Sirisena Wimalaweera's dream :

Penchant for fostering Sinhala film industry

CINEMA: Forty-three years elapsed on August 24, since the death of Tangalle Sirisena Wimalaweera, the versatile producer - director of Sinhala films. He should, no doubt, be named the pioneer who championed, with a genuine heart, the cause of producing Sinhala films that could unequivocally, be called Sinhala two years after the Lankan cinema-goers were introduced to Sinhala films.


FILM MAKER: Sirisena
Wimalaweera

His indomitable courage with which he undertook the heavy task of fostering Sinhala drama during that unforgettable Tower Hall era, and then the Sinhala film industry is quite inestimable when considered in comparison with the odds he had to face at that time.

He was a beacon to be followed by any enthusiast on the course of Sinhala film production and direction. Yet it is heartrending that most of his plays, and almost all his films are not available today and that his name too is gradually passing into limbo of oblivion.

It is, therefore, nothing but fair on the part of the authorities concerned to search for and preserve, for the posterity his works which are all priceless pearls strewn in front of a cultured society of that bygone era.

Until April 1947, the stage of the Tower Hall was open for all such dramatists as John de Silva, Charles Dias, L. D. A. Ratnayake, Sirisena Wimalaweera, Orgen Rodrigo, A. D. J. Mathupala, S. D. Stephen Silva and J. P. Rajapaksa.

Yet, along with the lease of the Tower Hall for film shows, the doors of this cultural centre were closed upon the faces of dramatists, actors, actresses and artistes who were hitherto, earning a livelihood on the stage of it.

Other pursuits

The position of playwrights who were accustomed to earn a living by writing plays for independent producers was at stake and they were compelled to take to other pursuits. Tangalle Sirisena Wimalaweera too was hard hit by this change and was obliged to become a small time printer-cum owner of a hiring car.

His desire for drama and the new subject of Sinhala films was so insatiable that he took upon himself the responsibility of publishing a journal on cinema entitled "Chintamani" edited and published by D. V. Seneviratne, former Manager of the Tower Hall, a journalist and a playwright.

It was 1948. By February of that year film-goers were witnessing the screening of Kadawunu Poronduwa, Asokamala, Grisly Guardian, in the four corners of the island.

Though there was no alternative but to consider them as Sinhala films, yet the candid opinion of the general public, especially the intelligent Sinhala cine-goers, was that these pictures were exact replicas of the South Indian films.

Sirisena Wimalaweera, through the medium of his own film journal, made a successful attempt to inculcate into the minds of the Sinhala film enthusiasts the necessity of producing Sinhala films directed by Sinhala directors and also the advisability of establishing film studies in our own island.

He journeyed through the length and breadth of the country with his troupe of actors and actresses reiterating that the people should not look askance at his proposal to establish a film company with a view to building a studio. Though a section of society - the art lovers - responded to his call, subscriptions were barely sufficient to meet his requirements.

He had, therefore, to sell his car as well as the printing press which were his only source of income. His dreamchild the Nava Jeevana Movietone, a limited liability company, was floated with a capital of Rs. 65,000. He was left with this meagre amount to produce a film; a film that can be called a Sinhala film.

Hazards

Sirisena Wimalaweera, undaunted by the hazards that lay before him, in his venture to produce a film with insufficient funds, made a journey to South India. There, he visited a number of studios and presented his case for consideration.

Most of them simply advised him to abandon the idea; still, for all, he was able to come to terms with the owner of the Neptune Studios, Madras to produce his film with Rs. 65,000.

Triumphantly he returned to Colombo and placed his proposal before the company which gladly gave the green light for him to proceed there with the entire cast of his reputed play "Mother".

It was a time when the film industry was in embryo form. Moreover, it was the time when the Sinhala films were not given a boosting, at least by a favourable comment in the press.

