Wednesday, 26 May 2004  
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Stars of yesteryear : 

Most popular screen mother

by Anjana Gamage

Shanthi Lekha - then

Shanthi Lekha was a loving mother to her own children as well as for many young actors and actresses on the screen. It is a fact that Shanthi Lekha has the unbroken record of being cast in the role of mother in many a film during the past decades. She has also acted in more than 350 films since 1952.

At present she lives in Paris with her youngest son. She made her last visit to Sri Lanka in July 2003 at the age of 75. She still wishes to be with her film fans who had encouraged her to act in so many films.

Born in Kalutara on July 1, 1929 as Rita Irene Quyn she was later christened as Shanthi Lekha by her first husband Shanthi Viraj. Both of them played the lead roles in " Shantha Prabha", the first stage play of Shanthi Lekha directed by popular composer D.T. Fernando in 1942.

Her parents were reluctant to allow their daughter to take part in stage plays. That was a time when people looked down upon actors and actresses as " Nadagamkarayo".

However, Shanthi Lekha managed to get the permission from her parents to act in " Shantha Prabha" while she was a student at Holy Family Convent in Kalutara.


Although Shanthi Lekha started as an actress, she made the grade as an oriental dancer. She was the dancing girl in stage plays in which Dommie Jayawardena and Nona Subeda played the leading roles.

Shanthi Lekha - now

Shanthi recalls with gratitude that it was Dommie Jayawardena who introduced her to films. Her debut was in Cinemas' maiden venture " Sujatha" produced by K. Gunaratnam in 1952. Wearing a titillating bathing suit Shanthi danced along with Dommie Jayawardena to the then popular song "Pem rella nagi.....". For her role in " Sujatha" she was paid Rs 500 and she had to sign a contract that prohibited her from acting in other films. Mr. Gunaratnam however offered different roles in his later films, such as Warada Kageda, Radala Piliruwa and Dostara.


At the time she started acting in Sinhala films, they were entirely influenced by the South Indian cinema. Both Sinhala and South Indian films were identical except for the differences in language.

It was in "Sandeshaya" that she acted as a mother for the first time, thereafter she became the screen mother or aunt to many popular stars like Gamini Fonseka, Punya Heendeniya and Jeevarani Kurukulasuriya. No other actress has played so many roles as mother like Shanthi Lekha.

Shanthi Lekha is credited with more than 350 films and she has won several awards for her roles. She particularly cherishes her roles in "Uthumaneni", "Eya Den Loku Lamayek", "Amal Biso", "Parithyagaya", "Hithawathiya", "Sasara Chethana" and "Sakvithi Suwaya".

Among the awards she has received are for Best Supporting Actress awards in Gamini Fonseka's "Parasathumal" (Eksath Lanka Rasika Sanvidanaya in 1969) and Mudalinayaka Somaratne's "Binaramali" (Sarasaviya film awards in 1969).

She also won President's Awards in 1979 for her roles in "Mayurige Kathawa" and "Ridi Nimnaya".

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