‘Ira Bata Tharuwa’ on Silverscreen in London

by Thilak S. Fernando

The initiatory Tele-drama of AM ( Alahakoon-Madawela) Productions, filmed on location in London and Sri Lanka, hit the silver screen on 27th June 1999 at the Commonwealth Auditorium in the form of a film version. The seventeen-episode serial ‘Ira Bata Tharuwa’ made for the Sri Lankan television was especially edited to last two and half-hours for the premiere show in London.

A well-known film actress in the Sri Lankan cinema, Sriyani Amarasinghe’s story line, based on a true to life anecdote, was developed into a film script by Daya Alwis, who played the main role in the film with Sriyani - as his wife ‘ Swarnamali’. The initial thought process of Lilani Perera to venture into the production of Tele-drama in London became a reality soon after a production team comprising Sriyani Amarasena, Wimal Alahakoon, Tissa Madawela joined hands with her to go into action in full steam; soon to become a reality and a dream come true. The success of their initial project was evident from the throng of Sri Lankans who filled the Commonwealth Institute auditorium to capacity to have the first glimpse of ‘Ira Bata Tharuwa’.

The plot of ‘Ira Bata Tharuwa’ is wrapped around a daughter, of a wealthy planter family in Sri Lanka, who is educated in a reputed girls’ school in Colombo. During her school vacation and while taking a nature trail in her father’s estate she comes across a handsome young man, who happens to be the son of her father’s minor employee. Despite the warnings of the boy’s father to his son to keep away from his master’s daughter, due to the associated fears of a social scandal with dire consequences to his employment and the very life of his son, the young man gets mesmerised by the girl’s modern outlook towards life -‘ love without barriers’, ending ultimately her getting pregnant by the boy. Disappointed and overwrought girl’s father gets rid of his newborn ‘grand daughter’ by sending the baby for adoption to a childless couple in London (Lilani Perera and Wimal Alahakoon) through an intermediary agent. In the meanwhile the daughter (Swarnamali) is made to believe that she gave birth to a stillborn baby!

Later on, Swarnamali’s parents give her in marriage to a rich man in line with their social stratum to find that their marriage turns out to be as dull as a doll drum without her being able to produce any more children. As boredom sets in, the life becomes distasteful to her, especially with her husband becoming too involved with his drinking pals while she is left to handle somewhat indomitable, ‘generations old’ servants at home. In the meanwhile her daughter grows up in London in the comfort of her foster parents according to London customs and culture. Following the sudden death of Swarnamali’s mother, and while she is on a sentimental journey in her mother’s wardrobe she finds, to her amazement, some airmail letters hidden away inside a sari. The letters give the cat out of bag about her daughter, but without much intricate details or even her name.

In a diplomatic move, pretending to be emotionally devastated by the passing away of her mother, Swarnamali persuades her husband to go to London on a holiday, with the fervent hope of finding her daughter, which she keeps to herself as a secret. Finally in London her determined efforts come to fruition and the real mother and daughter are re-united, much to the disappointment and heart break of the London foster mother, where the film comes to an end.

The casting of the characters to the film has been selected from Sri Lanka and London: Sriyani Amarasena, Daya Alwis, Sasanthi Jayasekera, Robin Fernando, Harry Wimalasena, Senaka Wijesinghe and Semini Iddamalgoda from Sri Lanka and Lilani Perera, Wimal Alahakoon, Ramesh Ekanayake, Sheila Madawela, Anura Hegoda, Anula Perera, Varuni Perera and Kanthi Alahakoon in London. Under Sudath Rohana’s direction Nanda Malini and Deepika Priyadarshani do the playback singing to Somasiri Medagedra’s music.

‘Ira Bata Tharuwa’ adds another page into the Sinhala dramatic history in the UK as first ever television drama produced in London and Sri Lanka locations and also with a cast from both countries. Sixteen years ago ‘ Rata Giya Attho’ was produced as a tele drama and shown on Rupavahini, but the whole cast, production, location and direction etc., were confined only to London based thespians.

Sriyani Amarasinghe speaking to this journalist explained about the technical difficulties she encountered as a producer in London, which she said are much more difficult, arduous and expensive in comparison to the Sri Lanka’s production mill. Undoubtedly the cost of hiring of equipment and other technical facilities cost an arm and a leg in London. However, Sriyani was quite happy that her first London production went off smoothly.

The co-producers Wimal Alahakoon and Lilani Perera too shared almost the same views of Sriyani Amerasena. One thing that emerged out of interviewing the producers is that despite few initial hiccups and associated expenses by having to get down technical staff from Sri Lanka, finding accommodation for them in London and providing transport etc., their unity and working as a team has helped them to overcome all the obstacles. “ The beauty of it all is that after the shooting of the film was done there were no hard feeling or misunderstanding among ourselves,” said Wimal Alahakoon. This has been evident from the wet cheeks and tear drops that trickled from each eye when the Sri Lankan team left London Heathrow airport.

Filming was done for 3-4 weeks on location covering Buckingham Palace and other prominent London tourist spots as well as the Shakespeare village. Wimal Alahakoon paid a tribute to his production assistant Tissa Madawela who has been the technical backbone in London. Tissa, who is well known to Sri Lankans in London and also a popular name in Sri Lanka, can be regarded as the only icon in London, among the Sri Lankan community, who is versatile in the filed of filming and editing. He also played a major role in the production of Rata Giya Atto serial.

‘Ira Bata Tharuwa’ has been tried out initially as an experiment but ‘ not as a commercial’ according to one of the producers. However, it appears that there are already 3-4 sponsors who are showing a keen interest to ‘ grab’ it to be shown as a 17 episode Tele-drama on Sri Lankan television - Swarnavahini and Uni-Levers are thought to be in the front line in the competition.

After the London show Sriyani Amerasena was travelling with the film to Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Rome for various other scheduled shows in the respective countries. Due to the heavy congestion on Sri Lankan television waiting queue the earliest slot expected is thought to be around February-March next year , said Alahakoon.

A London documentary, during British winter, is on the drawing board for the next AM Production where the Sri Lankan viewer may get at least a ‘screen-feel’ of the snow , cold and how the people here cope in such arctic conditions during winter - compared to their bright and sunny lives in Sri Lanka, which they never seem to appreciate !