Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bonsoir Diaries on LISN

To this day, no one knows why Bonsoir had to die. Not even Kumar de Silva. He laments its passing away as something of an inevitability, which was bound to happen sooner or later. Inevitability, however, doesn't take away regret, and for this reason Bonsoir's death remains as avoidable to us as it was to those who were witness to its birth and development.

TV shows live beyond their deaths. On the other hand they can only live in the memories of those who didn't watch them through archive. The problem for Kumar, however, was that Bonsoir's archive had vanished, in his words "for reasons beyond my comprehension."

And so he set to work. In 2013, he authored a book on the show, titled "Bonsoir Diaries" for the simple reason that it would take nothing less than a diary to bring out, evoke, and impress. Now Kumar has a way of entrancing his readers and listeners, and because of this the book sold well.

But words weren't enough. He needed more. He needed a voice.

In 2015 a group of people fired by an idea came together. The idea: to create Sri Lanka's first app for audio-books. They hit on a name for that app: LISN. They launched it within the first two months of the year, promising to record landmarks in our literature for those who had the time to listen but not read. Since that day they've taken in and "adapted" several texts, most notably Martin Wickramasinghe's Koggala Trilogy and Punyakante Wijenaike's "Giraya". They had the speakers, the readers, and the listeners. In short, they had an idea that would catch on. Predictably, it caught on.

And then the founders met Kumar. Kumar told them his idea. They loved it.

They set to work. Kumar would "get in the mood" (his words, not mine) to tape himself. He'd read out passages from his own book, selecting chapters according to temperament and adding colour and gusto as he recited them aloud. It wasn't easy, there was a hectic schedule to look out for, but he wanted it done in six months.

Six months later, it was all over. Bonsoir Diaries had been taped.

On Wednesday, July 6 at the Harold Peiris Gallery, Kumar released the audio book. He spoke. He thanked everyone who had gathered and had made an allowance in their busy schedule for his event. He dwelt on Bonsoir. And he mentioned its inevitable passing. Everyone was moved.

They had reason to be, after all. Bonsoir was more than a show. It brought France and Sri Lanka together. Mangala Samaraweera, who was Chief Guest at Kumar's event, aptly pointed out that the historical links between the two countries predate even the British conquest. Those links weren't and aren't just historical of course: in our cinema, theatre, and even literature, the French have influenced us. Bonsoir strengthened those links.

That evening wasn't just about Kumar, of course. Four key personalities featured in the show relived their encounters, each meticulously introduced by Samantha Wijeyeratne in her unmistakable Franglais (Franco-English) accent. Angela Seneviratne, who (literally) stopped a train in its tracks to wait for Kumar and the crew during the Fete de la Musique in 1982, spoke. Swarna Mallawarachchi, who had gone to Cannes and "relived" her trip with Bonsoir, spoke. Upeka Chitrasena, who had been filmed for an episode on the Chitrasena Dancing Troupe, spoke. And Sanjeev Jayaratnam, who had lit Lionel Wendt with his performance as Inspector Javert in the Workshop Players' adaptation of "Les Miserables", sang. Time went by, the words flowed, and everyone listened.

There's just so much that a newspaperman can write. So much that anyone can write. I'm sure Kumar's voice will entrance in ways words cannot. If you want to listen though, you must download the app. Currently available on Android (and even, I'm told, Apple) phones, LISN can be downloaded free of charge, from where Bonsoir Diaries (among other lucrative titles) can be "bought" to your phone, to be listened to whenever and wherever you're free.

Kumar's event wasn't just about his book, I'm sure. It was about rekindling memory and along the way reliving our literary discourse through the spoken word. We should be grateful to LISN, not only because it helped Bonsoir gain a fresh lease of life but because it has much to offer those who, for better or worse, don't have time on their hands to flip through a book. Whether it will be as popular as it ought to be, I can't say. But I know many of us hope that it will. Someday.

In the meantime, my question remains unanswered: why did Bonsoir have to die? We watched it. Some of us grew up with it. And all of us, I'm sure, had our views on art, life, culture, and even fashion shaped by it. But if that question isn't meant to be answered, I have only one thing to say: download the app, download the book, and listen. The answer lies somewhere there. I think.