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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Latha Walpola – Nightingale of Sri Lanka

By T.K.Premadasa

Latha Walpola – celebrates 60th Anniversary of her reign in singing overwhelmingly rising to the highest echelons as the incontrovertible Nightingale of Sri Lanka.

Latha Walpola – Nightingale of Sri Lanka

Latha, born and bred in Galkissa emerged her inborn talents of singing as a leading singer in a Church Choir. Known by her childhood name as Rita Jenevi Fernando she was introduced to then Radio Ceylon (Now-Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) at the age of 13 years with her mother’s permission by her family friend C.A.Fonseka, a popular Radio dramatist at the time. She started her career in playing different characters in C.A,Fonseka’s radio dramas very popular from late 50s to mid 60s. He was the father of Radio artist C.D.Fonseka.

In 1947 she made her debut in singing “Kandulu Denethe Vehena”, song composed by Vincent de Alwis, the versatile violinist at Radio Ceylon and sang duets with him in his Sarala Gee Programs conducted by Radio Ceylon. Observing her congenital talents and skills Vincent de Alwis introduced her to Susil Premaratne and C.T.Fernando. “Namo Mariyanee” recorded by her in 1948 with her melodious voice became a household favorite in Sri Lanka showered upon with outstanding success. “Seethala Duruthu Mahe”, “Mihiri Suwanda Vihiduwa” “Nunwa Jaya Handa Pem”, “Soka Nege Den”, “Oba Prema Raja Mage” and many other songs recorded in 1948, 1949 and 1950 became highly popular together with Carroll songs composed by Fr Mercelyn Jayakody.

She was fortunate to have recorded a few songs like “Sukomala Banda Lelawa”, “Dunhinda Helena” and “Diyaluma Helena” originally sung by Chitra Somapala. By 1950 she became a shining spectacle invading the living rooms of each and every household in Sri Lanka by her beaming golden voice. Mohamed Ghouse, P.L.A.Somapala and B.S.Perera the famous musicians at the time brilliantly utilized her harmonious voice of high-pitched tone into their musical creations.

It is hard to reminiscence the exact number of songs that she has recorded so far. The proximate number of songs she is credited with could be penned 6000 as known at the 50th Anniversary of Celebrations in 1997. Basically it is presumed that the total number of songs would be 6500 by now.

In recognition of her miraculous voice par with the award winning Latha Mangeshkar, Queen of Music in India, deep voice playback singer Susil Premaratne named this future Nightingale of Sri Lanka as one and only Latha of the island of Sri Lanka.

Latha made her debut in playback singing for film “Eda Rae” in 1952 albeit it was screened in 1953. This sparkling artist recorded songs for three films during the same year as an amateur. Latha and Dharmadasa Walpola began their career as the most successful playback singers by singing in “Prema Tharangaya” for the first time. It is historically significant that it was Music Director Muttusami’s first film too. The melodious songs such as “Honda hondama veya lowa kisima thenaka nehe”, “Pera kala pawa paladee pape gewawi” have remained etched in our memories for decades. Embraced with abundance of affection and attachment, this singing duo got married and Latha became known as Latha Walpola. By 1958 Latha & Dharmadasa were the only two leading playback singers in Sri Lanka film industry. Amazingly Latha had contributed to a record number of 22 films after five years of her debut in film industry that is by 1958 while versatile actress-singer Rukmani Devi had made it for only 10 films. During the last 54 years Latha has made a reputation of recording for nearly 580 films some of which are yet to be screened. Film.

It was a great honor to those Radio artists Susil Premaratne, C.T.Fernando, C.D.Fonseka, Edward Perera, B.P.Wickremasinghe, Clarence Wijewardana, Haroon Lanthra, Dharmadasa Walpola, Mohideen Baig, W.D.Amaradeva, Milton Perera, H.R.Jothipala, Victor Ratnayake, T.M.Jayaratne, Milton Mallawarachchi, Sanath Nandasiri, M.S.Fernando, Rukhantha Gunatilleke, Gratien Ananda, Samantha Perera, G.S.B.Rani Perera, Indrani Wijebandara and Sujatha Attanayake to have absorbed into singing with this acclaimed artist during the last six decades.

Music Directors Mohamed Ghouse, R.Mutthusami, B.S.Perera, Sunil Shantha, R.A.Chandrasena, W.D.Amaradeva, P.L.A.Somapala, Premasiri Khemadasa, Sarath Dassanayake, Stanley Pieris, Rohana Weerasinghe and Samantha Perera thrilled with admiration of her musical brilliancy have stimulated her contribution of professional singing to their innovative creation of music.

