Malaka Dewapriya presents with rare ingenuity and acumen insights into the lives of today’s youth
The Sri Lankan political and socio-economic environment has undergone change from time to time. We do not need fancy data analysis to identify such change we experienced ourselves in the 60s.
We have not forgotten the socio-economic trends of that era brought about by political transitions. Those of us who have passed the 55th milepost in life may probably remember the political environment and the associated social and economic setting under the rule of seven-party coalition government of 65 – 70.
The simple life style of 70-77 era and the hardships we endured during the period are not easy to forget. Subsequently, we experienced the social transitions that emerged with the introduction of the ‘open economic policy’ in 1977 and the social trends consistent with political changes during 88-93, 94-2001, 2002-2004, 2005-2014 periods.
The expectations of life and the behavioural patterns of the Sri Lankan youth changed in a subtle manner in accordance with and in relation tothe social transformations that occurred following change of governments.
In evaluating The Undecided, maiden cinematic creation of Malaka Dewapriya, we must call to our minds some of the notable films centred on the youth of the era described above.
It will help, I believe, to properly identify and compare the life styles, behavioural patterns and relationships and the expectations of the youth who underwent change due to social metastasis with the current social patterns portrayed through interactions of Sasitha, the undecided youth in Malaka’s film.
To begin with, let us focus our attention on Ahas Gawwa (One league of sky), momentous cinematic creation of renowned Sri Lankan film maker, Dharmasena Pathiraja. In my opinion, Ahas Gawwa accurately and realistically depicted the life of urban youth in early 70s.
Joblessness (unemployment) was rampant and it was the lower-middle-class urban youth, who were greatly affected.
Even a casual job just to eke out a living was hard to find. Youths didn’t dream of owning a car or building a house of their own. Nor did they fantasize about sipping a bourbon in a plush hotel.
Walmathwuwo, the cinematic creation of Wasantha Obeysekara screened in 1976, brings to light the life of village youth in the 60s and 70s.
The expectations of love fizzle out. As the aristocrat craftily plans to acquire his merge properties youth, in desperation decides to terminate the tyrant. (Even though it is not shown in the film, it was this type of youth who joined the 1971 uprising).
Pathraja’s film Para dig (On the run), first screened in 1980, outlined the ethos of the urban youth of
"The youth, who leads a dubious, arrogant and rather parasitic life, is more dangerous than the youth who aspires to spend a steady life even outside the country"
The newly introduced free economy policy has presented them with opportunities to ‘earn a fast buck’ by hook or crook to keep them going.
The protagonist of the film is a youth from a village who comes to the city in search of his destiny. He lands a job as a ‘vehicle seizer’, a person entrusted to grab forcibly from vehicle owners who default paying monthly lease instalments.
Free economy has not only changed the economy but also the city life which transformed drastically. It is normally enjoyed by the upper classwho have the economic punch. Glamorous city life attracts the uprooted protagonist who uses the hard earned money to for a taste of it. He sums it up in a single sentence:
“We are like thrown away twigs; they may sprout but there are no roots”.
As far as I know, however, after the year 2,000, there are no noteworthy films that portrayed the life of the youth so authentically.
Malaka Dewapriya’s The Undecided fills that void, I conclude. One may wonder why I took a long and arduous route to arrive at the conclusion. In my opinion, the analysis provides an appropriate backdrop for the better understanding of the protagonist in Malaka’s Undecided.
I must begin by stating that the film The Undecided, doesn’t just strive only to portray the life of unemployed urban youth. It goes far beyond that.
It offers a complete picture of the cross-section of the contemporary society.
It is brought to us through the interactions of Sasitha the youth with the other characters of the film.
The picture thus presented is realistic. In it is depicted the upshot of socio-economic and political evolution that took place during last few decades.
The film demands us to subtly sift through the complexities of the social network that was born out of interpersonal connections brought about by the internet and other developments in the communication sphere in the decade closet.
Sasitha, the protagonist in the film represents the majority who, for different reasons, fail to complete successfully the formal education.
Like the majority of them, however, he shows dexterity in manipulating mobile phones, smart phones and other modern-day personal communication devices. He has mastered the use of computers for purposes he likes best. Deftly utilizing the devices and the technology, he manages to establish relationships with many. Facebook and Skype is his mainstay in this endeavour.
Society too, especially in the last decade or so has been engulfed and entangled in the World Wide Web.
Sasitha is not leading a comparatively simple life style similar to that of the youth in Ahas Gawwaor Walmathwuwo.
In a way, it is an extension of the character of young man in Para dige. Sasitha is relentless, adamantly and unceasingly run after the electronic contrivances needed for his idée fixe.
For his dreams, Sasitha needs money – shedloads. He dresses well and although not addicted, smoking pot comes naturally to him. It is the Sri Lankan women in middle-east he easily befriends via Facebook and frequently chats with using Skype. It is not necessary here to discuss in detail, why these women go to Middle East. However, it must be said that, in contrast to early migratory workers, the new breed is quite conversant with modern communication technologies and use of Facebook, Skype to establish relationships and communicate in order to find some relief from the dissatisfactions and frustrations originating as a result of socio-economic milieu.
"The social atmosphere and perhaps, the psychological ambience that prevailed during and after the war between the two ethnically divided groups served to foster and boost Sinhala chauvinism, Buddhist extremism or fanaticism and localism"
In the present day Sri Lankan society, it is not only the customary or typical company owner who exploits youth labour. The new communication technologies that are associated with and that accompanied open economy paved way for a multitude of small-scale enterprises like communication centres, record bars, distribution services, computer and internet cafes, printing shops, all over the country.
It so happened that some of these entrepreneurs were ex-members of traditional Leftist Parties. Few were those who lost employment en masse following the July 1980 general strike. They knew well what exploitation was, being at the receiving end.
Now, after becoming proprietors themselves, they use new enticements like motorcycles, mobile phones and even internet facilities to good advantage.
They use endearing language to deceitfully afford feelings of camaraderie. Thus the exploitation continues. It is a ‘preach and leech’ approach with a subtle and discreet threat of violence sometimes.
Sasitha’s friend in Undecided is such a character.
Sasitha’s sister in the film represents a set of oppressed women struggling hard to make a living and often without hope of marriage or a reassuring future.
Generally, they are the ‘by-products’ of the garment industry and in most cases, forced into ‘self- employment.’
These characters, both in the film and in society at large, almost always interact strongly with each other with varying consequences in their pursuit of aspirations and expectations and may be, perhaps their brand of happiness. Reciprocity is so complex, so intense one finds it difficult to analyze and comprehend on his or her own.
But the young film maker Malaka Dewapriya, in his very first attempt, has, I believe, presented us with rare ingenuity and acumen clear insights into the lives of present-day youth.