ABA – the mega Sinhala movie by Jackson Anthony: May be great piece of art, but will it do justice to the history?

Aba, the first mega Sinhala movie is to be released shortly. It will surely be another turning point in Sri Lankan movie history.

I congratulate director Jackson Anthony for this bold step – a less experienced might not have taken such a huge risk. This is an even bigger risk than what was taken by Lester James Pieris in creating Rekhava in 1956, moving out of the mold of popular Indian cinema of the day.

With Aba, Sri Lankan cinema will enter another dimension. So far local Sinhala/Tamil movies aimed only the limited Sri Lankan market. Thus even the most popular ones had an audience of less than one million. The blockbusters made money from the repeated audience. Aba will break those boundaries. A high quality movie that aims both local and international audience, Aba is sure to define new standards for Sinhala movies.

This is not a review of Aba. It will come once I see it. This is to pose a different question.

Aba is often promoted as a ‘historical’ movie. Is that correct? How accurate the story of Pandukabhaya as we read it in Mahavamsa – now translated to cinematic form?

There is no doubt that Mahavamsa was primarily a work of literature – not history. If it were done in 5th century AD by Mahanama Thero, Maurya Prince Dhatusena’s guardian and mentor (= what Kautilya was to Chandra Gupta Maurya), he obviously had a political agenda. The country was under the threat of Chola invaders. So the Bhikkus, often treated to be guardians of the Sinhalese nation, thought it was necessary to boost the morale of their warriors. So Mahavamsa chronicler brought non-existents to life, generously absorbed material from elsewhere with no attempts to verify them, and of course exaggerated beyond imagination. Cannot blame him. He never called his work ‘history’ and he sincerely admitted doing some of the above (including exaggerations).

Prof. G. C. Mendis finds it difficult to differentiate the early sections of Mahavamsa from popular legends. This part, which includes the story of Pandukabhaya, is full of mythical characters. Written after nearly thousand years after they claimed to have happened, the accuracy of that chain of events are highly questionable.

There is a new school of history that seriously questions the validity of Pandukabhaya story. What vamsa katha says, they point out, is full of loop holes. Did Pandukabhaya rule for 70 years? (The average of a person of the time was 30-40 years) His father Diga Gamini was said to have come from a nearby kingdom. But where was this kingdom, which has never been referred before or after that in any literature? Did Pandukabhaya actually build the Anuradhapura city as he said to have? (Excavations done by Dr. Shiran Deraniyagala reveals the city of Anuradhapura goes back to pre-historic times so apparently could not have been built by him, even if he existed)

Common belief is Bhikku Mahanama (or whoever the Mahavamsa chronicler) had a strong political reason to link Buddha Parinirvana to the advent of Vijaya (for claiming ‘Buddhist’ heritage of the land). This needed a bit of ‘touching’.

Take King Devanampiya Tissa for example. According to Mahavamsa he had nine brothers – some of them ruling after him. These are the assumed periods they ruled:

Devanampiya Tissa (307 – 267 BC) – 40 years
Uttiya (267 – 257 BC) – 10 years
Maha Siva (257 – 247 BC) – 10 years
Suratissa (247 – 237 BC) 10 years
Interim period by ‘Tamil’ (=Damila) traders Sena and Guttika for 22 years
Asela (215 – 205 BC) 10 years

So if we assume Asela to be 10 years when his elder brother Devanampiya Tissa assumed throne, he was 112 years old when ultimately defeated by Elara. Is this possible? Mind you, this was the king who ultimately defeated Sena and Guttika. Could a hundred year old king do such a feat? (Also note that every brother ruled for the round ten years, which is mathematically not too probable)

This is only one ambiguity of Mahavamsa. The most probable reason is the times have been artificially expanded so that Vijaya could land in Lanka, on the same moment of Buddha Parinirvana.

