Taller the Bamboo Tree, More it Bends

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Ravindra Guruge  has been  a name with a reputation of distinction, very much in the news in the field of Sinhala cinema for several decades. We saw the smiling, unassuming gentleman repeatedly going up on the stage  and receiving awards  at every  Film- Award  Festival of the recent times. As such, I considered it a rare honour that he had consented to let me,  an utter nonentity  to interview him,  at such short notice. So it was with a  fair amount of trepidation that I alighted in the delightful, arbour-laden garden  of TV Team House and climbed the steps to the cool, glass-covered office room.  His  pleasant, kind face greeted me before his, “Good Morning!” from the other side of the impressive table.  I  sat facing him, my phone ready on ‘Record’ and smiled back.  “Good Morning Mr. Guruge,  I represent the US based fortnightly  fashion magazine ‘Us Lanka.    It will feature news items from Cinema, TV, Music and so on in USA and in Sri Lanka. “    “ Oh I see, will it be available in the Sri Lankan market?”   “Of course, we hope to distribute it in the UK, Australia and Italy as well.”    “ Good, I suppose you would like to know about my initial advent in the career as an  editor?”     Yes please. Our readers would be quite interested to know.”

Well, it was in 1980, just after my ALs, that I officially joined Rupavahini. I was 21 years old at the time. Our first Media Team was ‘Selacine’.”  “ What was the first project that you had to undertake?”  “ Mr. Vijaya Dharmasri planned to do a Documentary and  needed talented people for editing. We really had  very limited scope by then and were all amateurs.”      “ I suppose you learnt the trade  while working and getting experience.”    “ Certainly! There was no Cinema School for us to learn from.”                         

Since then, who are the cinema experts you worked with?”   “ I have worked with every one of them  like Dr. Lester James Peiris, Mrs. Sumitra Peiris, Mr. Tissa Abeysekara, Mr. Dharmasiri Bandaranayaka to name a few.  I’m indebted to them because  they have all contributed to the know-how and practical knowledge I’ve gained.”                                                     “ Maybe all that combined with  your  inborn skills to make you one of the leading film editors of the day in Sri Lanka.”             “ Probably.  Up to now,  I have been in the industry for nearly 30 years and got involved with about 300 Tele dramas.”        

 “ Wow! That’s a big achievement!  Apart from Tele dramas,  have you been acquainted with any other work?”                               “ Yes, I got the opportunity of handling the first Lottery Program. In the year 2000, I learned about Digital Technology and introduced it for Sound and Editing in Sri Lanka. By that time, I had all professionals to work with.  We may be called ‘The Pioneers  in the Industry,”  he  added quite unpretentiously.

“ How did your transition from Tele dramas  to films  come about? “    “ I suppose it was a natural transition. Once I had  gained expertise in Tele dramas, I had an innate tendency to try my hand at films and up to now, I have contributed my  expert skills to about  65  films.”  “ We have seen you being honoured at Film Festivals quite often. Could you enlighten us on your good work which won recognition at those events?”   “ Yes, by all means. I had 6 Janadhipathi Awards for Best Editor from 2000 to 2006. They were for – Me Mage Sandai- 2001, Agnidahaya – 2002, Thani Thatuwen Piyambanna- 2003, Mille Soya – 2004, Guerrilla Marketing -2005 and Udu Gan Yamaya -2006.   I  was also awarded   3 Sarasavi Awards  as  Best Editor  for Sulan Kirilli -2004, Mille Soya – 2005, Udu Gan Yamaya – 2007.   Apart  from those mentioned, I  had the good fortune to edit  Punchi Suranganawi – 2002,  Re Daniel Dawal Migel  3 – 2004, Asani Warsha – 2005,  Samanala Thatu – 2006, Nilambare – 2006, Ammawarune -2006, Nisala Gira -2007, Aganthukaya – 2007, Sankara -2007, Sikuru Hathe – 2007, Aba – 2008, Siri Raja Siri – 2008, Walapatala – 2008, Nil Diya Yahana – 2008, Paaya Enna Hiruse -2009, Bindu -2009, Tikiri Suwanda -2010, Vidhu -2010, Gamani -2011, Kusa Paba -2012.   I was also presented with 10  Signis Awards and 3 or 4 other Cinema Awards.”    “ Well,  that’s  a  great record for any Editor.

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Now could you  please tell us a little about the role of the Editor?”

Actually, the material  which reaches the Editor  is raw and more or less dead. There are so many mistakes, mis fitting filming and such like which have no relevance to one another sometimes. The function of the Editor is to correct all that,  give life, unbroken texture and cohesion   to the material and make it vibrant!”                                                           

 “ Can  you give a few instances where you  had to use your utmost skill and judgment to get out of a difficult situation in editing?”   “ In Jayantha Chandrasiri’s Tele Drama  ‘Veda Hamine’, Kamal comes in a T shirt to be treated by veda hamine.  On his way back, he has to meet Marthelis. These two scenes had been filmed separately  and I was aghast to see him wearing a coat when meeting Marthelis.  I was at my wit’s end but by using all my creativity and  tricks I could overcome the problem.   In Guerrilla Marketing , it was so hilarious when  Jackson , in the role of a politician says  at the breakfast table something about Maha Parakramabahu the 6th. Then Kamal asks innocently, ‘Were there 6 Parakramabahu’s?’ Jackson of course tried to subtlety  overcome the odd question with a cough but we had  work to do to make it  least  obvious.  In editing, we have to diminish time and space sometimes  or expand it. A hundred year occurrence will have to be condensed to 2 hours. Or  an incident of 30 seconds should be elaborated into a 3 hour film. A good editor does not have to force the artists to act as he wants . He enters the character  on the editing table to make them act suitably. Hence he would offer the film goers a wonderful audio-visual experience. The locational errors and such like should also be harmonized by the editor.”

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 “ I learnt  a  great deal  in relation to what editing is all about.  Now I must ask you what your opinion is about the Cinema Industry in Sri Lanka.”    “ I think that our Cinema has come of age and reached a standard where it could be represented at International Film Festivals. We have many young cinema creators of the new generation who are talented, think positively and use high technology. Due to the 30 years war, the island got alienated from night life and weaned off from night shows. Due to this lack of movie goers, Cinema Hall owners do not think it is worthwhile to modernize the halls which are mostly in dilapidated conditions.”     “ Is there any hope that things may improve? Do you foresee a new awakening in the film industry of our country?”    “Yes  of course! I think there’s a lot of positive thinking with a leaning towards our history.  Producers await good scripts and plots as well as new technology from even foreign investors.  Though there are good Tele Dramas now, they’re mostly market-oriented and give only light entertainment. That’s not like the diversion one gets from a film.”                                                                                                                          

Any new ventures that you hope to undertake in the near future?”  “ At the moment, I am involved with several new films of others but next year I hope to do my own film. I would welcome any intervention from interested Sri Lankans living abroad.”    “ Hope you’ll realize all your future dreams and be able to do greater service to the Film Industry of Sri Lanka!”       “ I hope so too. Thank you .”    I’m grateful to you for giving me your valuable time this morning. Thank you.”

While  the Interview was going on, I noticed several people peeping into the room and our gentleman surreptitiously glancing at his watch. Knowing that as the head of TV Team, he may be having a host of other work to attend to but was too  polite to dismiss me, I gathered my paraphernalia and bid him ‘Good Day’ , well satisfied with my morning’s efforts.

As I descended the steps, I couldn’t help harking back to how remarkably modest Mr. Guruge had been.  Then this Chinese saying came to my mind. ‘The taller the bamboo tree grows, the more it bends.’


By: Eda Subhadra Balasuriya.

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