Author Ajith Galappaththi, who penned a biography on Tissa Abeysekara, encounters a storm in the form of cuts made to the galleys by the film icon’s wife Asanka Abeysekara
Tissa Abeysekara’s biography ‘Tissa…Tissa’ was not launched as scheduled during Tissa Abeysekara’s felicitation ceremony. It was pulled off the press by Tissa Abeysekara’s wife Asanka Abeysekara. Dr. Tissa Abeysekara was a director, actor, script writer, critic, essayist and academic. Coming from the bilingual generation, Abeysekara began his artistic career as a Sinhala short story writer, when he was still a teenager. But he is better known to the English conversant public for his Gratiaen-winning novel, Bringing Tony Home.
The agreement for the biography was signed between Telenisa (Telemakers Guild) and Ajith Galappaththi on December 13, 2012. “She saw the proposal, she approved it. She had no right to take it off the press, after over one year’s work,” said Ajith Galappaththi. According to him she has threatened the publisher, Fast Publishers; with a law suit would they go ahead with the printing without excluding certain chapters she marked in the galleys.
The biography in question contains four parts: His personal life, creative life, scholarly and ideological life and professional life. “Asanka did away with 55 pages in eight chapters,” said Galappaththi. According to him whole chunks of information pertaining to his two previous marriages and their children have been scrapped from the galleys.
“I’m not against omitting a few sentences here and there,” said Galappaththi. “But if we are to accommodate all the changes she proposed, it would no longer be a biography. I cannot whitewash his character. My job is to write about the man that Tissa was.” Galappaththi explained that he has great respect for Tissa Abeysekara and he went about his writing with self restraint. “I would never do anything to damage his character.”
He said that he had to study all the scripts Tissa Abeysekara wrote, including those that were never screened or broadcast. Galappaththi revealed that 25 interviews of family members, children, colleagues and academics went into the writing of the book. “And the fact that the felicitation ceremony invitation announced the launch of the biography and I as its author, failing to launch it on that day affects my credibility as a writer.”
According to Galappaththi Asanka’s basis for requiring the removal of certain chapters is that they contain information about Tissa Abeysekara’s previous marriages, which are damaging to his character. “In fact Asanka revealed many personal things about her marriage to Tissa in her interview with me. I have recorded proof of it.” Galappaththi said that he decided against using the information because they were defamatory.
“Although Telenisa requested me to go through the galleys, I was not given enough time,” said Asanka Abeysekara. “The problem is that Ajith Galappaththi does not know the difference between a biography and a coffee table book.” Asanka Abeysekara explained that she edited the galleys on Telenisa’s suggestion. “Telenisa explained to me that what they need is a sort of a study handbook on Tissa. Not some gossip book,” said Asanka Abeysekara. “So I suggested the omission of all personal material including information on Tissa’s marriage to me and our children.” “I never threatened to sue anyone,” said Asanka Abeysekara. She revealed that the publication date is set for May 2014.
Telenisa Chairman Suresh Abeysekara, Tissa Abeysekara’s cousin said that the relevant parties have reached no such consensus on the date of publication. “But we will publish it in the near future,” Suresh said. Suresh emphasized that the biography was never meant as a study handbook. “It is a coffee table book, but whether to strictly adhere to the conventional definition of the term ‘coffee table’ or not is Telenisa’s decision, not Asanka Abeysekara’s,” he affirmed. Suresh reiterated that the biography would contain information about his personal life, although some changes would be made.
“Tissa came from one of the affluent families of Colombo. But he also didn’t go to school for ten years because he was sickly. He did not have a birth certificate because his parents weren’t married at the time,” said Galappaththi who added, “But these were things that Tissa had admitted himself on several occasions.”
According to Galappaththi, Tissa Abeysekara has expressed a sense of duality through out his life and this is true regarding his personal life, while it is also reflected in his work. “Tissa Abeysekara is not what people think he was. He was at constant conflict with himself. It’s this duality that makes Tissa, Tissa,” said Galappaththi.