Ladies first! | Daily News


Ladies first!

The SAARC International Women’s Day, organised by the SAARC Cultural Centre in collaboration with the University of the Visual and Performing Arts, drew attention to the highlights of the development and advancement of women in all fields, but particularly as artistes and agents of cultural development.

The highlights encompassed the prowess of women in the cultural and performing arts, through a cultural performance highlighting the ever advancing and growing status of women in the South Asian Region. Three ladies were invited to share the varied and wonderful triumphs, struggles and achievements. They were Sumitra Peries, Mercy Nalini Edussuriya and Sumithra Rahubadda.


Sumitra Peries

Dubbed as the poetess of Sinhala Cinema, Sumitra is the first female filmmaker in Sri Lanka. Gehenu Lamai, Ganga Addara and Yahaluwo are her most popular works. She studied filmmaking at the London School of Film Technique and was awarded a Diploma in Film Direction and Production (1957–1959).

Sumitra was the only woman studying this subject back then. Following studies, she began working at Mai Harris, a subtitling firm for a short period and later returned to Sri Lanka. When she directed her debut, Gehenu Lamai, Sumitra never realised that the work would become a box office hit and earn her many awards at the film festivals of the time. Her next film Ganga Addara followed suit raking in profits. Sumitra has subsequently directed many more feature films which have won international acclaim. Many acclaimed films include Gehenu Lamai (1978), Ganga Addara (1980) Yahalu Yeheli (1982), Maya (1984), Sagara Jalaya Madi Handuwa Oba Handa (1988), Loku Duwa (1996), Duwata Mawaka Misa (1997), Sakman Maluwa (2003) and Vaishnavee (2018).

In the 1980s, Sumitra was a member of the presidential commission for two years to conduct an inquiry into Sri Lanka’s film sector regarding all aspects of the industry such as its troubles, statistics, public opinions and recommendations. She was in charge of production for Worldview International in Sri Lanka in 1988–1990. Also during the late 1980s and early 1990s, she was a member of the Board of Management of the Institute of Aesthetic Studies, Kelaniya University. Sumitra later served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to France and Spain in 1996–1999 and was also appointed as the ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United Nations by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. She won the award for the best film director in fifty years of Sri Lankan cinema.

It was a long and isolated journey for Sumitra in a male-dominated industry.

“Most people tend to accredit my glory to my celebrity husband, Dr Lester James Peries. But I had been in the industry long before I met him. I was born before Independence. At that time no girl would dare venture into the Mediterranean zone. The films were not quite an area for girls. But I found my premise there,” Peries recalls.

She was tasked with the editing purpose, as she was a woman. The art required you to be meticulous. The women were generally supposed to be meticulous. Once the job came to be recognised as a complicated and challenging role, the men wanted to dominate it too, as Peries recalls.

Peries’ films are centred on feminist themes involving mother, daughter and wife and the challenges they face in miscellaneous social institutions.

“I never wanted to depict violence. I made use of bonding, kindness and other human values. I am happy to see more women enter the filmmaking scene. Deepa Mehta extensively talks about the harassment that the women have to face,”

The attitude towards rape victims need to change, Peries points out. If someone steps on the mirror, if the mirror gets cracked, it is not the fault of the mirror. Such attitudes need to be wiped away.


Mercy Nalini Edussuriya

She was born to a family of four boys and two girls. Her eldest brother was her role model as he excelled in higher education.

Edussuriya is a leading educationist and former principal of Visakha Vidyalaya (1988-1999). She has 51 years of experience, both in the public and private education sectors in Sri Lanka as a teacher, lecturer, deputy principal, and principal. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Diploma in Education from the University of Peradeniya, and a Master’s in Education Planning and Management from the University of Reading, UK. Her stint as the principal of Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo, brought the school many accolades in academia and extra-curricular activities by securing its position as the leading girls’ school in the country. She has been awarded Deshabandu Acharya Award in 2011, Distinguished Service Award for Principals in 1995 awarded by the Sri Lanka Association for Advancement of Education, and Zonta International Award for Education Woman Achievement Awards-1998.

Before she was invited to take in reins of administration, Edussuriya was never aware of her capabilities. Once she took over, her inner strength offered her the courage to do the right thing at the right time.

“I have never applied to any positions. I was always asked to take over them. Most people saw Visakha Vidyalaya Principal’s position as a gold mine, but I was initially a bit reluctant. When I accepted the position after hesitance, I was happy about the role.”

Edissuriya was never to bow down to the male-dominant bureaucracy. She never accepted any letters of recommendation sent from Education or any other ministry. She stood the ground.


Sumithra Rahubadda

An award-winning novelist, short story writer, poet, lyricist, translator and scriptwriter, Sumitra Rahubadda completed her Bachelor’s from the University of Colombo and Master’s Degree in Development Administration from the Australian National University, Canberra. She is a retired Sri Lanka Administrative Service Officer and some of the posts she held were Secretary Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Child Development, Director General Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Additional Secretary Ministry of Justice, Additional Secretary Ministry of Media and Information. Her first novel Bumuthurunu published in 1978 was highly praised by the critics. Her novels brought out different angles of a woman. Bagging five awards in within the same year, her novel Kandak Sema won the Swarna Pusthaka Award, State Literary Award, Ran Piyapath Award, Vidyodaya award, and Godage Award in the year 2010. Some of her other award-winning novels include Bumuthurunu, Iti Pahan, Udanaya, Dala Rala Pela, Kelimadala, Loba Nosindeya, Atha Atha Naara, Siya Siya Path Siya, Thuru Samuda, Dala Rala Pela. Film ‘Kandak Sema’ which is based on her award-winning novel titled ‘Kandak Sema’ is scheduled to be screened at the end of this year. She has also translated several books and authored children’s books. Sumithra Ruhubadda has written 45 novels and some have even entered into university syllabi as well. She has about 10 teledramas under her belt and she is also the producer for Keli Madala and Kandak Sema. She is also one of the leading scriptwriters in an industry dominated by men and have retained her position as one of the best scriptwriters in Sri Lanka.

For Sumithra, life has been full of failures. But the difference is, she notes, she did not stop at the failures.

“I moved on from the failures towards success. I was born as the eldest at a time when a firstborn female is considered a curse. Parents used to call me putha. In most families, a daughter indirectly becomes the servant to her male siblings. I had to overcome this situation.”

She had to face numerous challenges while schooling as she was small in physical stature. A male monitor in the class once hit her by the cane. Sumithra was not to be cowed by this act. She snatched the cane and hit back her monitor.

“I saw education as the path to overcome failures. When I entered the SLIAS in 1978, things were even tougher. However qualified the women may be, they are always pushed behind. The good positions always went to the men,” Sumitra recalled the olden days of the male-dominant bureaucracy.

Although she was appointed to a lower position, she portrayed her strength.

Young ladies are more forward today, as Sumitra notes. But discrimination is yet to vanish completely, she concluded. 

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