Maestro nonpareil | Daily News

Maestro nonpareil

The passing away of Dr. Lester James Peries removes from our midst a unique personage who not only charted a path-breaking course in the field of local cinema but also put Sri Lanka on the world map with his creative prowess that brought him on par with the top names in world cinema. His creation, Nidhanaya, is considered one of the 10 all time great films in international cinema, an achievement for which the country could truly be proud of.

Lester burst on the scene like a comet taking the local cinema by storm with his first cinematic experiment Rekava (Line of Destiny) that broke the mould of the South Indian melodrama genre which was the staple that fed the local cinemagoers up until then. In wife Sumithra he had the ideal foil, the combination going onto create some unique pieces of cinema that brought in a string of international awards and acclaim. When Lester burst on the scene the country was in the throes of the cultural revolution ushered in by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956 which also saw a re-awakening of indigenous thoughts, practices and the renaissance of a local cultural ethos.

It cannot be a coincidence that Lester’s cinematic creations tended to match with the prevailing milieu and the changing winds of the times. He painted on a broad canvass, not only bringing to the fore the beauty of village life and the innocence of rural living, but also exploring the intricacies of the innermost core of the human mind and prejudices associated with the village. In Goluhadawata he brought out the innocent romance of two young hearts that had such a poignant ending that the film captivated both the young and old in equal measure. His subsequent works also dwelt on serious themes and other topics that embraced a wide gamut of social issues, politics, psychology etc. that brought with it a new breed of cinemagoer who was exposed to and learnt to appreciate serious cinema. In this he set a trend, precipitating the arrival of a whole young breed of creative cinema artistes that strove to bring about a truly indigenous cinema in this country.

One cannot speak about Lester without the mention of wife Sumithra. As already mentioned, the duo complemented each other, at times the wife surpassing the husband, so much so, one found it difficult to speak in the same breath about Lester without mention of Sumithra. This is because the themes they dwelt on were of the same genre and the creative excellence complementary. It will be the wish of all who have the best interest of the local cinema at heart to have Sumithra continue in the same vein, that would further encourage the next crop of potential exponents of serious cinema to take the cue and rescue the local cinema industry from the depths to which it has fallen today.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who last met the aging maestro on the day of his 99th birthday, at his home, and wished him many more years of life on this planet, should take concrete measures to propagate the name and works of Dr. Lester James Peries, who was a national treasure like the Nidhanaya he created. There is a national trend among us to forget things after the initial spell of heightened activity and displays of sentiment and emotion. There is little spoken of today about the doyen of indigenous music, the late W.D. Amaradeva, or, the late Premasiri Khemadasa who provided the musical score for all Lester’s films, until the former’s demise.

It was the fervent wish of Dr. Peries to have a state-of-the-art film archives established so that all old masterpieces could be restored and local films preserved. It is indeed a telling indictment on those responsible that Nidhanaya (among the top ten internationally acclaimed films, of all time) is lost to the present generation due to this negligence and the quest in search of a copy is yet to bear fruit.

Steps, at least should be taken now, to preserve the remainder of the unique cinematic creations of this colossus for the benefit of the generations to come so that they may come to know and appreciate the contributions of the man who was able to rub shoulders with the best of men in world cinema and bring fame and glory to the motherland.

It will also be appropriate for the authorities to give utmost attention towards the creation of a Dr. Lester James Peries Museum at an appropriate location, that incorporates his early forays into the Lankan cinema and other Lester memorabilia to propagate his memory.

Sri Lanka has lost one of her unique sons who contributed to the glory and esteem of the country far afield from our shores, as no politician has done to date. It is only fitting therefore that no stone is left unturned to further his memory, at every turn.

Dr. Lester James Peries makes his final journey today.

We salute you Sir, for your unique contribution in placing Sri Lanka on a pedestal in world cinema.


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