Equipped with the approval of his company, to produce "Mother" with a sum of Rs. 65,000 and the promise of the management of the Neptune Studios, Madras, Sirisena Wimalaweera met D. B. Dhanapala, Editor of Lankadipa and solicited the latter's consent for publicity for his venture.

Editor Dhanapala having expressed his surprise at the idea of producing a film in Madras with such a small amount of money, promised our hero all that publicity for his journey at once, and islandwide publicity through his journal on the occasion of the release of the film subsequently.

With a firm determination he led his troupe as far as Madras. For want of sufficient funds to defray the charges of board and lodging for him and his troupe, Wimalaweera gave up the idea of staying in hotels in this cosmopolitan metropolis; instead he forthwith grabbed the offer made by the manager of the studios to accommodate them in a backyard shed on the premises.

Producer-Director Wimalaweera who was dubbed a poor director from Ceylon by all in the studios had to put up with unlimited hardships till his film was completed. They had to satisfy themselves with dormitory accommodation provided by the manager whilst the same hall was utilised as their living quarters-cum-dining room.

The cook who went along with them made a fine gesture by undertaking to do the cooking and other odd jobs free.

Hardships

His mission successfully completed, amid much hardships, Sirisena Wimalaweera earned the distinction of being the second director of a Sinhala film. The annals of the history of the Sinhala film industry have been picturesquely adorned with the name of this versatile producer-director.

The cast of his maiden production "Mother" consisted of D. R. Nanayakkara, Eddie Junior, N. R. Dias, Marshal Perera, S. H. Jothipala, Pearl Vasudevi, Murin Nissanka, Turin Silva, Asilin Ranasinghe and Upasena Wimalaweera. They accepted no payment for appearing in this film.

"Amma" or "Mother" was the maiden production under the banner of Navajeevana Movietone Ltd. The ceremonial screening of this picture was held on August 10, 1949 at the Cental Cinema, Maradana.

As promised by D. B. Dhanapala, due publicity was lavishly given to Sirisena Wimalaweera and his venture into the realm of Sinhala film production. It was the first time that a reputed Sinhala media journal like Lankadipa came forward to give recognition to a Sinhala director of a Sinhala film by publishing the adventurous activities of Sirisena Wimalaweera.

Sirisena Wimalaweera's second film was a version of his play entitled "Seedevi" was also produced in Madras and screened in Colombo on March 9, 1951. The year 1952 saw his dreamchild Navajeevana Studios celebrating her coming of age.

"Pitisara Kella" was the first Sinhala picture entirely filmed and processed at the laboratories of this studio. It was screened on April 25, 1953. Since then six films in succession namely, Saradiel, Podiputha, Sirakaruwa, Ekamath Eka Rataka, Maa Aalekala Tharuniya and Vanamala were produced and directed by Sirisena Wimalaweera.

His honest endeavour was to depict some redeeming facets of age old customs adhered to by the ordinary Sinhala villager; vicissitudes of life that all beings have to face so long as they sail on the high seas of Samsara; that strange feeling called love between two human beings and that how the poor hapless beings are made subject to harassment at the hands of the powerful and the wicked!

Whilst his "Rodee Kella" a satire of caste distinction was in the process of production, Sirisena Wimalaweera fell seriously ill. He could shoot only two reels of films when death struck him down on August 24, 1963.

The film company Nava Jeevana Movietone Ltd., Chairman of which was the late Sirisena Wimalaweera is now no more. The Nava Jeevana Studios located at Kiribathgoda too is not in existence at present.

Yet for all, he has left with us nine films which carried graphic stories typical of the Sinhala culture and day-to-day life so near and dear to our hearts that they could be valued as nine priceless gems on the crown of the late Sirisena Wimalaweera.

It is, therefore, incumbent on the authorities - The National Film Corporation - to search for and preserve them for the benefit of the posterity.

Should not we consider the creation of a memorial befitting the name of this reputed but forgotten Producer-Director, Tangalle Sirisena Wimalaweera?

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