The island recognized lyric writers Ananda Samarakoon (Composer of the National Anthem), Arisen Ahubudu, Karunaratne Abeysekera, Chitrananda Abeysekera, Hugo Fernando, D.T.Fernando, Ananda Sarath Wimalaweera, Fr. Mercelyn Jayakody, Herbert M. Seneviratne, Madawala S.Ratnayake, Chandraratne Manawasinghe, Sunil Ariyaratne, Sunil Sarath Perera, Mahagama Sekera, Ajantha Ranasinghe and Premakeerthi de Alwis shared their intellectual compositions soaked with scintillating lyrics of touching moments in life to this great unassuming singing persona who has conquered the seven seas with an immense reservoir of singing aptitude

She holds the record for being the only artist to have sung with South Indian musicians like Dakshinamurthi in film ‘Duppathage Duka” and “Suraya”, Sathyamurthi, T.R.Papa, Jamuna Rani, K.Rani, Saraswathi and Sri Lankan film stars Herby Seneviratne, Dommie Jayawardana, Vijaya Kumaratunga and Ravindra Randeniya.

Latha the only Sri Lankan artist who was fortune to playback singing under the direction of famous Indian Musicians such as Darshana Murthi, S.S.Weda,T.R.Papa, R. Sundaranam , Raja Thangendra, Gowradanam, and Jayadev.

Latha Walpola has made an exemplary contribution to enrich Sinhala music with her unique style of singing in a lilting and mellifluous voice that has captivated the hearts of young and old equally at home and abroad with lasting memories. “Mathalang” and “Ahankara Sthree” were two films of gorgeous music orchestrated by Music Maestro R.Muttusami featuring the superior skills of Dharmadasa and Latha. “Jevithe vikareki”, “Lankaren malak pipee” with Dharmadasa Walpola (Ahankara Sthree)”, “Pem mala gotha gele” with Dharmadasa, “Ranvan dul karalin pesila” (Mathalang)” and “Loke jeevath vannata dedeneku one wei” with Clarence Wijewardane (Janaka saha Manju) and hundreds of unforgettable lovely songs remain delineated on the lips of music fans living around the globe.

A special feature is that Latha has recorded play back singing for every actress in Sinhala cinema except Rukmani Devi, the Queen of Sinhala filmdom. She started playback singing for Sita Jayawardana in film “Eda Rae” to present day Chaturika Pieris and Anarkalee . In coincidence with her insurmountable musical career, she not only sang playback for actresses Rohini Jayakody and Girley Gunawardana in 50s and 60s but also enjoyed the rare opportunity of singing behind their two actress daughters Veena Jayakody and Sabita Perera in later years.

Since the inception of film industry in Sri Lanka it was she who recorded playback singing for every main actress in Sinhala films. Rukmani Devi sang only for her role by herself. Latha who is recognized to be with a screen voice was aptly offered playback singing for other actresses matching her voice with theirs.

As far back as 1960s it became largely a profitable business to dub Sinhala dialogue into Hindi and Tamil movies running popular in Sri Lanka. In most films the main actresses were Vyjanthimala, Nimmi, Shawithri, Nanda Chitra Krishna Kumari, Achala and Nadira. Latha Walpola was adjudged the best for her pre-eminent singing over original playback singers in India. Playback singing in films ‘Pathiwatha’, Ahinsaka Prayogya,Mage Putha , Angulimala, Sudu Nangi, Shimbo,Veera Putha , Veera Vicrama and ‘Anjalee’ is a clear testament to her masterly performance of fascinated singing.

In the initial stages of the emergence of film industry in Sri Lanka, filming was done mostly in South India since advance technology was not available in Sri Lanka. Propensity of the producers to hire popular South Indian playback singers was challenged by Latha Walpola singing 90% of songs with high degree of unparalleled passion of melody. Indians sang one or two songs for a lesser rate compared to Latha’s nearly 8 songs in each film.”Veera Vijaya”, “Suraya”.and Mathalan are the few example. The most significant contribution she made to the Sri Lanka film industry is that the way she challenged to Indian artists and broken down their monopoly.

Latha is recognized as the only female singer who has a combination of singing caliber of Classical songs, Chorus songs, Baila songs, Vannam and Western songs.

It is said that Latha with Fanto Fernando sang a Western song in the monthly musical program known by “Masika Renguma” music orchestrated by B.S.Perera and conducted by the then Radio Ceylon was vehemently criticized by the listeners for the mere reason it was of westernized culture.

She is not only the leading playback singer but also invariably the successful singer in Kalasuri Khemadasa’s famous gee nalu ‘Bari Sil’, ‘Kela Mal’ and ‘Nawarella’. Kalasuri Latha Walpola sang major songs in “Daskon” drama produced by Herberat M. Senaviratne and in “Kumara Kassapa” opera telecast by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. It has been noted that currently she has been singing the theme song in most of the television dramas.

In addition to her singing she has played a few mini roles in “Eda Rae”, “Prema Tharagaya” and “Radala Piliruwa” and shared her acting capability while singing ‘Ale Nam Kale Nambuwa Soya’ in film “Radala Piliruwa”.

