Fitting Social critique
By Ranga Chandrarathne
Woven around a simple episode of a bank robbery, stage play Banku Weeraya (Bank Hero) offers a social critique with sharp insights into the contemporary milieu. On the one hand the robbers' aspirations reflect, more or less, the aspirations of the burgeoning Sinhalese-educated middle class with incessant hopes to improve their lot.
In the ensuing dialogues at the bank between the bank robber and the bank's staff, what is obvious is that they (staffers) are also caught up in the daily struggle of earning their bread although they are not as deprived of as the bank robbers. The protagonist of the play seems to be the money and the socio-economic system which often shape and redefine, perhaps, the most intimate relationships, depending on the opportunities and the life chances one may get with readily access to the cash. This is manifested prominently when the young bank employee Nirupanee changes her allegiance and almost instantly befriended with the Bank robber and quickly developed a liaison with him.
With sharp insights into diverse strata of the society, playwright Kapila Kumara Kalinga surveys the mindset of each and every strata of the society craftily through the long dialogues among the employees of the bank and also hints out the hierarchical relationship and the type of administration (old-fashioned Top-down approach) exists in the bank.
The play starts off with a scene in a bank on a Saturday. The bank is in a provincial town and two would-be bank robbers step into the bank posing off as representatives of Z-Advertising and principal bank robber Kalansuriya with his friend Danapala quickly take the control of the bank. The ensuing conversations the bank robber with the each and every employee on duty reveals diverse facets of the society.
However, the common thread that all of them would bind together is money which plays a pivotal role in their lives. For instance, the security guard when confronted by Kalang would reveal his woes; he is a person, obviously with a meager income and is the breadwinner of a family of three children; two daughters and a son. The eldest daughter had obtained higher marks at the competitive year five Scholarship examination and he wants to find a good national school for his daughter. The other workers have different wants and needs; one wants to attend the sports meet with her daughter while another wants to meet her lover.
The manager (Mr.Maldeniya) like a typical manager of a bank offers rather a diplomatic answer to the robbers. He urges the robbers to visit the bank on Monday and then, he would give them even a million rupees. However, Kalang the principal robber summarily sits on Manager's seat. What is important here is the ensuing aside in which the robber reveals his past and how he was toying with the idea of becoming a bank clerk and how ironically he has now become a manager of a bank even for a short time. In the same vain, he criticizes some of the appointments to the bank made, abusing contacts and nepotism rampant in the society. The principle of meritocracy has gone to the god and misfits have been appointed to the higher positions in almost every institution in the country.
Through some noteworthy monologues and asides, the dramatist has able to bring to light some of the blights that have engulfed the society. The Bank manager pretends that he has been appointed on the basis of merits. Although the other employee's reaction suggest that the manager was lying, robber appreciates his apparent honesty of revealing his humble beginning and giving a place for him (the robber) in manager's life story. The robber reveals that there are persons who also invent their life-stories. In fact, there were several prominent personalities in diverse fields such as arts and politics who have readily invented their life-stories and on certain instances, enjoying the privilege of having several passports by different names and using several national identity cards.
The play is full of double-aged statements which are critical of the milieu and the society's lethargic attitudes towards institutionalized corruption, wrongdoing and mal practices. For instance, in a response to the accusation of comparing the would-be bank robber to shylock of the Merchant of Venice, Kalang comes out with a statement; "There are shylocks in everywhere in this society. But, the only difference is that instead of pound of flesh, they demand commissions, bribes, vehicles and foreign trips...this is a backboneless society which salutes such persons."
One of the interesting characters in the Bank is the trade unionist who apparently started to like the would-be bank robber. The trade unionist comes out with his own worldview that individual workers cannot win their demands. His interpretation of the history of humanity (Marxist's view) offers another perspective of the society from the old leftist points of view.
Gunaratne says; "The narrative of history is full of robbers; some were got caught and were killed while others were imprisoned. But, there were others who became kings and heroes. According to our study circle, robbery is human's history, present and future. What have not been robbed....countries, wealth, lives, ships, plains, fauna and flora, elections...."
This prompted would be-bank robbers to make a confession on an important part of his personal history; "Let us think about me. I have come here to do an unjust act. After this, media-men (journalists) would call me bank robber, prefixing an endearment that mother used to call me in my childhood and with a new one. They would front-page my picture with that name. But I don't have a rough's conscious. I have watched an English movie with the title 'Poverty is not a crime'."
Apparently the purpose of the bank robbery is to find money to do a kidney transplant surgery on the father of Kalang's friend and Kalang wants eight hundred thousand rupees. Gunaratne also reveals the fact most of the bank workers also got caught in the debt trap and are , in fact, dignified beggars, a remark some of the co-workers would reluctant to acknowledge. Interestingly it is an inference to the country's middleclass and even the so called upper middle class (make up of professionals and middle level administrators), who also, in most of the instances, using their monthly salary to play premiums numerous loans obtained and lead dignified beggar's lives.
The play ends with dramatic events when the police encircled the bank and came to a settlement with would be bank robber. The police would agree to provide safe passage for the would-be bank robber to migrate to Switzerland on the promise that he would not kill or harm the bank workers.
Kalang ( would be bank robber) comes out with another statement, this time , to the media and he wanted to migrate to Italy to find a job and he could not find 15 hundred thousand rupees and now he would be going to Switzerland free of charge. When a journalist asked whether he had no other means to earn that money other than doing a bank robbery, perhaps, asking a philanthropist for the money, Kalang said that he so far, had not met such a philanthropist. Responding to questions from the press, Kalang said that he would love his country but the country does not love him: "Not only me there are others who are leaving the country. There will be a day when the last man would leave Sri Lanka. Then, this country would be a deserted island and then, the new people would come in and start Sri Lanka again."
The drama of the bank robbery ends up with police arresting the would-be robbers. The dramatist has skillful used the last couple of scenes to portray the complex states of minds of the characters and it is not clear whether the action has been taking place in a dram landscape or in reality. However, it was a very effective way in which to deal with complex themes in a satirical piece of drama which is in essence is a social satire and critique. Almost all the actors have played their allotted roles in a convincing manner, contributing their share for the success of the drama.
The cast includes Dharmapriya Dias (kalang) , Jayalath Manorathna , Janaka kumbukage ,Ajith Lokuge, Prasad suriyarachchi, Wasantha wittachchi , Ganga Jeewani , Nimal yatiwella and Sanjeewa Dissanayake .
Music for the play is by Nawarathna gamage while lighting is by Ranga Samarakoon. Technical crew includes wasantha Wittachchi (Make-up), Chandana Peiris (Stage manager). The play is produced by Priyankara De Silva.
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