Uppalavanna (2007) Sri Lanka
Uppalavanna Image Cover
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Director:Sunil Ariyaratne
Date Added:2010-05-10
Tags: Buddhism drama

Summary: Review at the Sunday Observer (http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2007/07/29/spe07.asp): Uppalavanna : A contemporary Theri-Gatha Sojourn in a nunnery

by Indeewara Thilakarathne and Ranga Chandrarathne

Uppalavanna, a film directed by Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne and produced by Milina Sumathipala, is woven around an eventful life of a girl, Upuli who entered the Buddhist order of nuns following the tragic events in her life; the killing of her husband by her father at Upuli's mother's funeral and subsequent imprisonment of her father.

According to the pali cannon, Uppalavanna was the Buddhist nun famous for her psychic powers. However, the contemporary Uppalavanna is different in that she has, more or less, become the victim of the circumstances.

The story unfolds with Upuli, a daughter of an aristocratic physician father, falling in love with the son of her teacher of dancing and marries her sweet heart against parent's wishes.

Upuli's mother dies after a prolonged illness apparently precipitated by Upuli's out of caste marriage. On the day of the funeral, Upuli with her husband visits the funeral and furious father (brilliantly portrayed by Suminda Sirisena) kills Upuli's husband, thus changing her course of life.

Stricken hard by the fate befallen on her, Upuli entered a Buddhist nunnery with a firm resolve of committing herself to a hard life of spiritual practice. However, the nunnery does not escape from tremors of a social upheaval as the residual insurgents take refuge in the thick forest surrounding the nunnery, to carry out their military operations.

Peaceful life in the nunnery is shattered when the villagers capture the severely wounded insurgent from the nunnery premises. The insurgent was the killer of the only undergraduate of the village. In the subsequent inquiry conducted by the police, it was revealed that Uppalavanna had treated the severely wounded insurgent.

With the revelation, angry villagers stopped offering alms to the nunnery. The film ends on a note of a question mark over the fate of Uppalavanna who decided to leave the nunnery.

Although the film is set against a pastoral village with impressive nature-escapes, the film lacks depth in terms of evolution of characters and overall message that it strives hard to convey.

It is quite incomprehensible whether the film maker intends to codify the period of terror and the counter insurgency measures adopted by the Government of the day or to highlight the rigid cast system which is still prevalent , especially, among landed-gentry of the up-country.

However, the period of terror has been depicted somewhat authentically as the only undergraduate who was a former insurgent, had been killed by an insurgent showing the brutal nature of hate-mongers and hapless villagers sandwiched between Government rule and the degree of the insurgents.

Especially the dialogue was written in a way capturing the essence of social injustice suffered by the youth and Tissa Abeysekara had written those lines with a deep-understanding and insight of the issues faced by the youth and unrest.

For the Characterisation, Suminda Sirisena as father of Upuli, Rohana Beddage as Teacher of dancing and the character of the insurgent (Roshan Ravindra) who killed the undergraduate, undergraduate (Jagath Chamila) and Chandani Seneviratne have contributed to give a realistic dimension to the otherwise, meaningless concoction of events; reminding some scenes of Water and Sankara.

Although one may not be able to pinpoint that the film has copied or rather adapted some scenes from Water or Sankara, it is doubtful whether the film maker had attempted to adapt some elements of Water in a Buddhist milieu.

Especially the character of Podi Atthi remind the viewers of Chuiya in Water though it is not as lively as Chuiya.

Upuli and Uppalavanna portrayed by Sangeetha Weeraratne, is still not able to come out of her over acting mode which is apparent from induction ceremony into the nunnery as a novice.

However, veteran film maker and literatus Tissa Abeysekera should be commended for the insightful dialogues which shed light to the film. Malini Fonseka's long hair had hindered authenticity of that character which demands a mature personality (not maturity in terms of graying hair).

Malini's voice control is not at all suited for a matured nun and another shortcoming is that a long period of time had been allocated for the scene of shaving Upuli's hair. Here the editor has failed to prone the scene to suit the film rather than reporting it.

Another scene which is prominently displayed was the swimming of the severely wounded insurgent across the lake to the shore of the nunnery with one hand being almost lost and with his intense bleeding and wounds, the scene is far from being realistic.

Overall assessment the film lacks Aesthetic quality.

Navaratne Gamage's music, Camera by Suminda Weerasinghe and the vocal chords of Nanda Malini have made a meaningful contribution to the film. Dr. Praneeth Abeyasundera with his melodious wording has attempted to capture the spirit of the tone of Buddhist chanting.

