Photo courtesy of Sivamohan Sumathy

The Tamil musician, Rex Periyasamy, stands as a towering figure in the Sinhala film industry, leading it to new heights with his musical compositions. In the midst of his flourishing career, Rex marries Kanthi, a Sinhala woman, embodying the multicultural essence of the country’s film landscape. Together, they build a life filled with prosperity, dreams and aspirations for their children, Lucky and Mala. The film Sons and Fathers by Sivamohan Sumathy delves into the intricate history of the Sri Lankan film industry, narrating the story of two generations of musicians entangled in political unrest, the Tamil separatist war in the north and rising anti-Tamil sentiments.

Sons and Fathers is a profound exploration of Sri Lanka’s film industry and its intersection with the nation’s political and cultural dynamics. Through the story of Rex Periyasamy and his family, the film delves into themes of identity, heritage and the enduring impact of political conflict. Sumathy’s distinctive filmmaking style and her commitment to addressing critical social issues make her a significant figure in contemporary cinema.

Sivamohan Sumathy is a Professor of English at the University of Peradeniya, an award winning filmmaker, dramatist, poet and academic. She is known for her works that address themes of war, conflict, women and marginalised communities. Sumathy’s notable films include Amid the Villus and The Single Tumbler. Her filmmaking style is characterised by her use of non-professional actors and her experimentation with form. She advocates for films to be like essays and essays to be like films, emphasising the importance of narrative depth and intellectual engagement.

Sumathy answers questions from Groundviews about the film, her motivation for making it and what she hopes its impact will be.

Who is Rex Periyasamy and what is his significance in the film industry?

Rex Periyasamy is a Tamil musician who has become the lead composer for Sinhala films. His contributions have significantly shaped the music scene in the Sinhala film industry. His career is marked by success and cultural integration, highlighted by his marriage to Kanthi, a Sinhala woman. Together, they symbolise the multiculturalism prevalent in the industry during their time.

What is the main narrative of Sons and Fathers?

The film focuses on the intertwined lives of two generations of musicians amid Sri Lanka’s political turbulence. The film captures the struggles and aspirations of Rex Periyasamy, his family, and their descendants as they navigate the complexities of the Tamil separatist war and the growing anti-Tamil sentiments in the country. It is a poignant tale of familial bonds, cultural heritage and the impact of political conflicts on personal lives.

What is the main message that is conveyed through the film?

The genesis of this project stems from a previous film I did on the Malayaha community. I was working with Anthony Surendran, a musician who is also in the film. He is from Colombo and familiar with the film music scene as his father was a musician. Anthony suggested that I make a film about the music industry, highlighting how it was foundationally multicultural with significant contributions from Tamils and Muslims. Initially, neither of us had plans to make a film but his persistent discussions on the topic got me thinking. Eventually, I received some funding to pursue the project. Anthony provided me with a comprehensive overview of the music industry in Colombo, which was crucial for the film. The song Let’s Talk with the Trunkexemplifies a beautiful contradiction within our cultural fabric. Although it seems like a nationalist song, it was sung by Lakshmi, a Muslim woman and early actress in Sinhala theatre. The tune originates from a South Indian film, Chintamani. This mix highlights the multicultural nature of our nation’s artistic heritage. Through the film, I wanted to explore this contradiction and reflect on the composition of our nation and its cultural industry. The story begins with a first generation musician who is comfortable in a diverse setting, marrying a Sinhala woman who already has a child. This depicts a fluid cultural integration. However, as the story progresses, ethnic and social tensions start to pull these communities apart, leading to violence.

How did you incorporate these serious themes into a narrative that resonates with audiences?

I approached the narrative through a love story and the dynamics of a family, which is relatable and engaging. I aimed to show the fragility of the nation by illustrating ethnic tensions and their impact on personal relationships. By structuring it as a Sinhala film love story with multiple generations, I intended to make the themes accessible and impactful. Music plays a significant role in the film, thanks to Anthony Surendra. His involvement was palpable, both behind the scenes and on screen. His mother also contributed, discussing historical events such as the riots, adding authenticity to the narrative. Although it’s not their personal story, their presence enriches the film’s texture and depth.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

I hope audiences reflect on the intricate and often fragile composition of our nation. By presenting these ideas through a family and a love story, I aim to humanise the broader social and ethnic issues. I want people to appreciate the multicultural foundation of our society and recognise both its beauty and its vulnerabilities.

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