Jackson Anthony is an indispensable figure in the cultural history of Sri Lanka, with a profound impact spanning decades.
My earliest memory of him dates back to the 90s when he was a dynamic and versatile performer.
He embodied a true amalgamation of talent, excelling in singing, dancing, acting, writing, and directing, effortlessly transitioning from stage to screen.
In the annals of art history, artists often choose between working within or against the established system.
This duality is inherent to art itself. Given the limited resources and opportunities for artists in a small island nation like Sri Lanka, many naturally align with the system.
Jackson Anthony, through his exceptional storytelling prowess, harnessed this constraint to create a narrative that left a lasting mark on the nation's social and cultural fabric, albeit not always positive. In his later years, he seemingly recognized the potentially toxic cultural impact he had inadvertently caused.
But let's not see this solely in a negative light. Instead, let's recognize the power of storytelling, a force that can shape societies. Jackson harnessed this power effectively.
Within the context of his career's timeline, Jackson Antony brought a fresh wave to Sri Lankan arts, particularly in theater and cinema.
He demonstrated a profound understanding of both mediums, displaying a rich artistic toolkit to convey his narratives. His ability to balance tradition and new media was remarkable.
One cannot ignore the tremendous impact he had on the Sri Lankan film industry, particularly with "Abà," a film that set a trend still influential today. This film cast a deep shadow over the industry, one that is yet to be surpassed.
It's unlikely that anyone can truly fill the cultural void left by Jackson Anthony in Sri Lankan history. We should, however, closely follow the careers of his children.
While it's unreasonable to expect them to replicate his brilliance, I hope they find their unique voices without being burdened by the expectations of being the heirs of a South Asian artistic tradition of father to son.
Jackson's influence on generational storytellers, especially within his family, is undeniable and presents a real challenge for them in the coming decade.
My deepest condolences go out to his close family. I trust they will take the time to mourn and heal while also inheriting their father's professionalism and strong work ethic.
In conclusion, there are two fundamental lessons to draw from Jackson Anthony's career:
- Don't do some stuff he did
- Learn from his work ethic and do it better.
Jackson Anthony the entertainer... May the god take liking to your soul.
*The writer is a creative director and an independent filmmaker.