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DateLine Wednesday, 22 August 2007

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'Oshin' and the dubbing unit

FLASHBACK: Titus Thotawatte with Oshin

THEATRE: It is customary for the Japanese to throw a cocktail party or a dinner to honour its guests. A dinner is normally given to a very high order Delegation or to visiting dignitaries. A cocktail party I believe is more common and thrown for 'lesser' people.

The 13 of us who participated in the three weeks' training course were treated to a nice cocktail party at some rather posh hotel in Tokyo. One of the men from NHK proposed the toast and at the end of it I was asked to make a little farewell speech on behalf of us trainees.

I started by saying that 13 is normally considered an unlucky number but that the 13 of us who participated in the course were indeed a 'lucky' lot! That was a good opening remark which made everybody laugh and I was more or less toasted for that remark.

All Japanese functions such as cocktail parties and meetings generally last only one hour. Our party also wound up exactly in one hour.

I missed my last drink - I believe the second - due to my speech, or so I thought until at the last moment I was offered my drink by my friend who had accompanied me to Hokkaido! We became so friendly that he even invited me to his home to introduce me to his wife and give me a home cooked dinner. That is very unusual in Japan in a casual friendship. He even took me to see the famous mountain FUJI near Tokyo.

It is normal for NHK to give a personal sort of chat interview to each delegate before he or she leaves for home. They had mine in one of the offices of NHK. They asked me whether the training course was useful. I told them it was very useful - especially because I was a newcomer to television.

They told me very courteously that I had done very well in the course. It could simply have been mere 'courtesy' and nothing else. Anyway I HAD learned a good many things from the course, the visits and chats etc.

Finally they asked me if I particularly NEEDED anything to take back home. I told them frankly that I certainly would like to take back something, not home, but to the Rupavahini Corporation I worked for.

They were a little puzzled and asked me what it was. I told them I would like to take back at least some of the episodes - the first few preferably - of 'OSHIN'. I am sure everyone who has watched television here would remember the famous Japanese long tele-serial Oshin. It was a very proud and painstaking production done by NHK. It was very popular. It was shown twice daily, at 11.20 a.m. and once again in the evening. They were 20 minute episodes.

Gesture of pleasure

The Japanese themselves were new to this experience - a saga of a series which covered three generations of Japanese life before and after the war. When I asked for Oshin several eyes in my little audience went up. I could see it was a gesture of pleasure and surprise and not of impossibility. I could see that they were collectively delighted.

"You were here only for a short time. How did you come to know of Oshin?" They asked me. "I have been watching the 11.20 telecast whenever I could find the time, in your coffee shop and in the evening too if I was free. And I have read a good deal about it from your magazines.

In fact I arranged with my interpreter, with great difficulty, to see the actual shooting of one of the scenes in your Studios. I was introduced to your eldest Oshin as a guest from Sri Lanka.

I was very happy and proud I got that opportunity - thanks to your diligent interpreter." My interviewers were truly amazed. Apparently nobody else had made this kind of request. They spoke among themselves very briefly in Japanese and came back to me. "You are truly a very observant man, Jayasena San." The Head of the conference told me without hiding his pleasure. "We will certainly consider your request." He added. I was in the seventh heavens!

"Of course we are a very 'young' Station which started television only a couple of years ago, with your gift of a studio and other requirements. I must add that we will be unable to pay competitive prices for your product. But I will be bringing it up at our Procurement Committee as soon as I get back." They all smiled and shook their heads in appreciation.

"Don't worry. We are aware of the facts." The big man said. Then they ordered coffee and we started chatting about other pleasant things like my visits in Japan etc. They never raised or ask questions about the ethnic issue. The Japanese are extremely courteous and diplomatic people.

Anyway the outcome of it all was that Rupavahini received the first 52 episodes of Oshin free - as a gift from NHK. Not only Oshin they even gifted us a series of short musical programs called the 'World Music Album'.

By the time I got back the Dubbing and Sub Titling Unit of Rupavahini was well established. M.J. Perera had very wisely invited Titus Thotawatte to be in charge of this unit. He had even allocated a vehicle for Mr. Thotawatte's use.

We received the first 52 episodes of Oshin pretty soon - It may have been sent through diplomatic channels or by special courier. My friend Titus was delighted. He told me very warmly "I say, Henry, I wish I could give you a title in telecasting my dubbed version - I am so happy and so grateful for the gift you have given me!" I told him very sincerely. "Don't worry about titles Ti, just give our audiences Oshin, and see what happens!"