The Buddhist Jathaka story of ‘Angulimala’ filmed in Hindi and later dubbed into Sinhala became a box office movie in Sri Lanka in which Latha dubbed her pristine voice for world popular Indian film star Nimmi.

She missed the golden opportunity of recordings with many high profile singers and frequent travel to India for recordings due her demand of highly expensive charges.

On account of her outstanding contribution to Sinhala music during the last sixty years, Latha’s name will glow writ large in letters of gold in the history of Sri Lankan music. It was just after six years from her entrance to Kala Lokaya that a certain popular newspaper conducted a gallop poll in 1953 to determine the Best Female Singer in Popularity at the time. Vasantha Sandanayake, Vivienne de Silva Boralessa and Latha Jenevi Fernando became the first, second and third respectively.

In the latter part of 1960, a polling contest was organized by the ‘Visithura’ cinema newspaper to determine the Best Popular singer of the era. Latha polling a record highest number of votes became the Best Popular Singer while W.D.Amaradeva, Mohideen Baig, Dharmadasa Walpola and H.R.Jothipala respectively won the second, third, fourth and fifth positions.

Latha the oleaginous four-time Sarasavi Award winner has won the Golden Conch Award in 1995, Golden Jubilee Presidential Award for Pioneers of Film Industry in 1997 and Appreciation Award of OCIC among a number of other accolades presented to her in recognition of her grandiose performance of indomitable competence in singing.

In her accomplishment as the greatest artist of all times, she won the Life Time Awards known as the Golden Swan Award presented by the Lake House of the Associated Newspapers in 1992, OCIC Golden award in 2006, U.W.Sumathipala Memorial Award by the Sumathipala Group and Swarnabhimani Golden Award by Swarnavahini.

In 1974 Deepasika Award was presented to her in appreciation of her achievement as the only female singer who remarkably contributed a maximum number of songs to the film industry in Sri Lanka.

As a tribute to her outstanding presentation of musical brilliancy, the Government of Sri Lanka has quite appropriately honored her with Kala Suri Award distinctively awarded to the rare and precious greatness of inestimable contribution made to Arts & Culture.

Latha, gifted with artistic aptitude albeit no education background in music, has surprised the versatile musicians with her adaptable high scale singing. She has developed her innate talents during the last 60 years of singing with primordial function of voice rising to the loftiest heights of her musical career. Sri Lanka lends a degree of credence to her glistening glory in music and owes a debt of gratitude for her admirable dedication to music in entertaining the people home and the Sri Lankan expatriates abroad. She is a National Treasure worthy of emulation. Latha Walpola is the indisputable Nightingale of Sri Lanka.

- Asian Tribune -

Monday, 5 April 2010

Mervin Perera

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Abeywardena Balasooriya and Milton Mallawaarachchi song


Singer Abeywardena Balasooriya passes away

Renowned Sri Lankan singer in the 70’s Abeywardena Balasooriya passed away at the Neuro Trauma Unit of National Hospital in Colombo.

His body remains at his residence at 37, Yahampath Mawatha, Maharagama.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

M. S. Fernando

M. S. Fernando (died April 9, 1994) was a Sri Lankan baila singer. He is heralded a major player in the development of baila music and was widely popular among Sri Lankan audiences.

Fernando received many accolades in his long career including the Golden Lotus Award presented by Sri Lankan President William Gopallawa in 1973 and over 159 silver trophies in various Baila contests he entered. He was able to sing in five languages and incorporated dancing into his act. Fernando performed in England, France, Australia, Canada, Singapore and Middle East to Sinhala audiences,
Fernando was born in Mount Lavinia to Laron Fernando and Lilee Gomes on March 4. He attended St. Anthony's College, Mt. Lavinia and Christ Church, Dehiwela. Fernando studied under veteran musician J. A. Sathiadasan. He debuted as a singer with the duet, "Malak Kada Konde Gasala," done with Pushparani Ariyaratne. It was written by Karunaratne Abeysekera.

The song became popular and allowed Fernando to become a playback singer. His first song in the field, "Sili Siliye Nava Suvandak," was also a success. Fernando would eventually lend his voice to over 150 films. He also pursued an acting career appearing in over 25 films and several teledramas, most notably Udagira,

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Mathalan 1954


Name : Mathalan
Category : Drama
Colour : Black & White

mm : 35mm
Main Actor : Klaris Da Silva
Main Actress : Shesha Palihakkara
Director : A.S. Nagarajan
Producer : S.M.Nayagam

Nelungama documentary

Documenting the documentary

“Documentaries are just not my favourite kind of movie watching. The fact is I don’t trust the little bastards. I don’t trust the nature of those who think they are superior to fiction films, I don’t trust their claim to have cornered the market on the truth, I don’t trust their inordinately high, and entirely underserved, status of bourgeois respectability.”

