Sri Lanka’s child star Sarala was easy to be named the world’s best
By Walter Jayawardhana
Los Angeles, 03 June, (Asiantribune.com): Speaking to this correspondent after presenting the Best Child Actor award to Sri Lanka’s child star Sarala (11), Maureen Dragone , the President of Hollywood’s Young Artist Foundation said her organization was thrilled by Sarala’s outstanding performance in the film and she could be easily named world’s best.
“It was outstanding for a child to show her emotions in such talented fashion by facial expressions, turning of the eyes, or shaking the head without speaking a word- the perfect thing to do in cinematic art,” Dragone said speaking highly of the Sri Lankan child artist’s award winning performance in Canadian Indian writer Director Deepa Mehatha’s “Water.”
At the cultural show held in conjunction with the ‘Focus Sri Lanka’ Exhibition in Los Angeles the child actress also received another award presented to the Director on behalf of Mehtha, who was away and busy working on another film project.
She said “Water” was so educative and it teaches of children of another age , somewhere else in the world. She said the film taught that especially children could speak the truth unconcerned about the consequences and they could give high hopes for the human spirit even in hopeless situations. They could move against injustice as they are not prejudiced as Chuiya did in the film. It should be shown to every child in the United State, she insisted.
Commenting on the two dances the child actress performed at the Focus Sri Lanka show, Dragone said she was fascinated by her other talents and the dances she performed were very different from American dances. Dragone said hers were of a more spiritual depth in contrast to the US dances since her dances did not draw the attention of the viewers to the legs but to her bodily movements, and movements of the head and arms. “American dances mostly draw attention to the legs to arouse sex,” she said. She also said she was also fascinated by the oriental dances of the Channa Upuli dance ensemble and their colorful costumes, which was an unprecedented experience for her.
She said Mehtha’s “Water” was definitely a work of art of the highest caliber and Hollywood would have given it more recognition. She said, that she was very confident that Sarala will be better known internationally in the future due to her talents.
After the show Sarala and her parents, father H. Sarath and mother, Bhavani Kariyawasam sat down for an interview with this correspondent. The following were the questions asked and answers given by the three:
Question: We know the making of the “Water” in Sri Lanka happened after the Hindu fundamentalists set fire to the sets of the film at Varanasi in India. Deepa Mehtha’s journey to Sri Lanka to restart the film at a set erected on the banks of Bolgoda Lake therefore was somewhat accidental. So, finding out you as a child actress also could be called somewhat accidental. Can you please tell me how that happened?
Sarala: Luckily for me, Chandran Rutnam uncle and Asoka Silva uncle at Film locations Company had some clips of me taken from Small TV programs in which I acted, like Punchi Panchi. I was also in the media unit of my school and some of my dancing and oratorical abilities were known. Aunty Deepa Mehtha first came to our school and came home with the principal of the school to see whether I am good for the film.
Question: So, what you say is you have done some acting before and Deepa Mehtha wanted to test you whether you could do the character of Chuiya in the film?
Sarala: Yes . She wanted to test me.
Question: So, what kind of test she gave you?
Sarala: She wanted me to cry pretending that my mother was leaving and I cried?
Question: So, then what happened ?
Sarala: I was immediately hired. I passed the test.
Question: So your mother gave you permission to act in the film?
Sarala: No. When Deepa aunty told her that it was a character of a child widow and I will have to shave my head my mother was horrified and said she was very sorry and I could not take part in the film.
Question: So, how did you finally convince her.
Sarala: I started pleading with her and said the hair will grow back but that alone did not convince her.
Question: Bhavani, how did you finally change your mind to let her act in the film?
Bhavani: The principal of her school, Sanghamitta College , Galle Mrs. Dharmalatha Dharmawardena told me that that “Water” is once in a lifetime opportunity for a talented girl like Sarala and if she missed it she might not get a similar opportunity ever. If that happened, she said, the little girl might even blame me when she grows up. So, I called my husband who was working in Saudi Arabia and talked to him. Finally Sarala was able to convince the father too. Then I agreed.
