Monday, September 8, 2014

Remembering Andrew Jayamanne

There are actors and filmmakers, scriptwriters and editors. There are also assistant directors, sound editors, art directors, and of course tea-boys. Filmmaking is a collaborative art. In Sri Lanka, this is as true a statement as it’s ever going to get. But sometimes, there can be exceptions. Collaboration presupposes a relationship, a common link between two minds. When the link becomes stronger, individuality creeps in, and both collaborators develop a style of their own. Few filmmakers have become auteurs in Sri Lanka, and fewer cameramen. Andrew Jayamanne was of that select few.

There are those in Sri Lanka who came close to being called “men of cinema.” Invariably, they were either directors or film critics. But then there were those who got involved in nearly every aspect to a film. Moviemaking is a process as cerebral as it is physical. Anyone who believes it to be an intellectual pursuit reserved for the privileged few has no idea of it. But Andrew Jayamanne knew it. He lived and breathed cinema. He was among those who could be rightly called “men of cinema.” And there is a reason for that. Yes, he was a cameraman. A great one at that. Nonetheless, he was also an editor, scriptwriter, production manager, and director. He was closest to a renaissance man our cinema ever got.

Jayamanne never aspired for the film industry. He was born to a Catholic family in Negombo. Educated at a school in Dalupotha, he left for Colombo to become a priest. At school, he had developed a liking towards photography. After being forced to leave the seminary at Colombo he was studying at, he joined Vijaya Film Studios to develop it further. Back then, experience alone could vindicate those who joined the film industry. So Jayamanne waged on, beginning his career as an assistant director. Under filmmakers and cinematographers, he sweated, learnt, and absorbed. Time would bear fruit.

Cameramen have their “tailor-made” filmmakers. Jayamanne would eventually meet his. Titus Thotawatte had decided to make a film about a famous real-life robbery at the Colombo Race Course. He was looking for someone to shoot it. That someone was to be Jayamanne. Haralakshaya (1971) was his baptism of fire, the first real ordeal to get through as director of cinematography. The film was a hit, both commercially and critically. Thotawatte had sealed the fate of his cameraman. The road would never be the same for him.

Andrew Jayamanne was among the country’s most individualistic cameraman. There are those in his trade who develop a close working relationship with directors. This relationship comes at the cost of the one sacrificing his individuality for the other. All too often, it’s the cameraman who commits this sacrifice. Not so Jayamanne. From Wasantha Obeysekera, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, Parakrama Niriella, H. D. Premaratne, to Jackson Anthony, he collaborated, and lost no identity. That was his hallmark.

He had no pretentious notions of camerawork. It is true that he went for a realistic, naturalistic style which accorded with what all his directors wanted of him. But that was it. In both Obeysekera’s Palagetiyo (1979) and Bandaranayake’s Hansa Vilak (1980), he developed a camera-style that delved and dug into the layers that made up their plots. There was a sort of harsh, ruthless naturalism which permeated these films. This still was an era of clarity, of keeping the beginning at the beginning and the end at the end, and of leaving no stone unturned in the plot. Jayamanne refused to subscribe to it. That was the closest thing to a motif which bound up his career.

But this wasn’t all. When the O.C.I.C. was first established, he was there. New and aspiring filmmakers found an ideal guru in him. When television came here, the guru proved his worth again, organizing classes and trying to ensure that the fruits of this new medium could be reaped. Perhaps he would have looked sorrowfully at what this new medium became later, and how it destroyed, in part at least, the medium he had originally worked in. But back then, combining a flair for teaching with his never-to-be-buckled zest for the cinema, he waged on, lecturing at Sri Jayawardenapura University.

There is one thread that binds those years with today. That thread is Kopi Kade. He was its first director. More than 1000 episodes have been aired since, with six other directors overseeing it. Regardless of its quality today, there could be no denying its original charm. Thevis Guruge, who created it, might have seen in Jayamanne the ideal man for the job. That the man lived up-to the job, none can deny. Whether his legacy was continued and kept alive, however, is open to debate.

The ecology of film changes. That’s inevitable. The classical age of cinema had gone away for good. A new generation had sprung up. More daring in their approach to films, and less scrupulous of what they absorbed and imitated in making them, they were in a world as far removed from Jayamanne’s as they could ever get. But this didn’t worry him. He knew the ecology of films, inside-out. He knew it was prone to change. And he went along with it. It is a tragedy to think that the world, or even Sri Lanka for that matter, can never repay a debt it owes to someone. But that’s the case with Andrew Jayamanne. We can never thank him enough.

Satyajit Ray once wrote that “ideally, the director should be his own cameraman.” Perhaps this most individualistic of filmmakers was thinking of himself. But in that sentence lies an essential, harsh truth: the director gives both substance and form to a film. He is indistinguishable from it. The less he relies on other intermediaries to transform his vision, the better. In other words, between filmmaker and film, there should be no gap. No barrier. The director is and should be king.

But we beg to differ. Identity and ego are crucial to film, as they are to pretty much every other art. The cinema is, admittedly, the most collaborative of all art forms. Men like Andrew Jayamanne showed us the beauties of collaboration. For that, I know we all are grateful, both as film-lovers and as human beings. That, in the final analysis, is the biggest compliment we can pay him. I know we can never repay him enough. May his tribe increase.