Makara does its rounds
THEATRE: Dharmasiri Bandaranayake turned out to be a fine
Lancelot - just as I had expected. He is not a big made chap. Neither
was he a tall domineering person. He was of average height and quite
slim. But there was charisma in his presence. He had a nice relaxed
walk. He stood well and moved attractively. He had a nicely modulated
voice. He was a very effective Lancelot.
We premiered Makara on 29, 30 and 31 of August and on the 1st of
Sept. 1973 at the Lumbini Hall. It was totally a dialogue drama and ran
for about two and a half hours.
Our cast was superb. Daya Alwis played a rollicking rascal of a Mayor
and Cyril Dharmawardena and Karu Hangawatte alternately played the role
of the Mayor's son and secretary - a perfect foil to the Mayor.
MAKARA: Actors on stage.
Elson Divituragama and Nimal Fernando played the Dragon alternately
in their own inimitable style. Sunila Abeysekera was a winsome Eliza and
handled the nuances of the role very well. Douglas Karunaratne and
Samson Gomes played the role of Charlmain - Eliza's father, in the
docile manner that was required.
Jayalath Manoratne and Chula Kariyawasam played the role of the
talking cat most lovably. There were other very attractive minor roles
played by some of my old hands.
The magic carpet weavers were played by Jayalath Manoratne and H.L.P.
de Silva, The Violin maker was played by Nissanka Diddeniya. The hat
maker by Anil Hattotuwegama, the sword maker by P.S. Gomes, the sentry
by Mervyn Jayatunga and the jailor by Nimal Jayasinghe. Eliza's friends
were played by Sunethra de Mel, Sunitha Jayasundera and Yasawathie
Abeyratne. P.L.D. Perera, Dharmadasa Kuruppu, Nandasena Hewage, Nihal
Dahanayake and Hethuka Jayatilleke played the other minor roles.
In a way it was a nice experience to be doing a totally different
dialogue drama after a long time. We did not have the three heads of the
Dragon actually FALLING on the stage. There was a huge thud and the
people watching the fight above rushed to each thud and then we had the
Dragon moaning, calling his friends and asking for a bit of water etc.
All in all it was a satisfying production. We had good reviews except
from Philip Cooray who had said it was all 'talk, talk, talk'!
We performed Makara in practically all the major towns and cities. I
remember taking the play to Hingurakgoda. The school show [matinee] was
full and the boys and girls enjoyed it thoroughly. They whistled
endlessly when the Dragon's heads fell one by one and there was
thunderous applause when Lancelot returned after recovery.
Poor Daya Alwis, who played the rascally Mayor had to put up with a
lot of booing. The main show was scheduled for 6.30. Even by 6 p.m. the
hall was almost empty. Then we saw a miracle happen. Men, women and
children arrived by tractor, by lorries and carts in their hundreds. We
had forgotten it was a farming community.
They had finished their day's work and it was only after that they
started arriving. By seven the hall was full. They were a very
enthusiastic crowd who wanted to see who this 'Makara' was! I have
hardly seen an audience enjoying a play so much. There were whistles for
the good men like Lancelot, the cat, the carpet maker, the violin maker,
hatter, blacksmith etc. and cat calls for the characters such as the
Dragon, the Mayor, Henry - the mayor's son, and all the sycophants of
The crowd went wild as the Dragon's heads fell, one by one. And there
were continuous whistles and applause as Lancelot finally took Eliza's
hand and said "I would have killed the Dragon in any case, but with my
love for you, it was easier and I was more determined."
I think that rural crowd from far away Hingurakgoda, immediately
identified who "The Dragon" was. They were like the carpet makers, the
hatter, the blacksmith and the cat who were waiting for the arrival of a
I remember another show at Katugastota St. Anthony's hall for quite
another reason. It was a very successful show and there was continued
applause after the curtain came down. We had to give the audience
several curtain calls. Some times I avoided going for the curtain call
because I wanted the cast to get the maximum applause.
After the curtain call was over, a young man came rushing in, to the
dressing rooms in search of me. I thought he had come to congratulate me
and offered him my hand with a broad smile on my face. He refused to
take my hand, but started lambasting me properly.
"Why are you scolding me? Did you not enjoy the play?" I asked him in
bewilderment - because the applause was so thunderous and prolonged I
thought everybody had ENJOYED the play!
"Why didn't you come on stage for the curtain call?" Was his angry
reaction. "I don't ALWAYS come on stage. I am only the translator and
the director of the play. When the applause is good I let the actors
have it all. That is part of my appreciation of their effort."
I answered patiently. The young man was well and truly agitated.
Hence my rather lengthy explanation. "You have written such a thought
provoking play and directed your actors so well, you SHOULD have come on
stage, to share our joy with you!" He thundered. "It is your DUTY!" He
thundered again. "I am sorry if I have offended you.
