- Nisanka Weheraduwa on his newest short film ‘The Pink Frock’
Being an indie filmmaker is no small feat, even if you already work in the film industry, and this week, we spoke to Nisanka Weheraduwa, a creative writer turned filmmaker, who has just released his second short film, The Pink Frock.
Nisanka’s first short film, Petunia: Her, was released in August 2021 on Cinema.lk, Sri Lanka’s most popular cinema-focused web platform that publishes a plethora of content related to the Sri Lankan cinema industry. It went on to garner more than 1.2 million views on YouTube, becoming the first Sri Lankan short film on the Cinema.lk platform to do so.
Weheraduwa, whose day job is an Editor at Cinema.lk, first started his career in the advertising industry as a content and copywriter, his interest in film was always keen, and he has volunteered on several films and at several film festivals. He also stayed connected to film through publishing his views on the newest movies on his social media.
Moving into short films
His move into finally conceptualising and producing short films came because of Covid-19. Stuck inside during the very first lockdown, working from home, and with more time on his hands for creative pursuits, Weheraduwa found himself penning mini stories and uploading them on to his social media. One of these mini stories was what he called Malki’s Story, and this would eventually become the base of his maiden short film Petunia.
“Lots of people commented on ‘Malki’s Story’ saying how great it was,” Weheraduwa explained, adding: “And I thought why not convert this to visual media, and I spoke to some of my friends about it.”
Petunia came about mainly through networking and the support of Weheraduwa’s friends. One friend, Lakshitha Prasad Weerasena, helped him with the screenplay and agreed to direct Petunia. Wheraduwa also reached out to Ajantha Wijewardene for help, and she agreed to come on board as assistant director. A contact of Weerasena’s, Vishwajith Karunarathne came in as director of photography, with Dasun Prabhaswara as colourist, Hasith Geethanjana as foley, Jude Rayan on music, Thushara Vidanagamage on makeup, Shiran Vimukthi on lighting, Duminda Tharaka as still photographer, and Miuru Mahagamage as production assistant.
Petunia tells the story of Malki, a sex worker who’s comfortable in her own skin and at ease with her progression. “She works as a sex worker, but she’s really comfortable about it,” Weheraduwa explained: “And that’s the main difference between this story and others that speak about sex workers. There’s always shame attached, but I have created Malki to be a very professional and confident sex worker, because, in my view, sex work is a profession and sex workers can and should be confident about what they’re doing, and shouldn’t be looked down on or judged.”
Petunia captures Malki’s encounter with a seemingly very open, free-thinking “modern man”, who still, at the end of the day, subscribes to the same typical prejudices around sex workers, and shows how he and Malki interact after having “done the deed”.
The Pink Frock
Weheraduwa’s second short film, The Pink Frock, released on Christmas Eve, is a collaborative short film with Cinema.lk and Seetha Holdings and stars Sujani Menaka, Subhashana Gamage, and Don Genewra. Since its release, it has garnered over 16,000 views.
It was directed by Weheraduwa, with Dhammika Wijewickrama on script, Vishwajith Karunarathne as Director of Photography, Ajantha Wijewardhane as Assistant Director, Buddhika Nuwan Wickramarachchi on Makeup, Ravindu Chinthaka as editor/colourist, Dasun Prabhaswara on post-production, Ryan JD on music, Vivek Kaushan on foley, Duminda Tharaka as still photographer, Sandun Dayarathne as designer, and Asha Chathurangi, Dimuthu Chathuranga, Kavinu Weerakkody, Rukshan Malsha, and Priyashan Madusanka on production.
The Pink Frock tells the story of an ordinary middle-class family whose lives are disrupted when the man of the house gives his wife a gift of a pink dress that is a couple of sizes too small ahead of Christmas. His wife reacts to the dress by going on a crazy diet to be able to fit into it, and the film captures the effect this has on the family.
“The purpose of the film was to talk about family life and the sacrifices of domestic life,” Weheraduwa explained, adding: “I really like talking about human interest topics and exploring stories of real-life ordinary people. In Sri Lanka, people tend to make films targeting film festivals and international audiences and often forget to tell real-life stories, focusing mainly on the stories of the Sri Lankan elite or of rural people. As a storyteller, I want to talk about the ordinary middle class and their struggles. I also try to mix the two different approaches to filmmaking, commercial filmmaking and arthouse filmmaking, in my short films.”
Being an indie filmmaker
We asked Weheraduwa to take us behind the curtain for a bit and speak to us about the challenges of being an indie filmmaker. For him, the biggest challenge indie filmmakers all over Sri Lanka face is funding, noting that he was very luck that all the people who collaborated with him on Petunia did so for passion and not payment, and with The Pink Frock, he was lucky to find a sponsor in Seetha Holdings to cover production costs. Shooting a film, long or short, has costs – actor fees, cameras, lights, production crew, hair and makeup, set, and costume – all these things cost money, and in the case of both Petunia and The Pink Frock, Weheraduwa limited himself to a single day’s shooting (a long day of almost 18 hours) to save on cost.
“There’s no real solution to this,” Weheraduwa said,adding: “Except possibly to tell stories in a way where companies and brands can invest in productions.” Personally, Weheraduwa is not deterred, sharing that he has three more short films in the works, though he has not yet decided how he’s going to make them. The first of these films is expected to release on Valentine’s Day and tells the story of a middle-class family living in a very small house where the mother and father of the family have no privacy for sexual intimacy.
Petunia and The Pink Frock are both available for viewing at the Cinema.lk YouTube channel.