On 4 February 1948, Sri Lanka gained independence from British rule. In commemoration of the country’s 75th Independence Day, the Asian Film Archive, in collaboration with the High Commission of Sri Lanka in Singapore, presents a pair of restored Sri Lankan classics.
Step into the world of Sinhala cinema with Bambaru Avith (The Wasps Are Here, 1978), a pointed commentary on class tensions in a small fishing town left behind by the forces of modernisation. Directed by filmmaker and academic Dharmasena Pathiraja, who has been dubbed the enfant terrible of Sinhala cinema for his political vision, Bambaru Avith unfolds a complex portrait of clashing social values with consummate style.
Next in the programme is Lester James Peries’ Nidhanaya (The Treasure), a brooding classic released in 1972—coincidentally, the same year that Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka. Like Bambaru Avith, Nidhanaya casts a keen eye on a society on the cusp of change. Set in the time of the British Raj, the film delves into the twisted psyche of an eccentric aristocrat who will stop at nothing to preserve his family home, uncovering the ruins of a disintegrating social order. Nidhanaya is widely regarded as Peries’ masterpiece; the acclaimed director is credited for breaking away from the dominance of melodramatic stage conventions.
Together, the two films sketch out different trajectories in Sri Lankan cinema in the 1970s, turning our focus to both the elites of society and the working class, while showcasing the distinctive stylistics of a growing national cinema.
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