Milk gone RED | Daily News

Milk gone RED

Sudath Mahadiulwewa. Pictures by Saman Sri Wedage

Sudath Mahadiulwewa shot into cinematic prominence in 2004 with ‘Sudu Kalu Saha Alu’ (Shades of Ash). He is back with ‘The Red Milk’ after an extended hiatus of over a decade. The Daily News caught up with him to ask why it has been so long since his last production, and what he has been doing meanwhile.

Q: Sudath. Why has it been so long since your last production, and what have you been doing meanwhile?

A:Well, it’s been a decade since my last film production, but I’ve been involved with other productions. I set up my own production studio and have produced many tele-films as well as documentaries, social awareness campaigns and other creative work.

Q: Yes, you’ve won quite a few awards for your creative work. You began as copywriter?

A: Yes, my first job was as a Sinhala creative copywriter at an ad agency.

Q: Did you enjoy your work?

A: I did a lot of creative work during that time, and learned a lot about the skill. I began as a copywriter but ended up a creative director. I thoroughly enjoyed visual production. But in retrospect, I think those years at the advertising agency were a waste of time.

Q: Why so harsh a reaction?

A: Because it did nothing for my soul. The creative industry is built on lies. There is no truth to it. It is a lot of marketing built on the premises of truth, but there is no truth to it. I hated it. I couldn’t stay there for too long. I was not brought up with those values.

Q: Tell us something about your childhood.

A: My hometown is Kurunegala. I was born in a beautiful ancestral home. On the one side, we had paddy fields, on the other side rubber tree. So I was always surrounded by agriculture. It is from here that my deep appreciation for rural life came.

I had a very idyllic, happy childhood. I was very loved. I remember, my father used to call me ‘Chooti Deio’ (Little God) – to date I have not heard any other father call his son by this name.

I was very close to my parents. My mother was a teacher of English and my father studied Western Classics –which is a very uncommon subject to study.

My father studied at Trinity College in Kandy, but my grandfather began to get upset about the fact that his son had no knowledge of his own culture, or any of the ‘gatha’s. So he took him out of Trinity and put him at Dharmaraja College. My grandfather was a wonderful man. By the time it was time for me to go to school, my father was quite sure it was Dharmaraja he wanted to send me to, not Trinity. He learned a lot at Trinity, but you could say his cultural moulding came from Dharmaraja.

Q: Did you enjoy school? Is that where you began with your creative endeavours?

A: Yes, it was at school that I began my creative work. If doors opened for me as an artiste, it opened when I was at Dharmaraja. I was very involved with school theatre productions and I was in the school debate team. In the history of Dharmaraja, I think I was the first to produce a street drama. I remember it was very political and we had to shut it down after. I had been inspired by the work of Gamini Hattotuwagama – and was a fan of this kind of interventionist theatre, you know, when the message is clear and delivered fast.

Q: Are your films always of a political nature?

A: No, but politics did have a heavy influence on me. I did a stint as a journalist during the Premadasa regime. It was a highly political tabloid called ‘Lakdiva’. At one time, Dullas Allahaperuma, Wimal Weerawansa and Rohitha Bashana Abeywardane were all working there. There paper was banned later. But my political thinking really opened at that time. I must have been about 24 or 25.

Q: Your new film ‘The Red Milk’ is a little political, isn’t it?

A: Well, yes.The film is about Rizana Nafeek, the 17-year-old Sri Lankan maid who was beheaded in Saudi Arabia. I truly hope the film captures the attention of the United Nations and they intervene against stoning and beheading as capital punishments. We are globally a civil -ized society. This is the 21st century. This sort of inhuman, barbaric practices must be outlawed.

I remember when the news came about Rizana’s execution, I looked at my hands, and felt that the blood of Rizana was on my hands – it was on all of our hands. That was the death of an innocent. That is premise of my film: the death of an innocent. And yes, I suppose some of that schoolboy, interventionist, and political side of me comes out in the making of this film too. To page 35

Q: Is there any one person or any one body of literature you consider having a lasting influence in your life?

A: I grew up with a lot of literary influence, and as I told you, a lot of love – I am close to both my parents, to this date, but I think my grandfather holds a special place of influence in my life. My grandfather was a wonderful man. He was soft-spoken, aesthetic, neat, simple and very principled. Those things I remember the most. He taught me that my word was my word: if you give your word to someone, you are expected to keep it. He taught me discipline – mostly by example. He was an early riser and had a very organized and structured day. He was not the sort of man who would accept something as fact if he could not engage in discourse or debate about it.

He was thinker.

He was also a genius story teller – he was not engaged in the arts, but in agriculture, but still, I remember, as a child, he had a rare transparent box – which is now owned by me – in which he collected small toys, lots and lots of tiny figurines and toys, and he would very often open that box, pick up a figurine, and relate a story about that figurine. I have never heard him repeat a story.

He truly was a wonderful, kind man. He believed in the purity of a vocation – he wasn’t an extremist or a fundamentalist, but he believed in tradition.

To him, a Buddhist monk was expected to carry a ‘patharei’ (begging bowl), and he would say a Buddhist monk who used money might as well be married.

He truly believed in the purity of vocation. I miss him greatly. 

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