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Pioneering Sri Lankan director Lester James Peries dies aged 99

Among his celebrated films are ‘Rekava’, ‘Gamperaliya’ and ‘Nidhanya’.

Lester James Peries, the grand old man of Sri Lankan cinema, died on Sunday in Colombo. He was 99. He is survived by his wife, Sumitra Peries, a well-known filmmaker in her own right and former diplomatic ambassador.

Among the films, documentaries and shorts Peries made over a 50-year period was Wekande Walauwa (2002), the first Sri Lankan submission in the foreign language Oscar category. The movie is adapted from Anton Chekov’s short story The Cherry Orchard and is set among the Sri Lankan elite.

Peries was born on April 5, 1919, and developed an early love for cinema after his father gifted him an 8mm projector. Peries dropped out of college to work as a journalist, and was also involved with theatre. He travelled to London in 1946 to meet his brother, the future painter Ivan Peries, where he trained in filmmaking and made three experimental short films, including Soliloquy.

In 1952, Peries returned to his homeland to make documentaries for the Government Film Unit. He made a splash with his very first feature film, Rekava, in 1956. Nominated for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival that year, the film explores the lives and folklore of a rural Sinhalese community. It is credited with kickstarting an indigenous filmmaking movement, one that was free of outside influences, including from India.

Rekava (1956).

Peries’s subsequent films explored a range of subjects through a style that combined realism with lyricism. Sandesaya (1960) examines the Portuguese occupation of Sri Lanka. Gamperaliya (1963), which won the top award at the International Film Festival of India, examines a romance that is thwarted by class differences.

Gamperaliya was the first in a trilogy and was followed by Kaliyugaya (1983) and Yuganthaya (1985). The films are based on Martin Wickramasinghe’s trilogy of the same name, which follow the decline of an agricultural family and its transition to a new urban economy.

Gamperaliya (1963).

Peries’s acclaimed films include Nidhanya (1972), about a hidden treasure that leads to human sacrifice. Nidhanya is among the director’s films to have been recently restored.

Beddegama (1980), set during the British occupation of Sri Lanka, was based on British civil servant Leonard Woolf’s 1913 novel The Village in the Jungle. The movie stars British science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, who lived in Sri Lanka until his death in 2008, as Woolf.

In an interview in 2015, Peries explained that he was attracted to the novel’s sociological and political relevance. He shot the film in the location mentioned in the book, Hambanthota, “to depict the harsh realities the peasants encountered, the injustices they faced, and the fiery emotions that impacted their lives”, according to a report in The Sunday Times. Beddegama was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in the Directors’ Fortnight section that year.

In 2011, Peries and his wife and professional collaborator, Sumitra Peries, set up a foundation in their names to promote contemporary Sri Lankan cinema and preserve the classics. The Lester James Peries Film Archive was set up in his name in 2014.

Nidhanya (1972).

“The greatness of Lester James Peries however cannot be measured by the quantity of his output,” journalist DBS Jeyaraj wrote in the Daily Financial Times newspaper in 2017. “It is the qualitative nature of his films that elevated him to commendable heights. Lester James Peries is acknowledged as the pioneer of authentic Sinhala cinema. It was he who created in every sense of the term an indigenous cinema in both substance and style. It was also Lester who first gained worldwide recognition for Sinhala cinema. Lester James Peries became a national icon identified with the sphere of Sri Lankan cinema over the years.”

The 2012 documentary The World of Peries, directed by K Bikram Singh, reveals Peries’s long-standing friendship with Indian director Satyajit Ray and with Indian film festivals. Peries cited Ray, Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu and Adoor Gopalakrishnan as the four Asian directors he admired the most. He described himself as “deeply religious, in the sense that I am very tolerant of all religions”. He was Roman Catholic, while his wife is Buddhist.

“Life and my people have been very good to me,” Peries told Singh. “I hope that through my films, I have given something back to them.”

The World of Peries.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.