‘Juliettge Bhumikava’ marked Jackson’s initial foray into the world of film making. That was as far back as 1995. Since then there was not a whimper of another Jackson movie. Recently, however, he broke his creative silence by announcing that he was going to produce another blockbuster epic by the name of ABA.

Jackson has a celebrated career in acting—no contemporary Sri Lankan actor possesses his performing skills or his stage personality. At the ABA muhurath ceremony held at the Waters Edge early this week, Professor Patrick Ratnayake of Kelaniya University equated Jackson with that of Mel Gibson, the American movie icon.

Mel Gibson is renowned for his method acting. He too honed his acting skills in the early part of his career by performing on stage. Like Jackson, Gibson is also one who has an insatiable appetite for historic themes. The whole world was bowled over by The Brave Heart, a film based on the Scottish War and which Gibson directed after years of research into the history of the conflict. The movie won several Oscars. Thereafter, he went in search of further historic themes. Apolcalypto, a story about a Mesoamerican tribesman's experience during the dying days of the Mayan civilization in Mexico, and The Passion of Christ are two subsequent Gibson films that took the world by storm.

Epical tradition occupies an important position in the world cinema. It was during the time of Seven Samurai and Rashomon of the Japanese cinema, our own Dr. Lester James Peiris produced Sandeshaya in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan history has a long and rich history full of epic characters and which is replete with heroism and gallantry. If one takes the genealogy of kings of Sri Lanka, save a few exceptions, most of them are valiant and formidable personalities which are not readily found in the histories of most other nations. Yet the question that invariably confounds us is as to why the epical tradition has failed to take root in the domain of Sri Lankan cinema. Of the 1062 movies produced in Sri Lanka, starting with Kadavuna Poronduwa up to Sankara, only six have been based on historic themes, namely, Ashokamala (1947), Sirisangabo (1952), Sandeshaya (1960), Sigiri Kashyapa (1966), Veera Puran Appu (1978), and Veera Madduma Bandara (1984). These are, however, essentially tragedies that cannot be regarded as epics in any sense.

Our neighboring India has produced a large number of movies which fall into the category of epics. The movie Ashok which was a creation of the combined effort of Sharukh Khan, the super star of contemporary Indian cinema, and Juhi Chawla, and Mangal Pandey in which another Indian movie idol Amir Khan featured, have helped the Indian identity firmly establish its roots in the cinema of that country.

There are unmistakable signs that Jackson’s second movie ABA will signify the beginning of a new era in the Sri Lankan cinema. This movie will denote the true beginning of the epic era of our cinema. ABA has surmounted the first and the biggest obstacle in making a colossal epic movie—finding a willing and capable investor. Up to now, we had been in the habit of making movies to suit an available budget than find a fitting producer who is capable of funding the movie’s budget requirements. Other countries have discovered ways of funding the requirements of a movie while at the same time finding reliable means of recovering the costs with substantial returns. Justin Belagamage and Ms. Rajindra Jayasinghe have made history in Sri Lanka by investing a colossal amount of money to make this gigantic movie.

The ABA script that had been gathering dust in Jackson’s office drawer (under his arm pit, some say!) breathed its first at the Muhurath ceremony held on the 1st day of June 2007 at the Waters Edge hotel. Now Jackson can heave a joyous sigh of relief. Now it doesn’t matter to him that he had been going round in circles for two years looking for a producer to bring ABA to life. Now it also doesn’t matter to him that he sacrificed several opportunities that came his way for major acting breaks in the hope that he would start shooting ABA some day soon. He now has.

It is palpably apparent that Sri Lankan cinema has so far failed to discharge its true duty towards this country. Had it succeeded in doing so, our contemporary society would not have hit a pessimistic nadir as it has done now, resulting in a negative collective national psyche. Nor have some of our movie makers been audacious enough to make movies that merely display their technical ingenuity, but in the process betray wholesale the proud past of this nation. It is not only the politicians of this country who should bear responsibility for this great betrayal—our film makers also must share the blame for this to varying degrees.

We must start from where we have gone wrong. We must make an earnest effort to find out where we have got it all wrong. At least now, action must be initiated to pass on the epic tradition of our nation to the theatres. Movie makers in the caliber of Prasanna Vitanage and Jayantha Chandrasiri are sure to travel further along the path now cleared open by Jackson Anthony. It is believed that they are planning to move in the same direction by producing two movies in the genre of epics. It would auger well for the country as well as the future of Sri Lankan cinema, if other film makers too draw inspiration from this emerging trend.

Gamini Jayalath, Dinamina, June 08, 2007