Requiem for the lady luminary Sumitra Peries | Daily News

Requiem for the lady luminary Sumitra Peries

The film industry mourns the loss of a true visionary, Sumitra Peries, the octogenarian female filmmaker who devoted her life to the art of cinema. From her groundbreaking debut film that introduced new talent to the world, to her numerous award-winning films, Sumitra’s impact on Sri Lanka’s film industry is undeniable.

In an interview with Ruwini Jayawardana done seven years ago, Sumitra Peries said what she would do if she were 21: she would pursue exactly what she had chosen in life at present. A life dedicated to cinema.

“Making movies is no walk in the park. However that is my passion and I would have taken the same career path even in the modern world,” said the ‘poetess of Sinhala cinema’.

Sumitra Peries, born on March 24, 1934, is recognized as the first female filmmaker from Sri Lanka. Widely known as the poetess of Sinhala Cinema, Peries made her debut with the hit film Gehenu Lamai, which won many awards at film festivals. Her other acclaimed films include Ganga Addara and Yahaluvo. In addition to her work as a filmmaker, Peries served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to France, Spain, and the United Nations in the late 1990s. Alongside her husband, Dr Lester James Peries, a renowned Sri Lankan film director, she participated in the bicentennial celebrations of ‘Film’ in France. Peries' contributions to the film industry have been widely recognized and celebrated, earning her numerous awards, including the award for best film director in fifty years of Sri Lankan cinema.

She was the first Sri Lankan director to shoot with one of the most advanced cameras in the modern world: the Red Epic. She shot her last movie ‘Vaishnavee’ with the camera and laid the foundation for the next generation of digital cinema in Sri Lanka. This shows her willingness to put the latest technology to good use.

Sumitra Peries' film Gehenu Lamai is a landmark in Sri Lankan cinema, introducing the world to the talented young actress Vasanthi Chathurani. The film was a massive box office success, winning numerous awards at film festivals and propelling the careers of both Sumitra and Vasanthi to new heights.

Building on this success, Sumitra's next film Ganga Addara starred Vasanthi Chathurani alongside established actors Vijaya Kumaratunge and Sanath Gunathileke. This film too was a box office hit, cementing Sumitra's reputation as one of the most sought-after filmmakers in the industry.

Sumitra's subsequent films have been critically acclaimed and have won numerous awards. Her films explore a diverse range of themes and showcase her versatility as a filmmaker. They have been widely appreciated by audiences and critics alike, and have been screened at prestigious film festivals around the world. Sumitra continued to make films that resonate with audiences and leave a lasting impact on the Sri Lankan and international cinema scene.

In the 1980s, Sumitra Peries played a crucial role in shaping the future of Sri Lanka's film industry. She was a member of the Presidential Commission for two years, tasked with conducting an inquiry into all aspects of the film sector, including its troubles, statistics, public opinions, and recommendations. Her contributions to this commission have been widely acknowledged as instrumental in addressing the challenges facing the industry at the time. She played a key role in identifying the issues and providing solutions that helped to improve the Sri Lankan film industry.

After studying filmmaking at the London School of Film Technique, where she was the only woman studying in that field, Sumitra Peries was awarded a Diploma in Film Direction and Production in the years 1957-1959. After completing her studies, she briefly worked at a subtitling firm called Mai Harris before returning to Sri Lanka. It was shortly before her return that she met her future husband, Lester James Peries, at the residence of their mutual friend, Vernon Mendis.

Upon her return to Sri Lanka, Sumitra's brother, Gamini, contacted Lester James Peries and inquired about the possibility of his sister working with him on a film shoot. Lester agreed, and Sumitra began working as an assistant director on his second film, Sandesaya. In 1963, a filmmaking company called Cinelanka was established, with Anton Wickramasinghe, Lester, and Sumitra as major shareholders. This marked the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Sumitra and Lester in the Sri Lankan film industry.

Sumitra had always been one to break away from stereotypes, and this mindset has led her to some memorable adventures in her youth, such as sailing on a yacht in France. Despite her age, Sumitra held a desire to be different from the modern youth. She was a lady determined to live life on her own terms, and age was not a factor in her desire for adventure and self-expression.

From a family of wealth and political strife, Sumitra Peries rose with a unique vision in life. Her upbringing, a catalyst for her art, gave her a perspective that set her apart. In a patriarchal world, she fearlessly navigated with resistance and activism, a legacy inherited. Her films, a reflection of her understanding, explored society and politics, with thought-provoking branding.

A trailblazer and true artiste, her name will live on for her contributions to the film industry, both national and international. She used her craft to shed light on the world. Sumitra Peries will forever be remembered as the shining lady of the film industry.


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