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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan cartoonist sends Catholic message in movie

Camillus Perera uses his illustrations to spread religious, political messages; feature-length movie 'Gajaman' due in March

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

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Sri Lankan cartoonist sends Catholic message in movie

Catholic cartoonist Camillus Perera has attracted legions of fans in Sri Lanka with his drawings. He has created over 20 characters, mostly drawn from his imagination. (ucanews.com photo)

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Camillus Perera's father was so impressed with his son's sketches and cartoons in his younger years that he told him, "one day you will capture the attention of the world."

The comment proved prophetic.

Now Perera, a devout Catholic, is one of the most famous cartoonists in Sri Lanka — a country in chaos as it reels from a constitutional crisis inspired by a power play by its president, Maithripala Sirisena, and two competing prime ministers.

The artist, whose pictures are often inflected with political messages, now ranks among the top four cartoonists in the country, joining the elite ranks of compatriots Aubrey Collette, Wijesoma and S.C. Opatha.

He lives in Negombo, near Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, and has spent more than half a century perfecting his art.

His vocation began when he was a young schoolboy, as he liked to draw cartoons and caricatures of his friends and teachers.

Even though his principal disapproved when he first saw Perera's caricature of him — sitting by a table with a bottle of liquor on it — the older man was wise enough to recognize the boy's talent, and encouraged him to keep developing his skills. 

Perera's cartoons often refer to issues related to the church and the political situation in Sri Lanka. (Photo by ucanews.com)


Gajaman comes to life

Now the 79-year-old grandfather runs a printing business in Colombo and is preparing for the release of Sri Lanka's first computer-animation picture, which has been in the works for the last eight years. It is due out in March and will feature Gajaman — the character that propelled him to fame.

With this, Perera will realize another of his long-cherished dreams by seeing one of his creations spring to life on the silver screen. 

He said the action-packed nature of his Gajaman stories made the character ripe for a full-length movie. 

The script was written by Suneth Perera and required the use of 28 voices. It was produced by Studio 101 and revolves around social issues with a political twist. Perera said he picked this production team because "they are very talented and I like their work."

See a trailer for the movie below.


Game-changing times

He recalls how, growing up in a busy household during World War II as the eldest of five children, he used to enjoy watching war movies in both English and Tamil. To this day, he remains an avid movie buff.

Perera was born and raised in Negombo, where he lived opposite St. Mary's Church. A self-taught cartoonist, he had the rare opportunity of entering the Haywood College of Fine Arts but was discouraged due to concern at the time that painters were using nude models.

Later in life he traveled to many art galleries around the world including the Louvre in Paris and others in the U.S and U.K to form a better understanding of the art form. He also took a government job to pay the bills but kept pursuing his hobby by drawing cartoons for newspapers. 

He said all of his 20-plus characters sprang from his imagination save one, who was based on a curious-looking man he saw when he was taking a train home from work one day.

He later developed this into the popular character Goddin Ayya. However it was Gajaman who probably had the strongest impact on people's lives, he said.

Yet his career would not proceed without a few bumps in the road.

Perera took much flak during the administration of Sri Lanka's first female prime minister, Sirima Bandaranaike, at a time when the country was languishing in the doldrums.

He had drawn a controversial cartoon during the Sinhala New Year, when the country celebrates the new harvest. It depicted a prince who had descended from heaven but had neglected to bring a garden hoe — symbol of a bounteous harvest and a prosperous year ahead.

In the illustration, several farmers are pictured looking on in a distressed and forlorn state. This was interpreted as a political commentary on the situation in Sri Lanka, as many farmers had endured long periods of hardship and there was a dearth of garden hoes in the market. Bandaranaike was not impressed.

His cartoons were also impacted by infighting between editors of two local papers that both covered the film industry and were not happy he was working for their chief rival.

Yet his career survived this rivalry and with his first major character, Thepanis, he began raising important social and political issues. Thepanis served as another inspiration for Gajaman. 

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