Talented child star Sarala will come to US in April

By Walter Jayawardhana


Water-seema-biswas-with-Sarala-in-Toront“Sarala, the bubbly and mischievous child widow Chuliya in Deepa Mehta’s Water” will be in the United States when the classic Canadian Indian film that was filmed in Sri Lanka is entering the Houston International film festival in April, the Hindustan Times reported.

Indo-Canadian writer-director Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’, a highly acclaimed story about the plight of Hindu widows in 1930s, failed to win the best foreign film Oscar losing out to Germany’s ‘The Lives of Others’.

The 11-year-old Sri Lankan child star’s father, Sarath Kariyawasam told the Colombo correspondent of Hindustan Times that his daughter will be going to the Houston festival somehow. He is also sure the film that made her daughter very famous would bag an award this time though it failed at the Oscars.

“Sarala will be there,” he told Hindustan Times emphatically, when asked if she and her family were disappointed that they could not attend the Oscar.

The family did not go because director Deepa Mehta could not wangle an invitation for her, he said.
” Deepa loves Sarala. She calls her every month and sends books and posters,” he said.

Salara, now 11, and in Grade 7 in a Sinhala medium school in the southern Sri Lankan town of Galle, was only 8 when she donned the white sari of an Indian widow and shaved the hair on her head for Water in 2004, the Hindustan Times said.

“Her mother, homemaker Bhawani, was initially against her acting in the film or any film for that matter. But she relented when Sarala showed a child-like enthusiasm.

Father Sarath, who works in an American oil company in Saudi Arabia, also fell in line. Bhawani said she was unhappy when Deepa told her that widows in India shaved their heads and that her daughter had to go in for a tonsure. But she gave in, again because of Sarala’s enthusiasm to be in the film. “I told Sarala she can’t do that. But she replied: It’s my hair!” Bhawani told HumanityAshore.com in a recent interview. And that was how the impish Sarala came to do the role in this classic in celluloid. The film bug has clearly bitten Sarala. She wants to be a doctor, but while acting in films,” The Hindustan Times report further said.

The industry newspaper The Hollywood Reporter mentioning about the film’s lush scenic beauty wrote: “The film itself was shut down by Hindu fanatics, who in 2000 rioted and destroyed sets in Benares. Production resumed several years later in Sri Lanka. Re-creating her story in that lush setting, Mehta and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens light and create images of startling beauty. Indeed the calm magnificence and spirituality of the landscape make a violent contrast to the oppression these widows in white saris suffer and the complacency of a society soon to be torn apart first by Gandhi and then by Partition.” The Hindu extremist group Parivar Sangh rioted against the film that delayed it about five years when Mehta filmed the story using sets built at the edge of Bolgoda Lake. That’s how Sarala had an oppportunity to become the child star of the movie.

Ron Ahluwalia writing in Planet Bollywood website said: “Sarala is the best part of Water. She´s cute, energetic and the perfect choice for the role. In real life, Sarala cannot speak a word of Hindi. Her work in Water is the complete memorization of lines and their phonetic regurgitation. This makes her performance even more profound. What an amazing actress!”

Award winning co-actress of Water, Seema Biswas told Calcutta’s Telegraph on Sarala: “Oh, Sarala is a very talented girl! She is a born artiste. She learnt Hindi and English in just a few weeks. She used to behave like a star on the sets (laughs). I am sure she will grow up to be a professional actress. Water was a wonderful experience for her and everyone on the sets with her.”


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Posted on March 1, 2007, in Sri Lanka and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. sarala nangi oba avankai nirmalai

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  2. Hi..I simply loved Sarala’s acting …She is sooo natural..Wish i could meet her some day..I watch atleast 1 scene from Water everyday just to see her smile!!


  3. Speaking to this correspondent after presenting the Best Child Actor award to Sri Lanka’s child star Sarala (11), Maureen Dragone , the President of Hollywood’s Young Artist Foundation said her organization was thrilled by Sarala’s outstanding performance in the film and she could be easily named the world’s best.

    After the show Sarala and her parents, father H. Sarath and mother, Bhavani Kariyawasam sat down for an interview with this correspondent. The following were the questions asked and answers given by the three:

    Question: We know the making of the “Water” in Sri Lanka happened after the Hindu fundamentalists set fire to the sets of the film at Varanasi in India. Deepa Mehtha’s journey to Sri Lanka to restart the film at a set erected on the banks of Bolgoda Lake therefore was somewhat accidental. So, finding out you as a child actress also could be called somewhat accidental. Can you please tell me how that happened?

    Sarala: Luckily for me, Chandran Rutnam uncle and Asoka Silva uncle at Film locations Company had some clips of me taken from Small TV programs in which I acted, like Punchi Panchi. I was also in the media unit of my school and some of my dancing and oratorical abilities were known. Aunty Deepa Mehtha first came to our school and came home with the principal of the school to see whether I am good for the film.

    Question: So, what you say is you have done some acting before and Deepa Mehtha wanted to test you whether you could do the character of Chuiya in the film?

    Sarala: Yes . She wanted to test me.

    Question: So, what kind of test she gave you?

    Sarala: She wanted me to cry pretending that my mother was leaving and I cried?

    Question: So, then what happened ?

    Sarala: I was immediately hired. I passed the test.

    Question: So your mother gave you permission to act in the film?

    Sarala: No. When Deepa aunty told her that it was a character of a child widow and I will have to shave my head my mother was horrified and said she was very sorry and I could not take part in the film.

    Question: So, how did you finally convince her.

    Sarala: I started pleading with her and said the hair will grow back but that alone did not convince her.

    Question: Bhavani, how did you finally change your mind to let her act in the film?