Frankly I was a little tired too. I have many things to do towards
the end of the play - directing the sound of the falling heads of the
Dragon etc. and I do the "moaning" for the injured Dragon. At least the
moaning of ONE of the heads! So I thought I will miss out on the curtain
call. I say young man, if you are so HAPPY with the play why are you
being so rough with me instead of congratulating me?" I tried to strike
on a jocular vein.
Mayor's wedding party
The dishevelled young man stared hard at me and wrinkled his nose.
"Not only did you neglect your duty by NOT appearing on stage, you have
also been drinking!" Declared the still angry man. "I can smell it in
your breath!" He added.
By now I too was getting annoyed a little bit, but I thought I will
humour this persuasive young man. "Yes, I too was invited for the
Mayor's wedding party and he offered me also a drink.
You know, that is how the Mayor is!" The young man was not amused.
"You write a play that is just right for our cursed times, and you go
drinking with the Mayor! You should be ashamed of yourself! I thought
you were a gentleman and a good man.
I am very disappointed in you!" Declared a very disappointed young
man and he burst out of the room. Several of my actors had gathered
around on their way out from the curtain call and they had thought that
the young man was a mad cap who had a grudge against me.
They wanted to interfere. "Who is that mad fellow?" Daya Alwis - our
Mayor - wanted to know. "Don't worry about him. He is only an over
enthusiastic spectator. He spoke very highly of the acting abilities of
our cast. He was angry I did not appear for the curtain call!" "He is
right. You SHOULD appear for the curtain call." Chorused some of the
I wonder where that young man is now. In any case I made it a point
to appear for the curtain call after that tirade in Katugastota that
night. So, Makara HAD its rounds and we enjoyed it. I think it brought
Dharmasiri Bandaranayake to the "acting" scene once again. Later, he was
observed concentrating more on films.
Anyway, there is an interesting "postscript" to Makara. In about 1983
or 84 [after the Black July incidents] Dharmasiri came to see me and
wanted my permission to do a new production of Makara. At that time I
was working for the Rupavahini Corporation and I knew - or at least I
THOUGHT I knew - what was happening in the North and what a tough time
our soldiers were having trying to quell the terrorists.
J.R. Jayewardene was President and I knew the Govt. was having a
tough time. I frankly thought it would be rather "indelicate" to launch
a production like Makara at that particular time - when there was a war
going on. So I asked Dharmasiri to wait a little more before he brought
the Dragon on stage again.
He was clearly disappointed. I told him that the play was NOT mine
and he could get a fresh translation and go ahead, if he was that keen.
So he got Cyril C. Perera to do a new translation and brought it on
stage. His version was called MAKARAKSHAYA.
In his production he actually had all three heads of the Dragon
falling on stage and one head looked very much like the head of J.R.
Jayewardene! Personally I thought that was too much.
Any way his production became very popular - much more popular than
ours. I think he even won a fair number of awards at the State Drama
Festival. It also featured a number of young women as Eliza including
the late Ramani Bartholomeauz and later, Swarna Mallawaratchi.
Dharmasiri himself played Lancelot.
I saw a performance of it with Ramani. She was very pretty and good
too. Somehow Dharmasiri did not make the same impact as he did in my
production. It could be that the double job of Director and Main Actor
took its toll on the chap.
I am not sure if J.R. ever came to know that one of the heads of the
Dragon was a look-alike of him. If he did, he would have ignored it
without making a fuss about it. If that was so, that was clever of him.
Thinking back about the whole thing I now feel that I SHOULD have
allowed Dharmasiri to use my script. Of course I could have lost my job
at the Rupavahini for joining in anti-Govt. propaganda, not that I
thought about it in that vein at that time. I just wanted to avoid
embarrassment to a Govt. that had its hands full with a war on their
Thought of the week
I often wonder what kind of "private" life these politicians have.
What I mean is after all the thunder and fire spitting both in
parliament and else where, how they would feel once they are back home.
Of course most of the time they have to lie, utter half truths and "eat
their own words" uttered so piously not so long ago - specially when
they have jumped from one camp to another!
They will find excuses for all kinds of things - from the prices of
essential goods, to petrol, diesel, kerosene, milk food and even on
subjects like the air attacks in Colombo. And on any reversal in the
It is easy to hoodwink a gullible public, but how they get away with
it at home, with their wives and children, I don't know. I suppose they
arrange a trip abroad or a holiday at some very exclusive place so that
the kith and kin would be placated. Unfortunately I don't know many
politicians, except for a nod and a smile wherever I cannot avoid
meeting them. Apart from all that there are so many Ministers, Deputies
and non-cabinet guys, one can hardly remember who is who.
It must be a tough life for the poor chaps - having to play so many
different roles within the course of a single day. I wonder how they
would fare on the legitimate stage - where pretending, illusion, and
down right fantasy is legitimately allowed!