All in all, Uppalavanna falls into the category of artistic films for which Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne should be praised as Sri Lanka needs more and more artistic films in order to build an informed audience.

Sri Lankan viewers expect Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne who made a lasting contribution to his field of study and to the artistic films, to make more and more films either exploring the intricacies of human nature and the socio-political changes and their impact on the society. The film is produced by Milina Sumathipala on behalf of Sumathi Films.



Review at The Daily News (http://www.dailynews.lk/2007/09/26/art03.asp.): Film Review:
Uppalavanna validates fundamental principles of life, guides human conduct

D. H. Sathischandra

CINEMA: Uppalavanna, the latest film by Professor Sunil Ariyaratne is now having a successful run amidst praise by critics and viewers. It is the story of a Buddhist Dasasilmatha living in an Aranya temple located in a remote rural area separated from the village by a waterway.

It is the story of a beautiful young woman who has found solace as a Dasasilmatha for some reason unknown to the audience at the inception of the film. In the group of Dasasilmatha's living in the Aranya Uppalavanna is the only young one,apart from the "Podiaththi" the child Dasasilmatha.
Childish nature

They share the abode allocated to them. She understands and tolerates the childish nature of the little Dasasilmatha and advises her kindly whenever she becomes playful. In the relationship between the two, one observes traits of Uppalavanna's character such as loving kindness caring and understanding.

These inner qualities led her to care, treat and feed a young insurgent, although she was aware that he had killed another insurgent youth who had decided to give up their cause, creating problems for the Dasasilmathas from the law and the villagers.

As Uppalavanna ponders over the decision to help the young man she recollects her past. In the flashbacks we come to know her family background, her artistic inclination, her interest in dancing, her falling in love with the son of a dancing teacher who is a tom-tom beater and the events leading to her decision to become a Dasasilmatha.
Subtle nuances

The audience feels her sensitive nature, the sincerity of her love towards the boyfriend, her subtle nuances of love and the beauty of their young love. Her feeding the deer with milk, her concern for and treatment of Podiaththi when she accidentally cuts her finger are further expressions of her kind caring nature.

These qualities of her character amply explain her decision to help the fatally injured youth rebel even though her act violates the rules governing Dasasilmathas.

There is no social message in the film as it is not the directors intention. The incidents relating to the youth insurgency, social conditioning and traditional values of her conservative parents and the family backgrounds of the two lovers have been included for the exclusive purpose of developing the character of Uppalavanna and to explain her behaviour in getting involved in mundane matters, which being a Dasasilmatha observing Dasasil violating the rules of Dasasilmathas.

The film structure is closely knit and includes only the images landscape, situations and events necessary to communicate the essence and the meaning of the film the director seeks to convey.

Uppalavanna is a creative work of aesthetic beauty. It is customary to assess the aesthetic value of a film by commenting on various aspects such as direction, script, editing, performances, music photography and so forth. In reality it is not possible to point to any single aspect that make the whole thing work.

It is the entire work, all the aspects of film making working together to create an overall effect. It is this overall effect that makes Uppalavanna a work of art that effectively communicates the essence and meaning of the film.
Fundamental principles

Uppalavanna effectively validates the fundamental principles of life such as love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness human dignity, service to others, among others. These natural laws are part of the human condition, human consciousness and human conscience.

These are guidelines for human conduct that have enduring value. They have contributed to the survival of the human species through the ages. Although these principles get submerged at times due to social conditioning and opposite values, people have succeeded in restoring them as guide lines for human conduct.

The value of Uppalavanna as an artistic film lies in its validation of these fundamental principles of life. It is the essence and meaning the director seeks to communicate. It is done artistically and aesthetically by stirring the heart of the audience.

Uppalavanna explores and throws light upon personal relationship with poetry and sensitivity without descending to sentimentality. Humanity inspired by Buddhism permeates the film. Uppalavanna is a realistic film.

Its realism, however, is different from that of a documentary film. It is realistic in the sense that its images and seems are "true to Sri Lankan life and society". All the images that appear in the film are purposefully constructed to achieve "poetic realism". Beauty of life

The film is perfectly paced intentionally to get the audience to get involved in the images deeply and grasp their significance to reflect on life and enjoy the beauty of life as it flows.

The film creates an aesthetic emotion in the mind of the audience and as the film ends, calmness, tranquillity, and wonder engulf the mind of the viewers and effectively drive home the validity of the fundamental principles of life as guidelines for human conduct. While maintaining its national identity, the film deals with a universal truth.