Diplomatic channels

As expected Oshin became extremely popular among our viewers and Titus did a marvellous job of the dubbing assisted by Athula Ransirilal who was his assistant. Readers, I am sure, would like to know who voiced for the Oshins.

There were three of them - the very young Oshin, young and middle aged Oshin and finally the Grandma Oshin. It was Rasipaba Sandeepani [daughter of Geetha Kanthi Jayakody and now a very popular TV and film actress] who voiced for the very young Oshin. Then it was Rasadari Peries [now a very senior TV personality] who gave the voice to the young and middle aged Oshin.

Women artists

And finally it was Grace Ariyawimal [now a very senior TV and Radio personality] who gave the voice to the Grandma Oshin. [She was introduced to the Sinhala stage by me in my adaptation of Tennessee Williams' 'The Glass Menagerie' - Ahas Maaliga, in 1966 and I am very proud about it] I am not sure who voiced the other characters of Oshin. But Titus had a string of prestigious artistes voicing for him in the Dubbing Unit.

Men like J.H. Jayawardhana, Elson Divituragama, Wijeratne Warakagoda, Karunaratne Amarasinghe, Gemunu Wijesuriya, Parakrama Perera, Nimal Jayasinghe, Roy and Nihal Jayawardene, Saman Ataudahetti, Victor Migel, Karunatilleke Handuwala and Leslie Ramanayake come to my mind. Some of them are no longer with us. They did immense pioneering work with Titus Thotawatte.

Kusum Peries, Nelum Kalubowila, Nethalie Nanayakkara, Ratna Sumanapala, and Ratnawali Kekunawala are some of the women artistes who gave their voices to very many programs. In fact even I have dubbed for one or two characters [Jesus of Nazarath etc.] at the invitation of Ti Mahattaya. Even Ravindra Randeniya has given his voice to him.

Oshin ran and ran and was repeated even very recently. I believe it was also responsible for a change of attitude and approach even among our own Teledrama makers. The haunting signature tune of Oshin must be still ringing in the ears of many TV viewers.

The other program we received as a gift from NHK - 'The World Music Album' - was also made full use of. Each program was a short exposure of five minutes. While the music of Beethovan, Chopan, Tchaikovsky and other masters filled our ears the camera picked up scenes from their very birth places, their statues and other memorabilia, hauntingly.

I remember Rupavahini's Anoma Wattaladeniya presenting each segment with a little commentary and airing the programs in a series. The programs as well as the music were later used as fillers too. The music was extensively used on nature documentaries such as our waterfalls. I wonder if 'The World Music Album' has been preserved by Rupavahini and if they have why they don't use them.

The Dubbing Unit was made famous by Titus with programs such as 'Dostara Honda Hitha', 'Loku Baas - Podi Baas' and a lots of Children's programs. Most of the time he wrote the dialogue himself - often adapting the story line and the plot and the wisecracks to suit our audiences. He even achieved very subtle humour and irony on some of our politicians and other public people.

'Pissu Poosa' was one such creation by Titus aiming the humour at a certain individual, whom I will NOT mention. He was clever enough to get special lyrics for his dubbed programs written by men of the calibre of Premakeerthi de Alwis. 'Baey kiyala baei kiyala bae' is one such song from 'Dostara Honda Hitha' that comes to my mind! He had his own gang.

They worked together like a house on fire and often, I understand, shared a drink in the evenings after work! Titus Thotawatte was a great man to work with - provided you could 'ease on' with his temper. He has done so much for the Cinema and TV in this country and was clearly our PIONEER in the art of dubbing. I am surprised that no university has honoured him with a Doctorate so far and no Govt. has looked after him as this great man should be!

Thought of the week

I have never had the frustrating experience of time hanging on my hands - except through my sheer laziness sometimes which I rather enjoyed.

But right now, in my old age, and without Manel around, often I find time hanging on my hands - especially in the mornings And I don't enjoy it anymore. If I was a fitter and healthier man I could have immersed myself in some social work. But, while the mind is willing the poor body ravaged by a cancer etc. is too weak for that kind of thing.

I have been thinking about this. I could share my experience and knowledge with young people who need it. I could help them in subjects like stage craft, writing, speech, direction and acting. Of course this will have to be in the mornings - say from 9 to around 12. [Afternoons are off because I take a much needed nap] I cannot take on a large number but could manage with about ten.

Those who are interested could contact me by e-mail or by phone [271 5067] Or they could call over at 140/50, Kalapura, Mt Lavinia and meet me to see if I could be of any help to them.

Let me hope something good will come out of this thought of mine.



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