- Bandhuka Premawardhana on bagging ‘Best Male Performer’ at the Agenda 14 short film festival
One could argue that the most important aspect of a good film would be the actors. But what if the whole film had just one actor to carry the script? They’d have to be one heck of an actor to pull off such a feat. Bandhuka Premawardhana certainly managed to hold his ground by playing the main (and only) role in the short film The Apartment, and was awarded “Best Male Performer” at the Agenda 14 short film festival held recently. The film also received awards for “Best Editing” by Dulina Chandrasena, and a Jury Award for Sahan Fernando as well.
Premawardhana has had an interest in acting since he was back in school; he’s had much experience putting on plays and has been in front of a camera as well. His passion stretched so far that he pursued acting for his Master’s degree.
He told us that having acted in the Good Karma Hospital, Funny Boy, and Son and Fathers, gave him the experience he needed to learn how to perform in front of a camera and develop an understanding of what acting in films was.
Sharing a synopsis of the short film The Apartment, from the point of view of the main character, he shared that the film revolves around one man that is looking for money to purchase an apartment. “He’s pretty desperate for money and he went as far as to begin transporting drugs to make money,” he told us. The locations portrayed in the film are slightly vague as it was initially supposed to be Galle-Colombo, but the story had to change due to logistic issues.
What’s most interesting about the film, and in our opinion, what helped it garner so many awards was the fact that the entirety of it took place through phone calls while the main character moves drugs from point A-B.
With these phone calls, the story tells itself, “One such phone call is when he speaks to his wife who urges him to find money in whatever way to buy an apartment,” he told us.
Premawardhana had to portray actions and emotions of tension and pressure as those are the main themes of the film. The whole plot revolves around the fact that the location and time at which the main character is supposed to drop the drugs off, should coincide with the time that he is supposed to make a big pitch at his corporate job. “The character feels a lot of pressure to balance everything and shuffle his priorities around to make everything work,” he told us, explaining the emotions he had to showcase. We won’t spoil the ending for you, but we will tell you that it is an open ending that Premawardhana names as “poetic”.
We asked him how he prepared for this role, to which he told us that with his prior experience in acting in front of a camera, he began to realise the differences between films and theatre. The Master’s degree that he is currently following also highlights this difference, which helps him understand what he has to put on.
“In preparation for the role, I tried to put myself under pressure like obsessing over phone calls,” he told us. Another factor that really helped him was his own personal determination to one day have a house of his own: “It won’t come into fruition anytime soon, but this wanting to have a property that I can call mine helped me feel the drive and urgency that the main character felt.”
Despite the film being 15 minutes long, the filming itself took a while to finish. They filmed it for a full night – starting from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. and stopped as the sun was starting to rise. The rest was shot two nights later around the same time. It may seem like a short amount of time but as the saying goes; there are no small parts, only small actors, and Premawardhana has proved that he is not one.
In terms of filming, Premawardhana revealed that he was really worried at the start as the script takes place over phone calls while driving. “I was worried about how I would be able to maintain high levels of energy, interest, and tension throughout the whole film,” he said, adding that he also felt nervous about losing his character as the film progressed, and exhaust the attention of the viewer since he is the only character shown throughout the whole thing. It seemed as though his fears were unfounded as he personally felt he did the emotions of his character justice, and the whole jury board for the film festival shared this sentiment – hence the award.
If you watch the film, he pointed out that one will notice the protagonist shot from a number of angles around the car that’s moving. For this to be shown in the end product, Premawardhana had to perform the whole film about 10 times from beginning to end from multiple angles. This led to a new challenge where he had to replicate his exact expression and emotions ten whole times so the film would flow without hitch. “If Dulina (the videographer and editor) had to edit from one angle to another – my posture had to be the same, my hands had to be in the same place on the steering wheel, I had to have a similar expression on my face – so my main concern was if I could maintain an even performance from seven different angles,” he shared. After watching the film, Premawardhana feels he actually managed to maintain composure and shared that he is happy with his performance, saying “it could have been better, but I was satisfied with it”.
Since the script is written based on one actor and takes place solely over phone calls, there was bound to be a sizable number of lines that Premawardhana had to memorise. We asked him if he was able to memorise them all or if he had to improvise mid-way. “I tried to stick to the script as much as possible since Sahan (the scriptwriter) had put a lot of thought into specific words in the lines; there’s a bit of poetry when you write a script,” he said, but added that he did muddle it up in a few places where he changed up the lines ever so slightly.
A window of opportunity
When Sahan contacted him to be casted in his film, Premawardhana told us that he initially thought he’d just be one of the phone calls, but was humbled and thrilled to accept the role of the protagonist. He didn’t even know that the film was being submitted for the festiva’: “Dulina casually mentioned it after we had finished filming and I thought that would be a great opportunity and great exposure for us as part of the film industry.”
Having received such a prestigious award for his acting, we asked him if this has opened any doors for him in terms of acting and filmmaking. “This award plays a big role in my future, as film is what I want to pursue a career in. It’s a landmark in my career. I can put it down on my portfolio – it’s no longer me thinking that I’m a good actor – other people also think the same and I have an award to prove it,” he stated, adding that it has also boosted his confidence as an actor.
Despite his interest in acting, Premawardhana also has a passion for filmmaking that came about from his work as a video editor. He shared that he has been trying his hand at script-writing and he is also working with a few friends on putting together a few more films. They have a few projects in the works that are still in the editing stage, “The Apartment has inspired me to be more active in my passion and to put more work out. I hope to soon have more projects under my name.”