The story of Pandukabhaya is another question mark. It can more be a popular legend than real history. Unfortunately there is no other evidence of this period (like rock inscriptions) either to confirm or deny the chronicles. This is far ahead the times of proper scripts. All we have is literature done at least 1,000 years later. Given the tradition of keeping records by heart, transformed from generation to generation, how much of that is accurate? Nobody knows.

There is nothing wrong doing movies based on legends or partial history. Biblical stories were the basis for many movies including the famous ‘The Ten Commandments’ by Cecil B. De Mille, where Moses parts the Red Sea. (In the pre-digital age this was treated as one of the best camera tricks) Does that make you believe it really happened?

Jackson Anthony’s Aba too should be taken with the same spirit. It should be reviewed for its artistic value and not for historical facts. Trying to claim it history is an injustice both to the movie and history.

(Images from www.aba.lk)

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22 thoughts on “ABA – the mega Sinhala movie by Jackson Anthony: May be great piece of art, but will it do justice to the history?

  1. Aba is not a great movie. One shot is. You will see Leader an even better movie of mine soon. This is the biggest and best movie ever made in Sri Lanka.

  2. How dare you insult Mahawamsa? The great history book ever written in the world. How can I survive without references to it in TV programs? Burn Robert Knox’s book and worship Mahawamsa to safe guard the claims of Sinhalese Buddhists to this island.

  3. This is a great stuff. Do more these kind of masterpieces. Don’t care who ever tell anything. We love our culture and history. This is great treasure for our children

  4. Aba is going to be a turning point in Sri Lankan cinema. It will fulfill the wish of Mr Jakson Anthony[ to begin an epic tradition in sinhala cinema] for sure.I congratulate every one that was involved in ABA.

  5. I am yet to see the movie, but have watched the trailer several times in the theaters. The opening shots of the trailer are absolutely beautiful but after a few seconds everything falls flat from the lighting to the styling and editing. With such a big budget i don’t understand why jackson did not use a better director of photography. If we are targeting an overseas market he needs to have the look of the film on par with what is out there. But with all its shortcomings i give 2 thumbs up for jackson for taking sri lankan cinema to new heights

  6. THERE IS A LOT ABOUT HOW THIS MOVIE CAME TO BE, THAT IS NOT REVELED BY JACKSON ANTHONY. CREDIT SHOULD GO TO SOMONE ELSE. WITH ALL THE GLAMOR HE HAS TAKEN CREDIT FOR SOMBODYS IDEA I THINK.

  7. He sould say this is a great movie based upon standards set by Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is yet produce a movie with international standards.

  8. The movie was rubbish! I am sorry, you must have really low standards to even think that the movie was good. Acting was rubbish, casting was rubbish – I mean get with the program, who on earth will think that Sabitha is capable of acting like a young nubile princess! Grandmother ismore like it. don’t we have any good young actresses who could have played Aba’s mother when he was born. Are we so desperate that we have to scrape the bottom of the barrel. Then Jackson Anthony has blatantly stolen the story from King Arthur (merlin, the sword etc) from Harry Potter (the ghost guide) and worst he has done it badly. I go to see Sinhala movies for the comedic factor and Jackson Anthony has made the greatest farce of all time. Way to go Sinhala cinema.

  9. Just want to say something about the Ethnichybide comment. Absolutly an Idiot. Film directors eyes are different to anybody else eyes. You must start to think from that point before you make any comment about the movie. If you want to see some nice looking ladies better to watch somthing else.

  10. Pandu – it is rather obvious that whatever film you see is influenced by the director. But we are talking of merit here! In my opinion the film is bad. As a movie goer, my opinion is valid to some extant, for without viewers film makers will be nothing. My comment touched on more than the lack of nice looking ladies. Granted that was a low blow, but what about the other points – the non – originality of the story, the bad acting, the miscasting. The reason Hindi films have taken off these days, its because they have raised their standards to that of Hollywood. As long as they catered to the indian audience their standard was pretty mediocre. Similarly, we too must raise our standards. It is not enough to please Sri Lankans we must be able to stand on the world stage competitively. This is where we fail with Aba. End of story.