    Bhavani: The principal of her school, Sanghamitta College , Galle Mrs. Dharmalatha Dharmawardena told me that that “Water” is once in a lifetime opportunity for a talented girl like Sarala and if she missed it she might not get a similar opportunity ever. If that happened, she said, the little girl might even blame me when she grows up. So, I called my husband who was working in Saudi Arabia and talked to him. Finally Sarala was able to convince the father too. Then I agreed.

    Question: We hear that you were also worried about her education breaking up. Weren’t you worried about that?

    Bhavani: Yes. But Deepa Mehtha said she would give some lessons by a private tutor during the breaks of the filming.

    Question: Did you study in the set?

    Sarala : Yes . I not only studied -I sat for the Fifth grade scholarship examination and passed. Then I was in the fourth grade.

    Question: Now that you have passed the scholarship exam would you like to go and attend a bigger school in Colombo.

    Sarala: No. Sanghamitta College in Galle is the best school in the world. My Principal and teachers love me very much. I have many friends and they like me too. When I did well in the film all of them encouraged me to continue the good work. I will never leave my school.

    Question: What we have heard is now Sarala’s mother likes to watch the movie but still she walks out when one scene comes up. I s that true?

    Bhavani: Yes. I still cannot see my girl’s head being shaven.

    Question: An American critic of the film has said thus on Sarala: “ Sarala is the best part of “Water.” She’s cute, energetic, and perfect choice for the role. In real life Sarala cannot speak a word of Hindi. Her work in Water is the complete memorization of lines and their phonetic regurgitation. This makes her performance even more profound. What an amazing actress!” Aren’t you glad that your earlier decision of not allowing her to act in the film was changed?

    Bhavani: Yes I am glad. When I saw the script and the dialogues I never thought she could live up to the expectations. Deepa gave her one full month to by-heart the dialogues. But after one week Sarala said she was ready. I was amazed. After two weeks the work started instead of one month.

    Question: Sarala , how did you do that?

    Sarala: First of all- the Hindi dialogues were written in Sinhala script and that made it easy to memorize. The two languages are so similar. During breaks John (Abrahams) uncle and Liza (Ray) aunty taught me Hindi. When you know the meaning it became easy to memorize. I taught them Sinhalese. And when I went to Toronto Film festival Liza aunty asked me ‘Aren’t you clad in a white saree’ in Sinhala with a Canadian accent. She is Canadian.

    Question: What is the scene you enjoyed most in the film?

    Sarala: I enjoyed the scene when I was dancing on the back of the fat matron.

    Question: Is it true that Sarala has got another invitation to act in another film?

    Sarath: Nothing could be said about it since there is no final decision yet. But she will go for any acting if her education is not disturbed. And it should be somebody like Deepa Mehtha who would look after our girl with love and protect her.
    Question: Sarala’s mother is very concerned about bringing up her daughter with high morals and Sri Lankan culture. What have you told her to do in the face of the immense publicity she is getting now?

    Bhavani: The more publicity she gets she will have to be more humble. I am always insisting on that. There is a saying in Sinhala that when a tree gets more fruits the branches bend down. She will have to be like that. She will have to think that she is a Sinhala lady and behave accordingly. That’s what I always tell her.

    Question: Sarala , what do you want to become in life?

    Sarala: I want to become an actress. Sometimes, I also want to become a doctor.

    Question : I wish you could become an acting doctor. What are you expecting out of your daughter?

    Bhavani: Fame could fade away one day. But education cannot be faded away. That’s what our culture has taught us. So, first of all I want her to be educated very well. I am confident she will go in the correct way. Even when she was smaller, when she came back perspiring, having taken part in dance practice for school contests, she sat down, completed her studies even when teachers said she could do it later. I am very confident this girl will go in the correct way. That’s the great consolation I have. I think acting is a gift she got from earlier lives in her samsara. I no longer worry about it. She will do anything for acting. If she has to shave her head once again I am sure she will do it. She is not worried. She firmly believes the hair will grow back. But like her name Sarala (simple) I want her to be simple.

    Question: Do you have to say anything else?

    Sarala: Yes, I want to thank all my teachers at Galle, my parents, sister and brother for loving me so much, my friends and relatives who kept on giving me courage, Aunty Deepa Mehtha for looking after me like my own mother during the shooting, Hollywood’s Young Artist Foundation for giving me the award, the Sri Lankan Consul General Jaliya Wickramasuriya for arranging my trip here and Sri Lankan air line for flying us free here.


  4. Sarala wins Hollywood award

    Hollywood’s Young Artist Foundation has presented the award for the Best Child Actor of the World in an international feature film to Sri Lankan child artiste Sarala Kariyawasam, who performed a highly acclaimed role of a child widow in the award winning controversial movie , “Water.”

    “Sarala performed an absolutely outstanding role in a brilliant film that should have been given more recognition by Hollywood,” said Maureen Dragone, President of the Foundation, which is holding its 28th consecutive year of awards recognizing and honoring talented young child artistes all over the world.

    “The young actress will be definitely better known in the future,” Dragone said.

    The jury of the foundation said, Sarala had been named, the “Leading Young Actor or Actress for the Best Performance in an International Feature Film”, for the current year.

    This is the highest award any Sri Lankan child has ever won in any performing arts in the history of Sri Lanka. Sarala’s parents will accompany their talented daughter to Hollywood to accept the award from President Dragone.

    The Young Artist Foundation , which is awarding the title has been helped in its selection by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which is also holding the better known Golden Globe Awards for adult actors and other performing artistes.

    In February, Canadian citizen but India-born writer-director Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ failed to win the best foreign film at the Oscars losing out to Germany’s ‘The Lives of Others’. That was the first time a Hindi language film had ever been nominated for an Oscar.


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