By Bernadine Rodrigo
“‘Thé Kahata’ is something we don’t like and don’t talk about,” said Yasodhara Kariyawasam, a novice short film maker and writer in Sri Lanka, although tea is a beverage we like and indulge in. This is the exact reason why she chose the title “Thé Kahata” for her debut short film that was supposed to be showcased for the first time at the International Women’s Film Festival 2020 which is now postponed due to the country’s situation.
Sadly for all of us, the festival had to be postponed due to the prevailing pandemic situation of the country. However, the organisers are looking forward to holding the festival once the country’s situation improves and we all can go outside again.
Shortlisted to be featured at the festival, Thé Kahata circles around how sexual pleasure is something women too desire and aims to inspire people, especially women, to let go of the shame and stigma surrounding it in Sri Lanka. She said the metaphor of tea stains seemed appropriate for her because much like the stains made due to strong tea, which people don’t speak of when enjoying a cup of tea, sexual pleasure too is a topic that is not spoken of in public, although many want to and like to fulfil it.
Kariyawasam is a student of film and a huge film-making enthusiast, and began making Thé Kahata specifically for the Women’s Film Festival. She did so with no aim of making money, but purely out of passion for the cause. Her initial plan was to make a film on domestic abuse, which once again is a grave issue in Sri Lanka.
Then one day, she found herself piqued with interest regarding a topic which was so familiar to women. This soon led to her thinking about what a taboo it is in this country to talk about women indulging in this pleasure and how a woman engaged in such activity would be greatly looked down upon. This is when she announced to her boyfriend that this topic would be the final theme to base her short film on for the festival. He had then jokingly said he wondered what the next new theme was going to be, as she had changed her mind so many times. However, as it turned out, this was her last and final decision.
As difficult as it was for her to come up with the theme, her greatest trials awaited her once she started the real work. Her cinematographer had to leave as she had another project to work on and so Kariyawasam had to ask her colleague, Channa Dhananjaya, who is experienced in cinematography and was supposed to work on the movie with her as Assistant Director. Distressingly, this meant the loss of her assistant director, leaving all the directing plus production work for her to handle.
While she had planned to do all the shooting over a weekend, until the very Friday of that weekend, she had no actress to play the female lead. Simply, the main role of the movie was a question mark. However, she was convinced she would find someone- her biggest hurdle was finding a woman willing to take up a role that was seen as somewhat problematic in Sri Lankan society. She pushed the dates of the shoots forward and with the help of her team she was finally able to find an actress who was extremely willing to be a part of the production.
The lead role was of a woman from a conservative background who was married to a conservative man. She is unable to feel satisfied in her marriage as her husband is unable to completely fulfil her sexual needs. However, her husband doesn’t realise this and neither does she try to do anything about it – until she receives the advice of a friend who shows her what sexual pleasure as a woman really is. The film then follows her journey of showing her husband how to fulfil his role as a husband rather than simply expecting her to fulfil hers as a wife.
This is the issue the movie deals with; most often women are constantly told they have a duty to sexually satisfy their husband without educating them on the fact that it actually goes both ways.
It seems that everyone involved in the making of the film was keen on sending this message across and Kariyawasam acknowledges the hard work they put into making the film. The team consisted of four cast members, namely Nipuni Sharada as Dehini (lead role), Ruvin de Silva as Aravinda, Deepthi Jayasinghe as Gayathri, and Dewaka Perera as Kushan; Channa Dhananjaya on camera, Tharusha Kumarasinghe on production co-ordination, Talia by Hashini handling makeup and costumes, and a few more other valued individuals.
While they were able to finish rehearsals in one day, they were also able to shoot the entire film within a day, which Kariyawasam said in theory would take at least two days. However, the team pulled it off despite Kariyawasam herself suffering from fever and menstrual aches. She is ever so grateful to the entire team for coming together with such persistence to complete the project – all pro bono except for the sound which she had to hire. “It was pure passion,” she said. “A complete blessing!” Nevertheless, everyone had her back and came together to spread this important message to Sri Lankan eyes and ears.
Kariyawasam spoke about how important it is to educate people about the fact that women too need pleasure and satisfaction in sexual intercourse. “Sex has always been the talk of men, and masturbation and orgasms are rarely spoken about when it comes to women,” she said.
“We don’t realise how important it is to educate men and especially women about sex when it comes to women. Whatever said and done, it is different when it comes to most women. For most men, it’s mostly carnal pleasure, but for women, it’s connected to the brain. While some women do just have sex for fun, in most cases we require something more and most men don’t know how to give that. The mind of a woman is certainly difficult to understand and education along that path is very necessary.”
Hence, the movie follows these challenges that most women in Sri Lanka face and it hopes to inspire women to not be ashamed to seek sexual pleasure in line with the requirements of their body. While Kariyawasam recalls having a great deal of hope when it came to putting the film together, she hopes her message will be spread once the movie airs. It will certainly be accessible to the public once the film festival takes place following the end of the pandemic.