Strong words – and especially ironic as they form the opinion of Marcel Ophüls, one of the great masters of documentary film-making. Those who have seen his powerful The Sorrow and the Pity (1969), about the schizophrenic way the French responded to Nazi occupation – some becoming resistance fighters, some collaborators – will know what I mean.

A still from Song Of Ceylon

Like Ophül, many film critics have reservations regarding documentaries. As historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. remarked: “The line between the documentary and the fiction film is tenuous indeed. Both are artifacts: both are contrivances. Both are created by editing and selection. Both, wittingly or not, embody viewpoint.”

Another concern is the tendency of films to lull the critical powers of viewers. Nevertheless, it is apparent that documentaries have potential benefits – to inform, move, inspire, to promote positive social change, to strengthen group identities and to provide glimpses of the world beyond our knowledge. Presumably it was the belief in such benefits that inspired Ophüls to continue making documentaries despite his professional mistrust of the form.

Reel Two

It all started in 1926 with the following statement: “Of course, Moana, being a visual account of events in the daily life of a Polynesian youth and his family, has documentary value.” Thus wrote John Grierson -the founder of the pioneering British documentary movement, who ran the artistically-free General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit - in a review of the sequel to the revolutionary Nanook of the North (1921). This ‘actuality’ film (i.e. made prior to Grierson’s coinage), the first example of what was later called docu-fiction, was directed by the American pioneer Robert Flaherty.

While this was the first use of “documentary” in connection with film, what we understand by the word precedes Grierson. In fact, documentary can be traced back to the very birth of cinema, for it began in 1895 with documentary material such as the films of the Lumière brothers – The Arrival of the Train, A Sea Bath, Demolition, and Leaving the Factory.

But audiences soon lost interest in watching trains arriving at stations (at first inexperience was such that audiences fled their seats with the screening of an oncoming train). As the theoretician Brian Winston remarked: “Audiences in the 1890s required what they expected of older media – stories, narratives with beginnings, middles, dénouements, ends. Only when Flaherty began to structure his actuality material so that it might satisfy those needs could Grierson detect a new form and name it ‘documentary.’”

As it happens, in the adventurous early documentary era, Ceylon inspired one of the finest examples ever made, an experimental work that featured extraordinary modernist visual-sound collages. In 1971, while I attended a British Film Institute course on Realist cinema, and before I had visited the island, there was a screening of Song of Ceylon (1935), produced by Grierson at the GPO for the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board. It was directed by Basil Wright, who was among a number of talented film-makers working for Grierson. This screening remains the most significant cinematic experience of my life.
Wright started with the parochial The Country Comes to Town and O’er Hill and Dale (1932). He then travelled to the Caribbean, where he demonstrated a penchant for exotic locations and developed a symphonic style – an ideal preparation for Song of Ceylon - with Windmill in Barbados and Cargo from Jamaica (1933).

I viewed Song of Ceylon in Wright’s company. Afterwards I asked him about filming in Ceylon. He said the island was the most entrancing country he had worked in. (See “An Island on the Screen: The 70th Anniversary of Song of Ceylon”, The Sunday Times, October 31, 2004.) He later directed The Waters of Time (1950), World without End (1953), co-directed with Paul Rotha, and Immortal Land (1958).

Song of Ceylon wasn’t the first documentary about the island, for there are at least two much earlier actuality films, Charles Urban’s A Ramble through Ceylon (1910) and Curious Scenes in India (1912). On YouTube can be found James FitzPatrick’s travelogues Charming Ceylon (1931) and Tropical Ceylon (1932) - a far cry from the quality of Song of Ceylon - which have condescending, sometimes racist narrations employing words such as “primitive”, “child-like”, and “effeminacy”. Wright had the intelligence to choose passages from Robert Knox for his script.

Reel Three

During the Second World War British military film units shot much footage, some of which, concerning the British Eastern Fleet operating out of Trincomalee, has been gathered together. The indigenous documentary film industry began at Independence in 1948 when equipment from the disbanded film units was given to the government. Consequently the Government Film Unit (GFU) was born.

You would be forgiven for not realizing that September 2008 is the 60th anniversary of the GFU, established to produce documentary films on development, social and artistic aspects of the newly-independent nation. These documentaries were not only viewed in cinemas prior to the main feature, but also in impromptu fashion in villages, thanks to vehicles equipped with projectors and screens.
Although the country was seeking a post-Independence identity, the lack of Ceylonese technical personnel necessitated the recruitment of outsiders – in the first instance two Italians, Gulio Petroni and Federico Serra. Restricted to one room in the Department of Irrigation, the fledgling GFU began by producing short news films such as Ceylon’s Farewell to the Sanchi Relics (1949), and Air Ceylon’s New Wings (1949), regarding the delivery of two Skymaster planes.

