In comparison with many other Singhalese teledramas that exploit mundane and constantly hackneyed themes, Kunchanada is in a different league.
The teledrama trumpeting of elephants (Kunchanada), presumably set in 70s Galgamuwa, portrays one of the most pertinent and contemporary issues, of human-elephant conflict that leaves both the man and the beast devastated, in a remarkable cinematic fashion.
The teledrama draws attention of the viewer to the issue from diverse angles justifying the actions of both humans and elephants, in a bizarrely similar manner to that of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage in which the writer points out that there is good and evil in both war and peace. In war people become destitute but there is order in everything whereas in peace people are relatively happy, yet there is no order in anything but chaos. The writer of Kunchanada looks at the issue from a similar perspective to justify actions of both the human and the animal as both parties struggle to survive in a hostile environment. Most strikingly, the message conveyed is that in a failing country nothing proper can be expected other than disorder, chaos, anarchy, turmoil, misrule, and lawlessness. Human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka is no exception. Whilst some of the African countries that are considered to be poor and underdeveloped have found authentic and effective solutions to their human-elephant confrontation, Sri Lanka has enjoyed a deep slumber for decades regarding this massive issue that needs absolute attention. Kunchanada may wake the sleeping jackals at least to howl a bit louder.
The innovative plot uses villagers who are fascinatingly similar to the actual people who lived and worked in the area to tell their side of the story about marauding elephants, whilst, through a wildlife officer, the story from the elephants’ perspective is told. Out of the ordinary, Christy Shelton Fernando, the creator of the teledrama introduces a researcher to the drama to be a neutral personality to weigh the pros and cons of the human-elephant conflict. Although he has not yet taken the viewer through unexpected twists and turns, there is plenty of drama in Kunchanada to keep the viewer hooked.
The combined skill set of the writer and the director to sink into the thought processes and the consequent behaviours of the rural society in the far corners of the Kurunegala District is astonishing. The outstanding ability of the crew to recreate the village setting, and the cameraman’s skill to capture a visually striking panorama are eye-catching.
The mesmerising transformation of Sriyani Amarasena from the image of a calm, quiet and chaste love idol of the 70s silver screen to an ageing, vociferous, and typically rural woman to portray a breath-taking villain in a teledrama, presumably set in the same 70’s, is electrifying and unparalleled.
The capabilities of the actor who plays Wasantha’s fiancée is unmissable. Her portrayal of the justifiable annoyance, frustration and perhaps anger towards her fiancé who is stupidly ignorant of the surroundings, not to notice the devastating effect his association with the researcher has on his relationship, is compelling and noteworthy.
Through this creation, Christi Shelton Fernando, the former Mathematics teacher has once again shown that it was not a fluke that he won the award for the best screenplay for Dadayama in his twenties. Kunchanada is a breath of fresh air. It is more than worth watching.