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Chandani banks on innate thespian skills

SARASAVIYA BEST ACTRESS (2006): Chandani Seneviratne

ACTING: “When I enter into diverse roles, not only the script but also the physical environment influence my performance. Even the climatic conditions have an instant effect on the artist’s performance. When I have to be emotional to fit into a scene, I either get into the emotions of the character through my own emotions or through the emotions of the character.

Even the changing of costumes from scene to scene could affect the mood of the artist in his preparation to enter into the role, said Chandani Seneviratne in an interview with the Artscope. Excerpts:

Question: You have been acclaimed with awards for your excellence in performance in cinema, theatre and television. Only a very few artists holds this distinction. How do you respond to this rare recognition?

Answer: My baptism in thespian art was in theatre for which I still do have the greatest respect and highest regard. It taught me the basics of discipline which one requires in performing in the moving art. Therefore, the training I received and the self-satisfaction I derived from theatre, has no parallel in any other medium.

Cinema and television differ from stage both in presentation and performance. My first stage play was Vikurthi. What is important is not the medium but the character one gets. That is the main source of energy and motivation. Since I am actively involved in the three mediums, I owe a greater responsibility to both art and the audience.

Q: How did you read the character of Sisiliyana in Tun Man Yamaya for the performance of which you received the award for the Best Actress of the year?

A: Sisiliyana, the character I portrayed, was initially inspired by the script. What she symbolised was a question common to all mothers; that is love and care for their child whose fate is determined by the social environmental conditions.

In this film the necessary historical background for portrayal of motherhood was provided by the exacerbated turmoil that prevailed in the South in 1989. The maternal sensibilities that last into eternity were drawn from the first hand experience of the director of the film.

Q: It is said that for one to be a good actor he or she should possess inborn talent as well as knowledge obtained through social observation. Any comments?

A: While one’s inborn talents provide the fertility required for prosperous grounding, one’s learning, training and experience in the relevant field of art spur the flowering of that hidden talent. Neither the inherent talent by itself nor by training alone could produce an eminent artist.

Talent should be spotted and developed. Social observation too is essential to enrich oneself in the art one is proficient in because it makes it a living and refreshing art that makes itself open to absorb the cultural and social changes developing in the surroundings.

An artist should be basically sensitive, and be able to identify one’s own talents. Intellect alone is insufficient. An artist should be sincere to the character he portrays while being fair by the profession to which he belongs.

Q: Do you see any difference in performing for the cinema, theatre and television?

A: Yes. Acting in each of these media is defined and determined by the difference in the energy flow required by each medium. Acting on stage within a huge frame demands more physical energy. It is also a direct live communication with an eager audience.

What is conveyed through the large screen is more assertive than what is communicated through the small screen. However, for me both these mediums are more or less similar. Yet performance for the large screen is more poignant and expressive than that for the small screen.

There are instances of the television camera being focused to achieve greater dramatic effect which we artists should realize. Thus when facing the camera for television or cinema, to understand the vision or the intention of the director is extremely important.

Q: Can you explain how you enter into different moods or emotions in a character?

A: When I enter into diverse roles not only the script but also the physical environment influence my performance. Even the climatic conditions have an instant effect on the artists’ performance.

When I have to be emotional to fit into a scene, I either get into the emotions of the character through my own emotions or through the emotions of the character. Even the changing of costumes from scene to scene could affect the mood of the artist in his preparation to enter the role.

Q: Do you perceive moves beyond what the script demands? How do you communicate such feelings to the director of the film?

A: If I notice the way the character develops demands an emotional or moral deviation from what the script or the director wants, I convey my feelings to him in a manner that he is prepared to listen to my suggestion. The director either accepts or rejects it depending on his vision. My experience is that many directors welcome such suggestions coming from us.

Q: What is your impression about you being recognised so often as the best actress?

A: The fact of my being honoured over and over again in recognition of my performance in theatre, cinema and television cast a compelling burden on me to perform better with increasing refinement. I really enjoy being honoured. It gives me an insight into my own performance and look back in retrospective assessment.

Q: In your long journey in the field of arts spanning for three decades, which of the characters you gave life to, do you like most?

A: In theatre, I like the character I portrayed as the mother in Vikurthi my debut on stage. Also I like the character of Yerma. I always subject my performance to self-criticism and I feel those two characters bestowed utmost satisfaction on me.

In cinema, the roles I played in Sathi Pooja, Suneetha and Sulanga are carved in bold impression in my memory. For television, my contribution to Nedeyo, Jeevithayata Idadenna and Sankranthi Samaya naturally come to my mind.

Of all those characters, my performance as Maya in Sankranthi Samaya is most striking because it was well written and an outstanding character of an ordinary woman. It took me away from the narrow monotonous frame of characters which I often acted out.

Q: What do you enjoy most acting in theatre, cinema or teledramas?

A: I equally enjoy performing for all these three mediums. However, preference for one over the other depends on the character I get. Its depth, complexity and variety contribute immensely to draw my continuing and absorbing attention.

Q: Who are the artists in the world cinema you like most? Any reasons?

A: Tom Hanks, for his brilliant portrayal of emotional characters. Merril Streep is the actress whom I like most. In the Indian cinema, for me, Ameer Khan is foremost among all actors for his stunning capacity to perform in a wide range of diverse characters.

Q: A versatile Sri Lankan actor has once said that an actor should be able to perform any character. Do your agree?

A: It is true that an artist should be capable of doing any role. But, how far one is successful in this effort is the question. There are certain characters which cannot be developed beyond what one’s body structure gives. That is why casting is a vital aspect in the production plan of a film. One should have confidence and talent that he or she can enliven a character given to him or her.

Q: According to Oscar Wilde art should not seek popularity. How do you apply this for cinema and drama?

A: An artist or a work of art should not go after popularity. Any work of art has the potential to draw crowds. However, cinema should seek popularity without which it cannot survive. A movie should appeal to a wider audience. This saying is correct in respect of poetry, but not in respect of theatre or cinema.

Q: What is your opinion about the present Sinhala cinema and its future?

A: Cinema today has gone astray. It should be considered and evaluated as an industry as well as an art. There is a confusion today as to which way our national cinema should move.

The current trend to lay emphasis on form above the content is harmful to the cinema, if persisted on. For any form of art, content is the core of sustenance. The practice of ‘stealing’ portions from various films and planting them in ‘new’ movies foretells a doomed future for our cinema.

Q: What are your plans for the future as a film artist?

A: My immediate desire is to direct a film. To begin with, I directed a few episodes in Samsare Piya Satahan which I found to be stimulating and invigorating. If I get a break one day to fulfil my ambition, I will be very fortunate. However, I will never abandon the stage which inspired me into who I am today.


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