Within a year the GFU was shifted to an ex-British armed services cinema on a Moratuwa coconut estate that had a dubbing theatre and film processing laboratory. There the first documentaries of significance, Hill Capital (1950) and New Horizons (1951), were produced, both directed by Petroni. The latter explained the government’s colonization programme, but Prime Minister DS Senanayake didn’t appreciate it and Petroni departed in 1952.

The Film Producers’ Guild in London sent Ralph Keene, a leading light of the second wave of British documentary-makers, who had directed New Britain (1940), Crofters (1944), and Cyprus is an Island (1946). Keene had travelled to Ceylon before to make String of Beads (1947) for the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board, but he lacked Wright’s feeling for the culture. His first GFU film, which he wrote rather than directed, was Fishermen of Negombo (1952). The director was George Wickremasinghe, consequently the pioneer of indigenous documentary-making.

Keene then directed Heritage of Lanka (1952), about Mihintale, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sri Pada, and Nelungama (1953), the story of a village and its people. He left for Malaysia soon afterwards and Wickremasinghe became head of the GFU.

Reel Four

In 1954, the GFU was shifted to its present site in Polhengoda, equipped with an especially-built studio, editing suite, laboratory and film library. Now was the time for Ceylonese directors to cut their teeth. Amid the scores of films made during the halcyon years of the 1950s, Lester James Peries’ Conquest of the Dry Zone (1954), on the measures adopted to combat malaria, received a special mention at the Venice Film Festival.

George Wickremasinghe’s The Kandy Esala Perahera (1958) won awards at three international film festivals. Pragnasoma Hettiarachchi’s Makers, Motives and Materials (1958), concerning the making of traditional handicrafts, was awarded the Golden Mercury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Irwin Dassanaike’s The Living Wild (1959), on Ceylon’s wildlife, and incorporating unique footage of Veddahs, received an honourable mention at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Pragnasoma Hettiarachchi’s Rhythms of the People (1959), about southern folk songs and dances, received an honourable mention at the Karlovy Vary International Festival.

There was a notable non-GFU production during this period, Englishman Mike Wilson’s Beneath the Seas of Ceylon (1957), the first underwater film concerning the island, sponsored like Song of Ceylon and String of Beads by the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board.

By the mid-1960s the GFU had reached a state of creative stagnation, partly due to the uninspiring films commissioned - Ceylon Toys (1961), Ceylon Asbestos (1963), and Poultry (1966). Basil Wright expressed willingness to help out, as the following letter he wrote to George Wickremasinghe indicates:
“The length of my stay in Ceylon would depend on the size and scope of the film or films to be made . . . As regards technical assistance, I have the impression that you have a well-equipped and experienced Unit, members of which I would be glad to work with.” But Wright never made his return to the island. Bureaucratic indifference resulted in a consummate opportunity being squandered.

However, the renowned German director Paul Zils joined the GFU during 1968-69. A favourite of Goebbel, he had fled Nazism but was arrested in Bali by the British in the Second World War and made a POW. But his film-making was appreciated and on release he was appointed head of Information Films of India, similar to the GFU, and directed many excellent films on the country, pioneering the Indian documentary movement. He also made Buddhism in Ceylon (1963). On his second visit he directed Meditation (1968), a beautiful, reflective docu-fiction about a middle-aged doctor who, after reviewing his life, decides to become a Buddhist monk.

My thumbnail documentation of the documentary in Sri Lanka ceases at this point. After 1970 the GFU never regained its former glory: besides, the ‘pure’ form of documentary epitomized by Song of Ceylon was over. A new age of non-fiction film had dawned. And a decade later the advent of television in Sri Lanka was inevitably deleterious. Nevertheless, the GFU remains to celebrate its 60th birthday.

The pioneer who dedicated his wide knowledge of cinematography for amelioration of the cinema industry notches 90 years on April 05, 2009. The inestimable contribution made by this great son of Sri Lanka to bring Sinhala cinema to the pinnacle of its glory is historical.

At the time the Indian film industry had an influence on Sri Lanka, monopolizing their power of technology in the production of films, the cultural background here was almost South Indian. Sri Lankan producers were inclined to produce films on a commercial basis caused by the want of technical infrastructure. It was then that this young cameraman contemplated to exert his cinematic know how towards resilience of the film industry by his influence on productions depicting indigenous culture. He is the world acclaimed cinematographer, Dr Lester James Peiris, who established the global image of Sri Lanka in the cinema industry.

Lester James Peiris was born to a reputed Roman Catholic family in Dehiwala on April 05, 1919, whose residence was known as ‘Sinhagiri’. His father Dr James Francis Peiris was a medical doctor who graduated in Scotland. Ms Ann Gertrude Winifred Jayasuriya, a student of St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo, was his mother who became the first girl to pass the Senior Cambridge Examination from the same school. He had two brothers, Ivan & Noel and a sister Erica. His brother Ivan, a skilled painter was a close associate of the internationally famous artist George Keit. Lester’s life was significantly influenced by these professional artists. He started his preliminary studies at St. Mary’s Primary College, Dehiwala, later known as Holy Family Convent and later joined St. Peter’s College, Bambalapitiya.

