From Peradeniya days

Saturday, 21 February 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Remembering Dr. Siri Gunasinghe as a smart young lecturer in the early days of the Peradeniya campus made me wonder whether he is really 90 years old. (His 90th birthday was on 18 February). As raw undergrads we naturally got closer to the young lecturers who were approachable and friendly. Sporting a short-sleeved white bush shirt enjoying a cigarette once in a way, we never missed his enchanting smile just as much as the occasional lift in his Volkswagen. When I last saw him at the launch of his book, ‘Miringuwa Alleema’ around 2003 or so in Colombo, he had not changed much. As I got him to autograph the book, we had a friendly chat and parted. He spent his time in Canada with the family. Three days ago, listening to Hemamali’s lilting voice over the ‘Colombo Telegraph’ website, paying tribute to her husband on his 90th birthday, my mind went back to the days of ‘Maname’ when we enjoyed her acting and singing in the role of the queen which she played alternately with Trillicia. Siri himself was very much on the scene, having designed the stage setting and costumes for the epoch-making ‘opera in traditional style’. A big ‘thank you’ to the ‘Colombo Telegraph’ website for getting several eminent scholars to contribute on different aspects of Siri G’s intellectual pursuits to mark the landmark birthday. I had moved out of Peradeniya by the time ‘Maname’ was produced. I had joined the ‘Dinamina’ and was in and out of Lionel Wendt during the first few performances of the ‘nadagama’ which took the Colombo audiences by surprise, meeting campus friends and staff members including Siri, whose friendly nature made us feel so homely. We met on visits to the campus in later years. It was really during the making of ‘Sath Samudura’ – Siri’s maiden effort in films – that we often met. I was then with the ‘Observer’ and was actively involved in promoting Sinhala dramas, films and books among the English-speaking+reading public, in keeping with Editor Denzil Peiris’ policy in boosting the local arts. ‘Sath Samudura’ brought together a fine team who wanted to give the audiences a quality, compelling film which could be enjoyed by all. And they did. The film won critical acclaim and won nine awards at the 1968 Sarasaviya Film Awards – the only awards ceremony held then. In addition to being the Best Film of the Year, Siri was adjudged Best Director, D.B. Nihalsingha in his first effort as Cameraman/Editor doing a feature film was Best Editor (everyone wondered how he missed the award for photography),and medical professional Dr. Linus Dissanayake was Best Producer. It carried the key awards in music – Somadasa Elviigala (at the time he was not a regular name in the film music scene) won the award for Best Music Direction while Mahagama Sekara’s ‘Sindu Sudu Muthu Talawe’ won the award for Best Lyrics and Pandith Amaradeva was Best Male Playback Singer for the beautiful rending of the same song. (The song is still so fresh when listened to on YouTube). The cast was a mixed lot from the stage and screen. Denawake Hamine, playing an unforgettable role as the anxious mother waiting impatiently when the two sons (Edmund Wijesinghe and Cyril Wickremage) went out to sea, was adjudged Best Character Actress. Edmund W, whom Siri picked due to his fine performance as the Veddah King in ‘Maname,’ grabbed the award for Best Character Actor. ‘Sath Samudura’ was among the best 10 films of the first 50 years of Sri Lankan cinema. I treasure Siri’s much talked-about early books ‘Mas Le Nethi Eta’ and ‘Hevanella’ and the latest novel, ‘Miringuva Alleema’ and his ‘Album of Buddhist Paintings from Sri Lanka-Kandy Period’ (1978) – one of the two English books he wrote. (The other is ‘Masks of Ceylon’). Pleasant memories never fade away. We prefer to be reminded of them even once in a way. Dr. Siri, ‘Chirang Jayatu’!