When the second wife of the King plots to kill his first born son (Prince Parakramabahu II) the monarchy is put into turmoil. The King’s first wife dies during child birth eventually leading the King to remarry. But upon the birth of the second prince, the second wife realizes that the first in line to the throne must be eliminated in order to make her son the future king. The young Prince Parakramabahu is hastened away by his loyal guardian and a laundry-woman to a rural village where he grows from child to man as a commoner until the secret of his birthright is revealed.
The first act contains all the ingredients of a Shakespearean tale; deception, duplicity and danger. The second wife’s hunger for power sets the wheels in motion. Her treachery is the foundation to the entire plot, without it this story would be needless. What drives any story is ‘conflict,’ but the first act is where conflict begins and unfortunately conflict ends. The second act is comprised of three lethargic montages of Parakramabahu (now called Appuwa) and his foster-sisters playing and frolicking in the village first as young children, then as adolescents and lastly as young adults. The middle of the film is a bona fide music video, where the three young characters perform from one slow-motion scene to the next. The only discord faced by the former Prince is when certain villagers treat him like an outcast. Apart from this minor annoyance life for Appuwa is quite stress free which is really great for Appuwa but not so great for me. The absence of conflict makes the rest of the story boring.
The acting is a display of ‘How to Act’ and ‘How Not to Act.’ The ‘How to Act’ group consists of all the actors who play villagers, namely Chandani Seneviratne, Bimal Jayakody, Jayani Senanayake and Giriraj Kaushalya. Their respective performances are natural which is exactly how cinematic acting should be. But the ‘How Not to Act’ group made up of nearly all the actors who play the royalty, for instance Palitha Silva, Sachini Ayendra and Dayadewa Edirisinghe give exaggerated performances. Their acting is similar to stage acting and doesn’t belong on the silver screen. The only exception to the above categorization is Ashan Dias who plays the Prince’s guardian. His portrayal is competent and stands out. Newcomers Akila Dhanuddara and Senali Fonseka give ordinary performances when compared to other debut performances.
If there’s one reason to watch Siri Parakum in a theater, that reason would be its cinematography. It’s a showcase of spectacular locations and carefully composed shots. Credit must be given to the Director and Cinematographer for making the images memorable. The score music on the other hand is memorable for a completely different reason. Its repetitiveness and lack of variation becomes annoying very quickly. The score and sound of a movie is as important as the cinematography and editing, but Sri Lankan filmmakers seem to neglect these two vital aspects. Instead they concentrate on getting a few catchy songs made, making music videos for these songs and dropping them into the film.
The director Somaratne Dissanayake has been making films for many years and with vast experience comes the responsibility of telling a good story. Siri Parakum is based on the early life of King Parakramabahu II, the time period leading to his coronation. When dealing with an actual historical character or story a filmmaker should stick to the facts but also take a few artistic liberties. In the film world directors can exercise their “Creative License” in order to make their films more entertaining. But that license has not been utilized by Dissanayake. The interesting first act is followed by a second act in which nothing substantial happens and the third act feels inconclusive. Many events made no sense such as why didn’t the King behead his second wife for her treachery? Why didn’t the King call for his son, at least on his death bed? Why didn’t we get to see what was happening in the palace during the years the Prince was living in the village? This film’s biggest flaw is the storytelling. The main villain is the second wife, without her actions the prince would not have needed to flee. But Somaratne Dissanayake forgets this completely and fails to revisit that character during the conclusion. This is an amateurish mistake because the beginning and end of the movie does not tie together. The ongoing trend in Sri Lankan cinema (starting with “Aba”) of making films based on historical tales continues with Siri Parakum but continuing in this fashion must be avoided. Greater actuality plus lesser pomposity equals better story.
S. V. Fernando