He was more attentive to lectures on the arts, inspired by the films he was fortunate to watch through projectors made available to him. He was 11- years- old when he was ptedented with a 8 mm Kodasco projector by his father. He started writing to the blue pages of the ‘Ceylon Daily News’ at the age of 17. In 1939 he joined the ‘Times of Ceylon’ newspaper and displayed his skills under the Indian editor Frank Moraes and also reviewed books over Radio Ceylon (now SLBC). "The Teacher" & "The Saree" are two short stories written by him. In the view of Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne, the young Lester enjoyed the presentation of the book called "Cathedral and a Star" authored by him to Pandith Sri Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.

Lester traveled to England in 1947 as advised by his mother to join his brother Ivan, who was on a scholarship in London. This young journalist of competent skills in journalism, wrote articles to the ‘Ceylon Daily News’ column from London on the request of the editor Moraes under the heading "Letter on Arts from London".

Lester’s debut in production was the "Farewell to Childhood" in 1950, a short film based on the story written by him called "Saree". The Amateur Cine World Silver Plaque was awarded to this experimental film among the 10 best films produced in Great Britain. His second film was "A Sinhalese Dance" and the final film "Soliloquy" was produced in London in 1951, a 20 minute short film based on a threefold love story. The Mini Cinema Cup for short films was awarded to this production for its best technical proficiency by the Institute of Amateur and Experimental Film Makers’ Festival-Great Britain (1951).

On his return to Sri Lanka Lester joined the Government Film Unit (GFU) and worked with Ralph Keene, who was the director of GFU. In the first instance Lester assisted Keene to make a documentary film "Nelungama". Later two documentary films, "Conquest in the Dry Zone" (1954), on the Malaria epidemic and "Be Safe" or "Be Sorry" (1955),were produced for the GFU by him. The film, "Conquest in the Dry Zone" won the Diploma of Honor at the Venice Film Festival in 1954. He left the GFU in 1955 after he formed his ambition to produce Sinhala films on his own.

Significantly, the year 1956 became historic by the revolutionary changes that took effect in political, social and cultural fields in Sri Lanka in the interest of the entire nation. "Rekhawa", the debut production, disporting his extraordinary knowledge in the techniques of the film industry, by Lester James Peiris in December 1956, earned him a great reputation as the best production in Sri Lankan cinema. Starting from his masterly production "Rekhawa", this great cinematographer accredited with an abundance of knowledgeable skills in film industry, elevated the Sri Lankan cinema to the zenith of its glory by numerous films, winning international awards, an inestimable honour to the nation.

Dr Lester James Peiris has directed around 20 films during the last 50 years of his experience in the film industry, enlivening Sri Lankan cinema with accolade after accolade, both locally and abroad. Sri Lankan nation owes him a debt of gratitude for his immeasurably high quality productions of international acclaim, namely, Rekhawa (Line of Destiny 1956), Sandeshaya (The Message 1960), Gamperaliya (Changing Village 1964), Delovak Athara (Between Two Worlds 1966), Ran Salu (The Yellow Robe 1967), Golu Hadawatha (The Silence of the Heart 1968), Akkara Paha (Five Acres of Land 1969), Nidhanaya (The Treasure 1970), Desa Nisa (The Eyes 1972), The God King (1975), Madol Duwa (Enchanted Island 1976), Ahasin Polowata (White Flowers for the Dead 1978), Pinhami (1979), Veera Puran Appu (Rebellion 1979), Baddegama (Village in the Jungle 1980), Kaliyugaya (The Era of Kalli – The Changing Village Part II, 1982), Yuganthaya (The Changing Village Part III, 1983), Awaragira (The Sunset 1995), Wekande Wallauwa (Mansion by the Lake 2002) and Amma Varune (Mothers 2007).

In addition to his contributions of documentary films to the GFU, Lester produced 10 documentary films on requests by various other institutions. Among them were, "Too Many and too Soon" (1961), "Home from the Sea" (1962), "Forward into the Future" (1964), "Steel" (1969), "Forty Leagues from Paradise" (1970), "A Dream of Kings" (1971) and "Kandy Perahera" (1971).

Appreciative expressions on the perceptive vision of Dr Lester James Peiris have been articulated by world renowned professionals on many occasions. It is related in the book authored by Ronald Fernando that the popular Indian super star, late Raj Kapoor, highly impressed by the movie "Rekhawa" had recommended to Sri Lankan producer K.Gunaratnam, to utilize the talents of this consummate cinematographer, Lester, in his future productions. In consequence Mr Gunaratnam offered the direction of his film "Sandeshaya" to Lester James who exhibited a marvellous array of innate skills in his performance as the director, to bring the film to the pinnacle of international acclaim.

