourable to a peaceful existence. Conflicts of any nature have to be rejected by the future generations, and oneness of humanity has to be appreciated. Does this film sponsor such values?

Finally, it should be mentioned that the scenic beauty depicted in ‘Sooriya Arana’ has had a strong spell on the film Aba, but has failed to surpass the former. Our legendary cinematic maestro, Dr. Lester James Peiris could still count his film Sandeshaya to be the best film of that nature produced in Sri Lanka depicting a war against foreign invaders.

Though I went to see Aba with great expectations, I came out of the cinema hall with a shattered dream.
- Sri Lanka Guardian