Question: We hear that you were also worried about her education breaking up. Weren’t you worried about that?
Bhavani: Yes. But Deepa Mehtha said she would give some lessons by a private tutor during the breaks of the filming.
Question: Did you study in the set?
Sarala : Yes . I not only studied -I sat for the Fifth grade scholarship examination and passed. Then I was in the fourth grade.
Question: Now that you have passed the scholarship exam would you like to go and attend a bigger school in Colombo.
Sarala: No. Sanghamitta College in Galle is the best school in the world. My Principal and teachers love me very much. I have many friends and they like me too. When I did well in the film all of them encouraged me to continue the good work. I will never leave my school.
Question: What we have heard is now Sarala’s mother likes to watch the movie but still she walks out when one scene comes up. I s that true?
Bhavani: Yes. I still cannot see my girl’s head being shaven.
Question: An American critic of the film has said thus on Sarala: “ Sarala is the best part of “Water.” She’s cute, energetic, and perfect choice for the role. In real life Sarala cannot speak a word of Hindi. Her work in Water is the complete memorization of lines and their phonetic regurgitation. This makes her performance even more profound. What an amazing actress!” Aren’t you glad that your earlier decision of not allowing her to act in the film was changed?
Bhavani: Yes I am glad. When I saw the script and the dialogues I never thought she could live up to the expectations. Deepa gave her one full month to by-heart the dialogues. But after one week Sarala said she was ready. I was amazed. After two weeks the work started instead of one month.
Question: Sarala , how did you do that?
Sarala: First of all- the Hindi dialogues were written in Sinhala script and that made it easy to memorize. The two languages are so similar. During breaks John (Abrahams) uncle and Liza (Ray) aunty taught me Hindi. When you know the meaning it became easy to memorize. I taught them Sinhalese. And when I went to Toronto Film festival Liza aunty asked me ‘Aren’t you clad in a white saree’ in Sinhala with a Canadian accent. She is Canadian.
Question: What is the scene you enjoyed most in the film?
Sarala: I enjoyed the scene when I was dancing on the back of the fat matron.
Question: Is it true that Sarala has got another invitation to act in another film?
Sarath: Nothing could be said about it since there is no final decision yet. But she will go for any acting if her education is not disturbed. And it should be somebody like Deepa Mehtha who would look after our girl with love and protect her.
Question: Sarala’s mother is very concerned about bringing up her daughter with high morals and Sri Lankan culture. What have you told her to do in the face of the immense publicity she is getting now?
Bhavani: The more publicity she gets she will have to be more humble. I am always insisting on that. There is a saying in Sinhala that when a tree gets more fruits the branches bend down. She will have to be like that. She will have to think that she is a Sinhala lady and behave accordingly. That’s what I always tell her.
Question: Sarala , what do you want to become in life?
Sarala: I want to become an actress. Sometimes, I also want to become a doctor.
Question : I wish you could become an acting doctor. What are you expecting out of your daughter?
Bhavani: Fame could fade away one day. But education cannot be faded away. That’s what our culture has taught us. So, first of all I want her to be educated very well. I am confident she will go in the correct way. Even when she was smaller, when she came back perspiring, having taken part in dance practice for school contests, she sat down, completed her studies even when teachers said she could do it later. I am very confident this girl will go in the correct way. That’s the great consolation I have. I think acting is a gift she got from earlier lives in her samsara. I no longer worry about it. She will do anything for acting. If she has to shave her head once again I am sure she will do it. She is not worried. She firmly believes the hair will grow back. But like her name Sarala (simple) I want her to be simple.
Question: Do you have to say anything else?
Sarala: Yes, I want to thank all my teachers at Galle, my parents, sister and brother for loving me so much, my friends and relatives who kept on giving me courage, Aunty Deepa Mehtha for looking after me like my own mother during the shooting, Hollywood’s Young Artist Foundation for giving me the award, the Sri Lankan Consul General Jaliya Wickramasuriya for arranging my trip here and Sri Lankan air line for flying us free here.
- Asian Tribune -