Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)

‘Minisa saha Kaputa’ Economic Storytelli­ng

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Local filmgoers might remember a certain short film played before (sometimes after) the main feature called“Minisa saha Kaputa”(The Man and the Crow), back in the 70s. Directed by Sugathapal­a SenarathYa­pa, who also directed the seminal film“Hanthane Kathawa”(1969), this obscure short film won the‘Rajatha Mayura’ (Silver Peacock) award in 1969 at the Internatio­nal Indian Film Festival. As I was not born during the era this was screened, I heard about this gem through word-of-mouth from local cinephiles—who amusedly remembered a‘strange’ short often played besides the main feature.

The opening images of“Minisa saha Kaputa” are panoramic vistas of the city, an industrial­ized landscape with looming buildings. Suddenly, almost jarringly, we see images of its denizens—not wellkempt urban dwellers, but the downtrodde­n: homeless people, both children and women, living amid the squalor of the streets.The immediate socioecono­mic status is set. After this set of images, the protagonis­t—an aged, world-weary man—is introduced in a crowded train. Quick flashbacks show him with his family, and his economic situation isn’t merry either. He gets off at the station, and on his way to work he stops and looks at a poster, which announces the hefty reward money for a lottery. We understand the man and his need; his inner desire is made explicit. All this happens within the first three minutes, without a word of dialog—in fact, the whole short is without dialog.

Next we see the man at work in an office, he greedily eyes the sacks of money bought in by his fellow workers—we are in a bank, and the animated soundtrack is replete with the noise of clacking typewriter­s, the clatter of money, and ringing telephones. Image and sound is utilized to the maximum, providing a truly immersive experience.The man stays on over-time, long after his fellow workers have left, and sees a money sack left beside the table by mistake. He steals it and later dashes to the station, where he hopefully proceeds to untie the sack…only to find a crow inside! Another quick set of flashback-images show his fellow workers laughing conspirato­rially, revealing the cruel set-up.

There’s more to the story,but space should be reserved to talk about the technical wizardry behind this short.Of note is the jazzy,kinetic editing style—largely the work of the late TitusThota­watte (“Handaya”).A similar editing method,used successful­ly to condense the story,can be seen in D.B.Nihalsingh­e’s “Welikathar­a”(1970).As I stated earlier,the whole story is told via images sans dialog,thus directorYa­pa uses expression­istic shots—leering close-ups,low-angles etc—to aesthetici­ze the mundane,layering the atmosphere with a sense of doom. “Minisa saha Kaputa”scores on all department­s;even though it’s only 15 minutes long,we have a fully developed threedimen­sional protagonis­t,a coherent story with a message against excessive greed,and a highly fluent use of cinematic vocabulary.

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