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