Feb 15, 2017

Storytelling alchemy

Sri Lankan film director and producer Vimukthi Jayasundara is a man with vision. Jayasundara whose films have been released internationally, looks at life with an intensity that has enabled him to subtly create plots. Outstanding Personalities features this talented filmmaker who has created timeless works in his search for deeper meaning.

Vimukthi, your film Chatrak was aired this month at the National Film Corporation. It is a highly psychological film. What inspires you to create such films?
A: Let’s look at the Sri Lankan Film Industry. If you see most of the Sri Lankan films today, it is always based on relationships between men and women. Most are family situations. It is probably between two lovers – a girlfriend and boyfriend with some political and cultural issues but it is always based on a family. There is nothing beyond. The people don’t have any questions other than very basic survival questions. That is what I want to change. This is not only in Sri Lanka but in most of the films based in our part of the world.

66thInternationalVencieFilmFestivalAhasinNBNR9ez8k12mIt always talks about very basic relationships – how a man fell for a woman or how a woman fell for a man. Above poverty or revenge. But nothing more. And this has been there for a long time in the history of Sri Lankan Cinema or even in Indian Cinema. Most of the stories are like that. That I would like to change. In Europe, they go beyond this. This is not only film makers but painters and artists. It is not just on the surface. We know that today human beings are not living for survival. It is more than that. It is more about psychology and desire. I can’t judge you at face value – your friends, the food you eat and the house you live in. You are much more complicated and deeper than this.

Cinema is an ideal form of medium to test that. Cinema is definitely a much more sophisticated art form that can capture the very essence of humanity. You can go very deep. I want to use cinema for that purpose and this is not easy in a Sri Lankan situation. And it is very rare that film makers are making films like my film Chatrak. It is about an Architect. Which is a very unusual character in a Sri Lankan film. If you look at Tele-dramas, films or books, we don’t talk about this very important job. The Architects are a very important part of society. They are necessary for the development of the country. They create many things for us but we don’t appreciate them. They create a beautiful country and the nation. They have so much creativity. Without knowing we live under their creative dictatorship. We have to understand the power of creativity in human life. It goes beyond film making and art. Even people in construction, these are also artists. They don’t directly influence us, but they definitely influence us in our lives- how they create our world, be it an airport or a bus stand. They have the creative power to change our lives. So psychology is a very important subject in a film. If you take great film makers in the world, take this subject. In Sri Lanka we don’t very often use psychology as a subject.

Why did you choose the vocation of making films Vimukthi? Why are you passionate about making films?
A: I am a bad writer, bad poet, bad painter and bad musician. I tried all those things. But film making appeals to me. You see I cannot keep doing the same thing. If you take a violinist or musician, if you want to be perfect, you need to practice playing an instrument over and over again for a long time. The same note, a thousand or more times. That I cannot do. Because I would get bored. I thought I would give film making a try, and it works.

Chatrak is a very psychological and absorbing film dealing with extremely complex emotions. Do you like to explore the complexities of life in your films?
A: Not only the complexities but the simplicities. There was a time when artistes were looking at the beauty of human life and the glory of human life. Many of the art pieces in history discuss the glory and the victory of human life. Even most of the Sri Lankan films are on the glory of human life. There is glory, but we should not forget the complexities. It is not only glory we have. Individuals are very complex people. So I like to portray people in a deeper way than just the surface. A person cannot be bad or good. He has to be a lot of other things as well. So these are very complex situations and the people behave differently in different circumstances. My characters in films, the main characters are not simple people. They look they have very simple lives but beyond that they are very complicated people. They want more things to happen – sexually, physically or violently.

No doubt the material for your films arises from your perceptions of life. What kind of films do you watch to gather material?Vimukthi1
A: I like to watch classical films. Some classics I watch again and again. I follow young film makers from other parts of the world. Some French filmmakers and Mexicans, Americans and Indians. They are contemporary filmmakers. They are called Art House Cinema. These filmmakers. So I want to go and see what they make. In Sri Lanka it is difficult to get these films to watch. But sometimes I watch on line. And some of these filmmakers are my friends so they send me a link to watch it. So I want to know the new discoveries in the Art world. Because we are not isolated human beings though we live in an island. We are part of a world where things are happening. So I want to know what other artistes do in the world. It doesn’t matter if it is a poor country or a rich country. I want to know what is happening so I upgrade myself. So I gather things and of course I read books. I lead a simple life and I watch people.

From the films you have done which one really made your name? Which one do you consider most outstanding?
A: My first feature film which is called ‘Forsaken Land’, went to CANNES film festival in 2005. It won the Best First Feature Film. So it is quite a prestige. That made my name as a Film Maker. So I would call that film as my coming out.

I believe Chatrak was nominated at the CANNES film festival? Did it win any awards? Was it your only film that got nominated for CANNES? Were any of your other films nominated for CANNES?
A: No it did not win any awards in CANNES but in other festivals. It won in Tokyo and in Slovakia.

What are your future plans and expectations? What are your dreams, ambitions and goals?
A: I want to of course remain as a film maker. For the last 10 years I have worked tirelessly. Making films that will appeal to international audiences. Also to keep to the same level of international standards. I also want to make things which also work locally. We had a lot of censorship issues in the past with the previous regime. I have been censored at times and my films were not being shown. So these were not easy for filmmakers but now things are better. I want to show films to local audiences and retain them and support them to develop their level of appreciation and take it higher. So that is very important for us.

What qualities should a person have, if he or she wants to make a groundbreaking and absolutely awesome films that makes the critics praise?
A: You should not live a life for somebody else. If you have some kind of ideology or thinking then you should feel comfortable living that life. Whatever you create be very comfortable with it. If you don’t like the work you do, then it won’t work for you. If you are not watching films and you don’t like watching other peoples’ films, if you don’t appreciate someone else’s work, how can you appreciate your own work? So it is very important that you ask yourself how comfortable you are? You may want to be a doctor but you don’t like operating on people. Then how can you be a good doctor? It is the same with film making. You see many people in society who do what they don’t like doing. So they are angry and frustrated. They don’t like what they are doing. That is the sad thing. Don’t try and copy people.

Is there any particular formula that you follow?
A: Be humble and question yourself. What is my service to the world? Why are you a human being? I am a human being so what would be the purpose of me living in the world? Ask yourself why am I a human being? A human being unlike any other animal aspires to be good. Wherever you are stand up on your feet and rise up from there. You need to know who you are first.

- Ishara Jayawardane