Wednesday, 24 November 2004  
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Damitha reaches stardom

by E. M. G. Edirisinghe

Acting and singing are kindred arts which complement each other. My desire for singing goes back to my childhood days. However, my main interest is acting. I love stage too; but the problem is rehearsals without which drama is not possible.

It is hard to find the time for it. The stage is the ideal ground for those who can act as well as sing, said Damitha Abeyratne in an exclusive interview with the Artscope. Excerpts:

Question: You have excelled in both small and large screen. How do you evaluate your success in the lead role in cinema?

Answer: I am still a novice in cinema. My profession is in television. I have acted in over 100 teledramas. I won the best actress award for my performance in Dandubasnamanaya. That helped me to go a long way in television.

Q: How do you react to being the winner of the best actress award at your first performance itself as the main actress?

A: I am thrilled to have won the best actress award both in television and in cinema which is really a rare feat especially for one who is still young and learning. Raththi in Sulang Kirilli is my first lead role in cinema.

However, for my supporting role in Mee Haraka I was honoured with the award for the best supporting actress. Thus my achievements are rather special within the Sri Lankan context.

Q: Can you explain your entry to cinema?

A: Raththi is an ordinary woman whom we meet in our every day life. Wing-bird is a toy which turns in the direction from which the wind blows. Incidentally the woman, the one who moves away from parental home in particular, turns in the direction to which she is summoned.

However, the direction in which the wind-bird turns could be changed by one being wise. One should not leave it to turn it at someone's will. That is the essence of the role portrayed by Raththi. Although the law could brand a someone's child is illegitimate, it is not so for the mother.

Q: You have been performing various characters on screen. How do you enter into the soul of a characters?

A: I think that an actress should be able to give life to any character she gets. One needs not think that an extra effort should be exerted to do it. The experience we derive from our own society is sufficient for one to get into any character which is offered to the artiste.

The peculiarities of a particular character are generally found in real life characters whom we come into contact with. We should be able to learn from them and adopt to suit the demands of the celluloid presentation.

Inborn talent

Q: How did you meet the challenge of enlivening the character of Raththi?

A: My experience in doing a documentary with working girls in a Free Trade Zone, had been useful in understanding and portraying this character.

My inborn talent might have been helpful in capturing the nuances in this emotion-laden characters.

Q: Have you had any training or formal education on the art of acting?

A: No. There is no institute to train artistes in our country. Most of our artistes are self-made.

I learned my acting mainly by studying the performances of such local artistes as Mahendra Perera, Jackson Anthony, Kamal Addaraarachchi, Malini Fonseka and Nita Fernando. For me these veteran artistes were a school. In addition, I refined my art of acting by watching foreign classics.

Q: Marlon Brando says that an actor is a guy who if you aren't talking about him isn't listening. Do you agree with him?

A: No, I can't agree with him. I listen to what others say merely to find out whether it helps me in my profession.

Q: How do you evaluate the role of a film director?

A: Director is like the principal of a school or a mother at home. If they err everything will go wrong. Everything in a film turns around the director whose creative talent is all that is vital for the film.

Q: As a national award winner how do you view yourself amid international award winners?

A: It is one of the greatest experiences in my life. I had the opportunity to exchange views with men and women of excellence coming from various cultural backgrounds. Also, I was able to watch their performance on the screen. Their association was quite stimulating and educative.

Q: Who is the film actor and actress whom you like most?

A: Certainly Malini Fonseka. Among the artistes in the West Julia Roberts and Jack Nicholson come first. Among the Indian artistes, Amitha Bachchan, Ayshawarya Rai, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajal lead the rest.

Hindi invasion

Q: In today's Sri Lanka, the film fans show a greater attraction towards Hindi film stars. Do you see any special reason for this development?

A: The main reason is the impact of prevailing Hindi invasion evident in the country. Generally every Hindi film artiste is seen as an object of beauty.

The spectator attraction is for beauty, shape and costume. On the other hand, our admiration in Western cinema is not for glamour, beauty or dazzle, but for talent, performance and skill. Culturally, the Western concept of beauty does not appeal to the oriental viewer whose traditional view of beauty is different from that of the West.

Therefore Indian beauty is aesthetically and physically the epitome of Eastern elegance which naturally draws favourable comparison with our actors and actresses.

Q: As the best film actress, what advice can you give the new-comers to cinema?

A: I am still a novice. Acting does not improve automatically. One should learn to diversify and refine one's own individual art of acting. It is not important whether one has lost one's popularity. However, a good performance is recognized and honoured for ever. With advancing age one may notice a drop in one's popularity but not so one's talent.

Q: How do you see the future of Sinhala cinema?

A: My knowledge of cinema is at a beginner's level. I don't believe that our cinema is down. There is scope for its improvement and expansion. We can succeed only if we could make good films which can compete even with world cinema. I hope to do something worthwhile in our cinema in the future.

Q: In addition to being an actress, you are a vocalist too. How do you perform in your dual role?

A: Acting and singing are kindred arts which complement each other. My desire for singing goes back to my childhood days.

However, my main interest is acting. I love stage too; but the problem is rehearsals without which drama is not possible.

It is hard to find the time for it. The stage is the ideal ground for those who can act as well as sing.

Popularity

Q: If someone says that today the film artistes have no status in the country, do you agree?

A: No, certainly not. When we are moving in society we notice how the people are pleased to see us.

However, in the 60s and the 70s there were only a very few artistes, and therefore they were very popular; but, today it is different. There are so many of them today which makes their popularity to be somewhat declined. Otherwise, I don't see any decline in the popularity of the film artistes.

Q: Film award winners receive their awards amid loud cheer and applause: but, later on some of them throw them away into a corner for dust to gather with no respect to them. What is your opinion about this attitude?

A: We value an award on its own merit. We know it is in recognition of our achievement. We must respect every award. It is an accolade for our talent and excellence. In most of the countries, the awardees are not rewarded with cash awards: only a certificate and a replica to symbolise it.

Q: What do you hope for the future?

A: My immediate wish is to launch a CD as early as possible. In the long run I want to act in a few good films to give my best in performance.

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