Wednesday, 20 May 2009

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Shanthi Lekha

‘Mother’ of cinema bids adieu:

Shanthi Lekha during her younger days

For nearly five decades she had played the role of the understanding and kind mother to many artistes in the cinema scene. Hence is it is no wonder that she was regarded as the beloved mother. Significantly her role was not limited to the silver screen for she was pretty much the doting mother for all the ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ on and off the reel.

Award winning actress Shanthi Lekha bid adieu to the world on May 11. She was one of the most lovable of characters, cherished and respected among her peers and companions.

One of her most recent public presence at veteran vocalist Latha Walpola’s 75th birthday and the launch of Deepthi Fonseka’s Latha Hela Gee Rajina heightened the value of the event and displayed the adoration of the local artistes towards their reel mother and brought tears to the eyes of the onlookers as they sang Ammala Duk Ganne Puthun Hadanta.

Born Irene Rita Quyn in Kalutara South, she showed immense talent towards Kathakali dancing during her school days.

Shanthi Lekha performs to Ammala Duk Ganne Puthun Hadanta with some of the leading female artistes in the country

As a past pupil of Holy Family Convent, Kaluthara, Shanthi Lekha was first elected to display her skills in public when she played the lead role in D.T. Fernando’s stage play Shantha Prabha in 1942. Her screen name ‘Shanthi Lekha’, which emerged with the name of her first husband, Shanthi Viraj, the name which is known among many.

Renowned film actor Dommie Jayawardane noted her potentialities and introduced her to films with Sujatha, the movie which not only topped the box-office but also shed light on her when she performed an exceptional dance number to the song Pem Rella Nagi in 1953.

Though she was only paid Rs. 500 for her part and the role earned its share of criticism there was no doubt that it left a deep impact in the minds and hearts of the moviegoers.

Producer K. Gunaratnam offered many more roles to her which promoted her as a screen actress. She portrayed roles in many remarkable creations like Warada Kageda, Dosthara, Sandeshaya, Parasathumal, Gamperaliya, Allapu Gedara, Thunman Handiya, Delowak Athara, Ranrasa, Akkara Paha,Soora Chowraya, Athma Pooja, Amal Biso, Eya Dan Loku Lamayek, Sagarayak Meda, Uthumaneni, Sikuruliya, Neela, Sangeetha, Hithuwoth Hithuwamai, Ganga Addara, Yakadaya, Chandi Putha and several others. Her contemporaries were Denavaka Hamine, Ruby de Mel and Pearl Vasudevi but Shanthi Lekha mostly took on the role of the mother.

Shanthi Lekha

It is said that she had played this role in over 350 movies starting out with Sandeshaya.

However her talent was not always limited to portraying such characters as she gave some unique performances in character roles in films like Thunman Handiya, Sagarayak Meda and Uthumaneni.

She took up roles in a number of stage plays like Kada Walalu and Elowa Gihin Melowa Awa. She even portrayed a role in the country’s first ever teledrama Dr. D. B. Nihalsinghe’s Dimuthu Muthu alongside Devika Minirani and Amarasiri Kalansooriya and went on to a clinch number of accolades including Sarasaviya, Presidential and Sumathi awards.

However her most noteworthy appearance was in Dr. Lester James Peries’ Gamperaliya as the strong principled Mathara Hamine. Ironically she passed away at a time when the restored version of the film was being screened in six leading centres in France.

Apart from being an actress a few are aware of the fact that the veteran artiste was also the country’s first female make-up artiste. She was residing in France with her son, ailing, when death possessed her.

The funeral of the actress will take place at the Borella Cemetery on May 20 (today) at 5 p.m. The remains will lie at the Colombo Art Gallery from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The accomplished actress was in her 79th year when she passed away. She would have been 80 if she had lived till July 1.

La Sanda Koththu Villakku Gamperaliya

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