22nd death anniversary on July 7:
New trends eclipse the lifestyle of the society each era but
significantly it is the creations which hold value and dedication,
oozing with an ample amount of talent that survive for decades. The
songs of legendary vocalist H R Jothipala is a good example to prove
this fact. Though more than two decades had passed since his melodious
voice was put to rest, his popularity never ceased to die.
Gifted vocalist H.R. Jothipala
Voice of the voices
He was known as the inimitable playback voice behind many of the
songs of the silver screen of his time. He holds the record as the
playback vocalist who had rendered his voice for the most number of
songs in history of Sinhala cinema, the number amounting up to 330
films. The last film which included one of his tracks was Supiri
Balawatha which was released the year before.
Hettiarachchige Reginald Jothipala was born to a middle class family
in Katawalamulla on February 12, 1936. His father was H R James and his
mother was Ahaliyagoda H K Podinona Perera. Jothi was the eldest in a
family of five. He was a product of St. Lawrence College, Maradana, and
St. John's College, Dematagoda.
Fassion for music
Interestingly Jothi had never pursued music as a subject, neither at
school nor after completing his studies. Rather he was in the habit of
spending his time at tea kiosks in the area listening to other vocalists
as his family did not possess a radio. Though he himself never dreamt of
succeeding to such heights, his passion for music swept him in the right
His entrance to the scene was hard earned as he had to face a number
of hardships and slights on the hard earned journey. Some criticised the
youth for singing to the tunes of popular Hindi hits and still more did
not believe in his potential as a vocalist. He began on a small scale by
singing duets with Wasantha Sandanayake and G S B Rani Perera at SLBC
before gradually emerging as the star. Though his debut as a playback
singer was in Cyril P Abeyratne's Surathalee with the hit song Siriyame
Sara, the talented youth had recorded a track for the late Sirisena
Wimalaweera's Podi Putha. The song was mysteriously slashed from the
film and Jothi had been in the brink of committing suicide when he went
with his friends to watch the film at the theatre. According to sources
the key to this incident had been the fact that Jothi's voice had failed
to impress the Indian film composer who had worked on Podi Putha.
Jothi with Pandit W.D. Amaradeva and Dr. Ajantha
Later when Surathalee producer Jabir A. Cader wished to hear one of
his songs so that he could decide on him for the movie, Jothi almost
passed out on the opportunity as he did not possess enough money to
launch a record.
Fortunately for him veteran musician Stanley Omar came to the rescue.
He helped him out of financial difficulties and this act of goodwill
made way for a much-awaited break for the budding young musician. With
Siriyame Sara becoming a hit overnight, Jothi was on his way to stardom.
It did not take him long to top the charts and achieve a huge fan base.
He also clinched the label of possessing an excellent screen voice, a
title that no one else had been able to replace up to date.
Range of pitches
Jothi worked under a number of reputed directors of the island and
had lent his voice all classes of actors ranging from Eddie Jayamanne,
Ananda Jayaratne, Gamini Fonseka, Vijaya Kumaratunga, Ravindra Randeniya,
Sanath Gunatilleka to the younger generation of actors like Damith
Fonseka and Lal Weerasinghe. One of the highlights of his career was the
opportunity to work with the doyen of Sinhala cinema, Dr. Lester James
Peries in the historical Sandeshaya. He sang the evergreen number
Pruthugeesikaraya to the melody composed by reputed musician Sunil
Santha according to the lyrics panned by veteran lyricist Arisen Ahubudu.
One significant aspect linked with Jothi's melodious voice is that it
transcends time. He had the capacity to sing at a range of pitches and
he had the talent to mould his individuality through his numbers. Though
many musicians of the past and present tried to imitate him they never
quite succeeded in their effort.
It is believed that Jothi studied the persona of the actor whom he
was supposed to give voice to and varied his voice to suit the artiste.
This feature was a bonus point for him and brought him opportunities to
sing for all types of characters: heroes, villains and comedians. He was
a one-take singer and never sang the original songs under the batons of
Pandith W D Amaradeva, P V Nandasiri, Premasiri Khemadasa, Sarath
Dassanayake, Victor Ratnayake and Milton Mallawarachchi. There is still
a high demand for Jothi's cassettes and CDs and in fact they are among
the highest sold in the market today. In addition he has become an icon
for many a youngster who step into the industry hoping to pursue a
Sada Aadara Jothi
Not limiting his talents to singing the much sought after vocalist
had even ventured towards acting. His debut shot was in a group scene in
Daskama in 1958. Later he was given the opportunity to act in a more
significant role in Sudu Sande Kalu Wala in 1963 before being offered
heroic roles in a couple of films like Amathikama and Athulweema
Thahanam. He developed his image as an actor through Joe Dev Anand's
Geetha, Sujeewa and Obai Mamai.
He also portrayed some memorable roles in Sulalitha Sobani, Sukiri
Kella, Abirahasa, Bonikka and Shanthi. He produced and played the main
role in Roy de Silva's Sumithuro which is based on his life story. Roy
had currently made another feature film Sada Adara Jothi (Ever Loving
Jothi) based on the legendary vocalist's life story. The movie is
complete and is currently on queue for release.
Jothi clinched two Sarasaviya awards as the best playback singer in
1982 for Sara Sande in Mihidum Sihina and in 1985 for Palu Susanaya in
Obata Divra Kiaynnam. He also bagged the award for the most popular
singer for several years. His unique skills together with dedication for
the profession got him to the zenith of his career. Popular Indian
vocalist Mohamed Rafi once commented that Jothi should have been born in
India since Sri Lanka was too small a country for him to get him to the
international spotlight. Rafi's comment remains one of the best praises
he received in his lifetime.
Indeed he had his own share of devotees for a music show was never
complete without him. The demand was so great that Jothi Rathriya, a
string of popular musical concerts was launched in 1980. He had
performed 242 concerts the Jothipala Fan Club named Jothi Mithuru
Samajaya was incepted in 1971.
Jothi married Blossom Winter, a nurse by profession, and the couple
had four daughters. He died at the age of 51 on July 7, 1987.