Remarkably, a number of books have been written by various scholars on the life of this reputable character and his award winning productions. In addition, a documentary film by the name, "The Foot Steps of an Asian Master", was directed by Neil I.Perera in 1985 and another film "The World of Peiris" directed by Bickram Singhare on behalf of the Ministry of External Affairs, India.

He not only won the first international award for Sri Lanka in London in the early ‘50s but also achieved the Golden Peacock Award presented by Delhi International Awards and Golden Head of Palenque Award from Mexico World Film Festival for "Gamperaliya", a story which turned a new page in Sri Lankan cinema as the best film. It was Lester who represented Sri Lanka with his film "Rekhawa", first at the Cannes Film Festival in 1957. The number of local awards won by him from Rekhawa to Amma Varune, is a potent estimation of his exemplary contribution to Sri Lankan cinema. Recognition of his productions at high degree of excellence by the international cinema not only demands absolute technique but involves tremendous amount of dedication and determined effort. In appreciation of his invaluable contribution to cinema he was honoured with the title Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters by the Government of France in 1997, The Lifetime Achievement Award and the Golden Lotus by the Government of India at Delhi International Film Festival and the Asian Cinema Person at Cannes International Film Festival. He has also discreetly performed an extraordinary service as a member of the jury at the International Film Festival with distinctive responsibility. The entire nation is profoundly delighted by the global tribute of high regard extended to this indomitable personality over his intellectual expertise in the film industry.

He was felicitated by his own nation with the title Kala Keerthi in 1980, issue of a stamp to mark his birthday in 2002, highest honour of Sri Lankabhimanaya in 2007, naming Dickman’s Rd as Dr Lester James Peiris Mawatha and a new orchid flower named after Lester James Peiris by M.L.SW.Wanigathunga , chairman of Lakmalsala Amerasekera. It is significant that he was honoured with doctorates by the Universities of Colombo and Peradeniya in 1985 & 2003 respectively.

The latest felicitation for this doyen of Sri Lankan cinema is from UNESCO , the world’s most prestigious institution for culture for his Gamperaliya production.

Dr. Lester James Peiris’ ‘Sonduru Minisa’ has exalted the image of Sri Lanka in the global cinema with a high degree of respect. He is regarded as a leading cinematographer along with world renowned Satyajith Ray of India and Akerawar Korusowa of Japan. The resplendent contribution made by Lester to Sri Lankan cinema will be etched in the memories of the citizenry of Sri Lanka.

Rukmani Devi

A documentary film Rukmani Devi, Produced by Government Film Unit, Government Information Department, Sri Lanka
Clips from "Kadavunu Poronduwa" and "Kapati Arakshakaya" directed by J. Singhe restored beautifully by the GFU.
Christy de Mel as Gunapala (the whipped lover) and the mustached authoratarian (Mark Samaranayake or Stanley Mallawarachchi ).
Rukmani Devi (January 15, 1923–September 25, 1978) was a Sri Lankan singer and actress, who was often acclaimed as "The Nightingale of Sri Lanka"[1]. She made it to the silver screen via the stage and had acted in close to 100 films, at the time of her death. Having an equal passion for singing as well as a melodious voice, she was Sri Lanka's foremost female singer in the gramophone era. After her death, she was awarded the Sarasaviya 'Rana Thisara'- Life Time Achievement Award at the 1979 Sarasaviya Awards Festival.
Rukmani Devi, was born as Daisy Rasammah Daniels to a Colombo Chetty Christian family on January 15, 1923 at Ramboda in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. Second, in a family of five, her father, John Daniel worked on a plantation and her mother, Helen Rose was a teacher.

She grew up in Colombo and had her early education at St. Matthew's School and then moved on to St. Clare's School, Wellawatte.

As a little girl, Daniels showed an inborn talent to sing and dance. At the age of seven she was picked to sing Christmas carols. Impressed with her ability to sing, dance, and also to act, she was selected to perform a main role in a Christmas play, 'The Shoemaker's Wife'.

The stage play was trained and presented by St. Clare's School, Wellawatte.

Watching her play this role much enthusiastically, Walter Abeysinghe, a drama producer sought permission from her father, to invite her to play the lead role of 'Sita' in his drama 'Ramayanaya.' Thus, in 1935 at the age of just 12 years she performed in this stage play, presented by the 'Sinhala Natya Sabha'.

She was married to veteran dramatist, actor and singer, Eddie Jayamanne, whom she fell in love with as a result of her close association with him, when performing in dramas produced by "Minerva Dramatic Club" founded by B. A. W. Jayamanne. They lived at "Jaya Ruk", at Angurukaramulla, Negombo.
his marked the beginning of an illustrious career that would span over four decades. As her performances were highly appreciated by the packed audience, well-known dramatist Dick Dias chose her for two of his stage plays, "Jana Kiharanaya" and "Mayawathie". She was now flooded with stage dramas, as she became Mayawathi in Charles Dias' 'Mayawathi', Juliet in a Sinhala adaption of Romeo and Juliet, playing the lead female role in all of them.

