Maariya makes Sri Lanka proud

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After 39 years of silence, a Sinhala movie is competing in the most sophisticated 44th Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF) 2022. Maariya, the movie, apart from representing the international film festival, is adding newer facet to the local cinema, starring Mahendra Perera, Priyantha Sirikumara, Hemal Ranasinghe, Darshan Dharamaraj, Ashan Dias, Suran Dissanayaka and Dasun Patirana.  Its plot, shooting and also casting are all new and interesting. While the country is holding the breath for the final judgment of the film festival, Ceylon Today reached out to Aruna Jayawardhana, the director of the movie. He is a well-known figure in the Sri Lankan film industry and has produced other great movies including Nikini Wessa and Happy Birthday.

Maariya; the ocean angel

Speaking to Ceylon Today, Jayawardhana briefed the plot and the thematic aspects of the movie. “Actually, the story of the movie is based on an actual event that took place few years back. A group of Indonesian fishermen had found a girl mannequin and thinking that it was some scared thing, had worshipped it till they eventually handed it over to the Police. I also heard this news and was intrigued by how uncommon and interesting it was. So, at last that story was adapted to a movie but of course with changes.

“The fishing group of men in the movie comes across with a same sort of incident and they react to it in different manners. In fact, the female mannequin’s intrusion of the ship is like a woman’s touch to the crew who are all males. So, they perceive this mannequin or the doll in ways which differ from person to person. Gradually, it starts to emerge disputes and conflicts among the fellow sailors regarding the ownership of the mannequin. So and so, the fault lines or divisions such as race and ethnicity, age gap and so on, begin to surface among the crew”, he shared.

“In sense, this incident itself is a symbol, or a metaphor to our whole society. We co-exist in society with peace and harmony as long as nothing happens. Nevertheless, just as some trigger factor acts upon us – just like how the mannequin acted upon the sailing crew – we start to divide basing on various aspects. We dig the deep and hidden divisions and fight each other, most of the time, just for nothing.” Jayawardhana elaborated.

A fresh experience

Significance of Maariya is that it is the first and only Sri Lankan movie to be shot entirely in the sea. It indeed should have been a new experience and a challenge as well. Jayawardhana, upon request shared his experiences in shooting the movie.

“This is the first time in our country that a movie was entirely shot in the sea. Speaking frankly, in a developed country, it would never be shot in the sea unless it can’t be produced in a studio. Yet, as we don’t have such studios with advanced technology and facilities in our country, we had to go for shooting in the sea. Usually, a lot of research work is done before going for a venturous task like this, but we were unable and helpless to do so as we were restricted by a tight budget. However, we gathered some background information and directly went for shootings in the Negombo Sea, with meagre technology, despite the risk. We stayed 10 days on a yacht anchored in the sea as it was time consuming to travel to and from the sea daily. I used to be the make-up artist during those days,” he chuckled.

Quite a challenge

Actually, the task of shooting the movie has been a really tough one, according to Jayawardhana.

 “We had to confront many challenges and difficulties during the shootings. Our plan was to finish shooting the movie in 15 days, but we had to extend it for 22 days due to various inconveniences; some days the sea looks all good and calm, but as we start shooting it would start to rain as if it is a storm. So we would have to return to the shore.

“I remember the sense of danger and uncertainty that was hovering above us during the shootings. We had to be very careful about the safety of the actors as there were scenes where the actors had to jump into the sea also. Once, Hemal Ranasinghe was almost drowned in the sea during a scene.” He furthered. “I actually thank all the actors and the crew for the immense support they gave in, amidst all the difficulties.

“On the other hand, producing a film itself is a challenge, given the current situation of the country. The film industry in our country is not much backed by the Government and so, we have to make movies under many difficulties. It’s a blessing that we still have skilful professionals in the field who sacrifice much of their lives for the betterment of the industry. However, we were able to overcome all the challenges and finished the movie successfully,” Jayawardhana added. “In fact, I should make this an opportunity to thank everyone who took part in this endeavour, including the producer who agreed to do the film despite all the odds.”

Representing the country on an international platform

Several Sinhala movies have represented the country in international-level film festivals time to time, but it is for the first time in 39 years that Maariya is competing in the main completion at the MIFF since Yugaanthaya by Lester James Peries. “It is not that we produced this movie with the aim of winning an international level award, but to be honest, we are happy. I think the whole nation too can be happy for this accomplishment as it brings a small glimpse of hope amidst the on-going crisis from which we all are suffering these days,” shared Jayawardhana, describing his thoughts on the movie’s success.

“Cinema is a universal language, and hence is able address a wider community. So, my intention in film-making is to address the wider community and bring about the local colourings to the international stage. I believe Maariya is successful in this regard.”

Also, Jayawardhana mentioned that it would be his utmost pleasure if this international representation of Maariya will encourage or inspire any of the young filmmakers who might have become discouraged by the not-so-good condition of the Sri Lankan film industry. Moreover, he added that the movie will be released to the public at the beginning of the next year.

By Induwara Athapattu