Unveiling absurdities of society through devised theatre | Sunday Observer
Aphrodite Mal Kollaya

Unveiling absurdities of society through devised theatre

14 May, 2023

“Aphrodite Mal Kollaya,” by Sachithra Rahubadda, which is the upcoming theatre production by Sachithra Rahubadda will be staged from May 19 to 21 at 7pm, at the Lionel Wendt theatre. Being a passionate theater practitioner, Sachithra Rahubadda in his latest theatrical encounter challenges the male-dominated socio-political landscape prevalent in South Asian countries, including Sri Lanka.

Through his provocative play, Sachithra Rahubadda brings together a cast of nine elderly women aged between 65 and 75. He delves into their extraordinary journey, which combines the fearlessness of a robbery with reflective social observation. Through collaborative efforts and the incorporation of diverse perspectives, the play aims to shed light on the complexities of societal absurdities.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Sachithra Rahubadda, the playwright and director of ‘Aphrodite Mal Kollaya’, fervently shares the origin and purpose of his latest theatrical venture.

Emergence of ‘Aphrodite Mal Kollaya’

As Sachithra explains, the emergence of ‘Aphrodite Mal Kollaya’ can be attributed to the significant social, political, and economic changes and their subsequent effects in Sri Lanka and around the world since 2019. Over the past three years, Sri Lanka has witnessed various social, political, and economic pressures that have been challenging for the general population. Similar experiences in other countries have demonstrated that people’s behaviour tends to become unconventional when confronted with such unprecedented situations.

“Human behaviour has a tendency to become absurd when the systems established to civilise society pose a threat to their well-being. A notable example is the current crisis faced by the democratic value systems that we, as humans, have created. The behaviour of our elected political representatives and the decisions they make under the guise of democratic rights are now jeopardising our very existence. This crisis in democratic governance is challenging the fundamental principles upon which our society was built,” Sachithra said.

Theatre for young audiences

Sachithra Rahubadda, with a focus on theatre for young audiences, has been involved in producing plays catered specifically to children since 2007. His contributions to the National Children’s Drama Festival have been recognised with prestigious awards for Best Production and Best Direction in the English drama category continuously for many years. Sachithra’s dedication to theatrical excellence extends beyond children’s plays, as he explores the potential of short dramas and their impact on engaging and connecting with young audiences.

“Although there is no specific age group classification for children’s plays in Sri Lanka, the global context presents a clearer distinction between children and youth. This realisation inspired me to venture into producing short plays as well, with the aim of further developing my professional skills. I found that the short drama genre provided an effective platform to engage and connect with young audiences, which motivated me to explore this format and expand my artistic expertise,” Sachithra said.

Expanding artistic expertise

Recognising the effectiveness of short dramas in captivating audiences, Sachithra received the Best Short Drama award in 2019 and 2022 at the State Youth Drama Festival. Inspired by this success, he organised the ‘Hitata Hetuna Missila’ short drama festival, showcasing his personally produced plays. The event garnered overwhelming response, with periodic shows continuing to captivate audiences.

As the founder and director of Red Apple Theatre Gathering, Sachithra spearheads an academy dedicated to advancing the theatre industry. Collaborating with about 40 countries, including Sri Lanka, the academy focuses on leveraging theatre as a powerful educational tool. Sachithra’s role involves conducting research and developing innovative approaches to maximise the impact of theatre in educational settings.

Socio-political backdrop

Sachithra highlights the socio-political factors that influenced the creation of Aphrodite Mal Kollaya. Like many countries worldwide, Sri Lanka has faced significant social, political, and economic challenges in recent years, which have led to unconventional behaviour and societal uncertainty. Sachithra sheds light on the crisis in democratic governance and the dismantling of established societal structures, prompting the theatre team to explore the complexities of this absurd socio-political situation through their play.

“A public struggle has emerged in response to the pressures, leading to the dismantling of what we had previously built as a society. The destruction, initiated by the people themselves, has left us in a state of uncertainty regarding the rightness or wrongness of these actions. Unprecedented events are unfolding around us, and it is within this socio-political backdrop that our theatre team embarked on the production of this play. Through the creation of this play, we sought to explore and comprehend the complexities of this absurd socio-political situation that surrounds us,” he said.

The nine women protest

With deliberate intent, the decision to cast nine women in Aphrodite Mal Kollaya becomes a powerful protest against prevailing male-dominated socio-political conditions. Sachithra emphasises the significance of this choice, aiming to gain a deeper understanding of the implications of a male-dominated structure through their collective portrayal of elderly women staging a protest against the deeply entrenched system. By amplifying the voices and experiences of these women, the play seeks to challenge societal norms and shed light on the underrepresentation of women in socio-political domains.

Empowering actresses as co-creators

As the writer of the play, Sachithra Rahubadda acknowledges the vital contribution of the actresses in shaping the narrative. Rather than presenting a finished script from the beginning, the play was developed collaboratively throughout the production process. The professional actresses, who identify as women, brought their perspectives and insights to the table, enriching the content and ensuring a multifaceted portrayal that transcended simplistic notions. This inclusive approach allowed for a dynamic and innovative creative process, pushing the boundaries of traditional theatre and fostering a sense of excitement and exploration.

“As the writer of this play, I am a man. When asked about the involvement of the actresses in the writing process, it is important to note that the play was developed and composed collaboratively with these actresses throughout the production. Rather than having a finished script from the beginning, we worked together to shape and refine the content of the play, allowing their input and perspectives to shape the narrative,” Sachithra said.

Metaphorical resonance

The play draws upon the metaphorical representation of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess associated with love, beauty, and desire, to convey its underlying themes. Sachithra explains that Aphrodite symbolises the essence of femininity, encapsulating the collective experiences of women. Through this metaphor, the play explores the stories of women whose dreams and hopes have been stifled by a society that fails to harness their potential. It serves as a powerful medium to shed light on the challenges faced by women in such circumstances and provoke introspection.

“In modern capitalist societies, women often grapple with unique frustrations arising from gender dynamics, societal expectations, and the demands of the capitalist system. We try to highlight the complex interplay of these factors, which can limit women’s opportunities, create power imbalances, and contribute to feelings of discontent and inequality. In this context Aphrodite Mal Kollaya serves as a reflection and critique of these systemic issues, inviting audiences to confront and question the prevailing societal structures,” Sachithra added.

By venturing into uncharted territory and pushing the boundaries of traditional theatre, Sachithra and his team strive to make a lasting impact. Aphrodite Mal Kollaya not only entertains but also provokes thought, encouraging conversations and actions that can bring about meaningful change in society.


‘Aphrodite Mal Kollaya’

Sachithra Rahubadda

Set within the confines of an elderly home, “Aphrodite Mal Kollaya” weaves a captivating tale around a remarkable group of nine women, aged between 65 and 75. Unfolding against the backdrop of an unexpected adventure, these spirited women embark on a daring escapade—a bank robbery of monumental proportions.

As they diligently prepare for their final rehearsal, their audacious plan to execute the largest heist in Sri Lanka’s history takes shape. However, a heated argument ensues, resulting in the abandonment of one of their own while the remaining eight valiantly carry out the daring theft. The aftermath of the heist unveils unforeseen complications and challenges, propelling the narrative towards an enthralling and suspenseful climax.

Cast: Chandani Seneviratne, Kaushalya Fernando, Nilmini Sigera, Samadhi Laksiri, Ama Wijesekara, Sujani Menaka, Uma Aseni, Thushi Samarasekara, Randi Kaluarachchi, directed by Sachithra Rahubadda and produced by Thilak Abesinghe.