  11. Compare to so many Srilankan rubbish movies this is something different. You cannot compare bollywood films with Srilankan productions.They totally different. We used to copy all sorts of Hindi movies in to sinhala movies.This is where the problem is. People like you are so selfish to sabotage our own actors & actress by comparing them with Hindi movies. What I’m telling you is nothing wrong with directors eye. He has done maximum to prtect the story. This film is still running breaking all sorts of records. If Director has done it wrongly, it wont be like this.I think you are living in different world. This movie is running on Australia this month & next month. People appriciates what Jackson has done to the Sinhala Cinema.

  12. I think Jackson Anthony is a superb actor, perhaps he is a good director, what I am merely saying is that if we set our standards low and applaud ourselves, we will never strive to be better. Of course by Sri Lankan standards perhaps Aba is a superior film, but we have to raise our standards, not be content with the little we have achieved. You have a right to your opinion and I respect that, but I have a right to mine as well. Aba could be better. For me its not good enough. This is not sabotage or anything like that I think we have excellent theatre actors, a few good film actors, but for me and its a personal opinion, this film is not good enough. That’s all.

  13. if he has spent so much money he should have done it better. the movie is a drag. Jackson has not taken how the viwer should see it but done somthing that he had a dream of and just put it on film. With all the publicity given no wonder people have gone to see this in thousands but ultimately was dissapointed at the end. It looked more like a stage drama.
    READ THE FILM CRETIC OF SRI LANKA.

  14. I watched it last night in Sydney. Had great expectations after seeing the trailer, but was very much disappointed. The money spent by the producers Belagamage and Ms. Jayasinghe could have produced a much better version of ABA. The guy marketing it in Australia did an introduction and he compared it to Lord of the Rings and The God King. We were all waiting for it and oops…what a comparison! There were few Australians and in my opinion it wasn’t the best movie for an outsider to see about Sri Lankan history, values and beliefs. I’m not saying it was all rubbish, but a major disappointment.

  15. I also went to see the film in Savoy with lot of hope. But it was a disspointment for me. Technically it was good with good sound effects etc. But with dancing and the type of music make it more a Bollywod film not a historical story such as ‘Troy’

  16. I AM A SRI LANKAN I wnt 2 say 1thng about the sri lankan movies,sinhala movies are utter flop, they dnt knw hw 2 mak a movie,they are copying hindi and tamil songs,last 15 years i didnt watch a sinhala movie,only sinsex films are running as a average in theateres,tamil films are rocks v cnt mke a filmS like tamil BILLA,SIVAJI,POKKIRI,GAJINI,ANNIYAN etc sinhala films are sucks, fucking sin actors Pls dnt copy 2 act as tamil actors

  17. Sinhala films nam vadak naa,apita kawadhavat hodha film ekak ganna ba,api matto apita sex film vthari ganda puluvan,tamil super starsla rajni,vijay,ajith,surya vage mehe naa,ranjan,roshan wage kabbo tikak enne,

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  19. This movie is the first movie came for express and announce our sinhalese proudness to the world….If there are so many clarifications, I see this is the first step from modern Sinhala cinema who is trying to climb the highest mountain in the history world, from all over the world.
    I am proud to watch this and willing to watch our history infront of our eyes.Big challenge..Achieved successfully…Aba is a proud smile for us……WELL DONE!!!

  20. this movie is the first movie came for express and announce our sinhalese proudness to the world….If there are so many clarifications, I see this is the first step from modern Sinhala cinema who is trying to climb the highest mountain in the history world, from all over the world.
    I am proud to watch this and willing to watch our history infront of our eyes.Big challenge..Achieved successfully…Aba is a proud smile for us……WELL DONE!!!

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