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Wholesome in treatment

After winning wide international acclaim with his very first film, "Saroja," Sri Lankan filmmaker, Somaratne Dissanayake, is ready with "Chinna Devadhai", a poignant story set in the strife-ridden island of the 1980s. MALATHI RANGARAJAN writes...

HE DOESN'T preach — he only makes you think. His film is a wholesome and healthy analysis of the human psyche — an analysis that does not leave you drained at the end of it. Meet Somaratne Dissanayake, the young filmmaker from Sri Lanka, who is in Chennai for the processing job of his second film, ``Chinna Devadhai'' ("Little Angel").

A clearly thought out and well planned script is what makes ``Chinna Devadhai'' crisp and enjoyable. Sampath, a 10-year old Sinhalese boy, is rich but mentally disturbed. The frequent squabbles between the parents make a dent on the child's mind. The mother goes away with another man and the father,a womaniser, is too busy to pay attention to the child and believes that he can make amends by providing him with the latest toys. Into the solitary and sad life of Sampath, who often turns violent, enters the young and cheerful eight-year-old daughter of the servant in the household. They are Tamils. It is to an oasis of affection and joy that Sampath travels, as his friendship with the girl Sathya proves an effective therapy. But the ethnic conflict and the bloodshed in which Sathya's father is burnt alive, make the boy's happiness short-lived.

The toll that mindless mayhem takes on innocent lives is what Somaratne places so poignantly before us in ``Chinna Devadhai.'' The servant Velu is killed in a dastardly manner and the Sinhalese employer risks his own life to save him, in vain. There is no gore, no melodrama. Yet the scenes are charged with the thought that basic human kindness transcends any divide. Even small details have been taken care of. The strong point of the re-recording is that the composer knows when to have a background score and more important, when not to. And even when there is music it blends well with the mood of the scene.

From medicine and diagnostic radiography to theatre and cinema seems too incongruous a turnabout. Somaratne was at first a radiologist by profession. "You know how parents are... `You have to qualify yourself first,' they said. But later on I went to Sydney, Australia, to study theatre. And now I am into filmmaking completely."

Somaratne Dissanayake's first film, "Saroja," released in 2000, won nine international awards. After winning the best Asian film award, "Saroja" made its way to the Korean, Iranian, French, Houston and Chicago film festivals winning one or more laurels at every stop. And interestingly the film was a big box office hit too. ``In fact it broke previous records in collection and proved to be an incredible combination of commerce and art,'', says the filmmaker.

Nithyavani Kandasamy, who has put in an excellent performance as the eight-year old servant girl Sathya in ``Chinna Devadhai'', was in ``Saroja'' too. The child's charm lies in the unadulterated innocence that Dissanayake has captured so vividly.

Tharaka Hettiarachchi as Sampath also makes an impact as the disturbed lad given to destructive tendencies. Though it seems the boy begins to speak fluently rather too quickly under Sathya's kind influence, the performance is commendable. But it is Nithyavani who steals the show. Her tear-filled eyes, which freeze in the last frame is touchingly poetic.

``This is just the test print... more technical fine-tuning has to be done,'' says Somaratne. ``We don't have quality colour labs in our island. We always come to India for the job. That's why I am here now,'' he adds.

Probably he feels ``Chinna Devadhai'' will win accolades the world over, like his first film. ``You must tell me that...'' says the writer director who plans to release the film in Chennai also this time.

With the Sinhalese dialogue neatly subtitled in Tamil and English, and the Tamil parts in Sinhalese and English, the film deserves encouragement commercially too.

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