With her first audio recording of the famous song "Siri Buddhagaya Vihare" with Master H. W. Rupasinghe in 1938, she captured the hearts of the masses and she shaped her career from that of an actress to that of an actress turned singer.

Her unique voice attracted many music directors, as her singing career moved from the stage to the silver screen.

It was also, around this time that her name underwent a change from Daisy Daniels to the well known 'Rukmani Devi'. There are two schools of thinking as to how the name "Rukmani Devi" originated. According to one school, the late H. W. Rupasinghe maestro created the name, while the other believe that Jayantha Weerasekara and Michael Sannas Liyanage who is in his 90s, created it[2].

B. A. W. Jayamanne, founder of "Minerva Dramatic Club" of Negombo took Rukmani to perform remarkable roles in his interestingly featured dramas, such as 'Apparition', 'Broken Promise', 'Changing Fate, 'Defeated Aim', 'Evasive Denial', 'Fanatic Faith', 'Grisly Guardian', 'Hasty Decision' and lastly 'Irangani'. Above-mentioned plays followed the English alphabet.

The popular play 'Broken Promise', was adapted into a film by B. A. W. Jayamanne. This was the first Sinhala film - Kadawunu Poronduwa, screened on January 21, 1947. Rukmani Devi, who also began her film career through the role of 'Ranjani' in this film, also became the first local actress. Her film career, which thus began spread over a period of more than three decades.

According to Sri Lankeya Cinema Vanshaya (pp 637 - 638) written by Nuwan Nayanajith Kumara, from Kadawunu Poronduwa in 1947 to Ara Soyza in 1984, Rukmani Devi had played different roles in 99 films, up to the time of her death.

An equally talented singer, some of the immortal songs she sang for films are Sandyave Sriya for 'Kadawunu Poronduwa', Pinsara Mage Soyura for 'Kapati Arakshakaya', Gala Kandeni, and Moranawa Preme Hade for 'Weradun Kurumanama', Nindede Rathri Yahane for 'Peralena Iranama', Mavila Pena vi Rupe for 'Kela Handa', Pem Sihina Loke Maya for 'Mathabhedaya', Melavi Yanna Hada Mage for 'Daiva Yogaya', Suva dena Sita Sanasum for 'Ladalu' and Doi Doi Puta for 'Ahasin Polavata'.

In the mid sixties she joined the sinhala calypso musical group 'Los Cabelleros' led by late Neville Fernando. They recorderd ever popular sinhala songs such as 'Malbara Himidiriye','Menike Obe sinawe' & 'Sandak nage'.

Rukmani Devi was also featured prominently on the airwaves of Radio Ceylon, the oldest radio station in South Asia.
[edit] Death

Rukmani Devi, the singing star, stage and screen idol died in a tragic motor accident near St. Mary's Church, Thudella on September 25, 1978. She was returning after a musical show in Uyanwatte, Matara. Her funeral ceremony was attended by a very large gathering; film makers and dramatists, friends, politicians, relatives and her beloved fans.

She was the most celebrated Sri Lankan artiste and a statue in memory of her was erected at the Kanuwana Junction, Ja-Ela, as she still lives in the hearts and minds of the Sri Lankan people. The road on which the Rukmani Devi Museum in Negombo is located was also re-named 'Rukmani Devi Mawatha' by President Ranasinghe Premadasa, on October 28, 1990.

Neville Fernando

Gayana Geyum" performed by Los Caballeros led by Neville Fernando from Sir Lester James Peiris's movie "Delovak Athara". Listen to the rich vocal harmony arranged by Neville himself and recorded...

This song is from Sir Lester James Peiris's movie "Ransalu" (1967)
Lyrics by B.T. Mendis
Music by W. D. Amaradeva
Performed by Neville Fernando

Ran Salu
Directed by Lester James Peries
Produced by Upasena Marasinghe
L. M. Simon
Written by P. K. D. Seneviratne
Starring Tony Ranasinghe
Punya Heendeniya
Anula Karunatilleke
Music by W.D. Amaradeva
Editing by Sumitra Gunawardana

Old Songs Collections

This is perhaps the best song sung by Susil Premaratne who passed away on the 11th Feb 2010.
The original recording of the "Sandak Nage Sandak Gile" by Neville Fernando & Rukmani Devi with Los Caballeros. This is a beautiful song with nice vocal harmony,melody & music, arranged by Neville ...
Rukmani Devi was the Silver screen queen from 1940s to 1960s. She happens to be the only actress who performed both singing and acting simulataneously. 'Adaraya Nisa' was one of the popular songs ..


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