Simplicity of expression
Premakeerthi's 20th Death Anniversary :
Veteran radio and television journalist and popular lyricist
Samaraweera Mudalige Don Premakeerthi de Alwis will be remembered and
honoured at his 20th Death Commemoration which will be held at the John
de Silva Theatre tomorrow (30) at 6.30 p.m. The ceremony named Thani
Tharuwe is organized by the Premakeerithi Commemorative Committee.
Premakeerthi de Alwis
A collection of his much loved legendary lyrics written for radio and
film songs will be sung by several leading vocalists at the event.
Sanath Nandasiri, Victor Ratnayake, Nanda Malini, Latha Walpola,
Anjeline Gunathilaka, Malkanthi Nandasiri, Rupa Indumathi, Srimathi
Thilakaratne, Rohana Weerasinghe, Rohana Baddage, Bandula Wijeweera,
Neela Wickremasinghe, Edward Jayakody, Nirmala Ranatunga, Niranjala
Sarojini, Priya Suriyasena, Priyankara Perera, Ranil Mallawarachchi,
Ishak Beigg, Amal Perera, Kithsiri Jayasekera and Rodney Warnakula will
take part in the musical ceremony. Music will be led by Jayantha
Some of the songs written by Premakeerthi for Television Muppet Shows
by Titus Totawatte which are immensely popular among the younger
generation will also be sung at this ceremony. Ba kiyala Ba kiyala Ba,
Duwe Puthe Ba Kiyala Kisima Deyak Ne, is such a song. Senior artiste
Jackson Anthony will deliver the keynote speech.
The organizers offer an open invitation to the public for this event.
The Premakeerthi Commemorative Committee has organized many a religious
activity in memory of this legendary artiste over the last 20 years. A
highlight of the event is the launching of the book 'Premakeerthi in
Retrospect' (Premakeerthi - 20 years of remembrance) which has a
collection of articles on the great artiste. The organizers have made
arrangements for this book to be given away to Premakeerthi fans free of
What was the secret of Premakeerthi's popularity among radio
listeners and television viewers alike? "What both listeners and viewers
want is simplicity of expression," he had said. "My ploy was to
intersperse traditional written language with colloquialism of folk
tongues. I think it became very successful." The sprightliness of his
language and its bend for original creativity enticed both viewers and
Premakeerthi's father wanted him to join the railway service
following in his footsteps. But Premakeerthi had other aspirations for
his future. He used to lie in bed listening to radio and mimic news
reading. His father saw his artistic ability and introduced him to
Arthur U. Amarasena. Amarasena enrolled Premakeerthi as a feature writer
in the cinema periodical Visitura published by Davasa group.
Nirmala de Alwis
Later, the well-known radio artiste and lyricist Karunaratne
Abeysekera turned out to be his mentor and he became part of the
children's programs Lama Pitiya and Lama Mandapaya of Sri Lanka
Broadcasting Corporation. In 1967, he became a relief radio announcer
and was confirmed in 1974 as a Grade Two announcer. Thereafter, he
became known as Podi Master and presented programs such as Sonduru
Sevana, Serisara Puvath Sangarawa and Shanida Sadaya.
Premakeerthi could not be described as someone good looking. When he
approached the television medium, authorities had doubts about his
appearance with his nala datha (extra tooth) and his television program
on Rupavahini, Anduna, was presented hiding his face and only showing
his eyes. The viewers became very curious to find out who he was. He
became popular through the program and no longer could he be hidden and
went on to present tv programs like Ayubowan and Sampath Rekha of the
National Lotteries Board.
Influence from folklore
Premakeerthi did not follow study courses in radio or television.
What was the secret of his success? What he presented on mass media was
what he had derived from folk literature and what he had learnt from
both traditional and modern communication methods. He had a very lively
manner of sharing with his listeners and viewers what he had experienced
in his own life.
Veteran lyricist Bandara Eheliyagoda said of Premakeerthi: "A song
must be simple yet has depth and that is how a song becomes popular. Be
it a love song or a Buddhist song or a song touching social issues,
Premakeerthi used his own unique manner of expression. He used local
folk language very well."
In 1969, he wrote his first song Hada Puda Asune sung by Rupa
Indumathi and Malkanthi Nandasiri. His film songs begun with Kekulu
Malaka Pethi Matha for K. W. Perera's direction, Lokuma Hinawa, counted
about 160 films at the time of his untimely death.
The freshness of his lyrics can be seen in his songs such as Muthu
Menike, Devram Vehera, Minisaku Pita Negi Asaruwaki, Thani Tharuwe,
Bindu Mathi, Sithin Ma Nosali Sitiddi Kandula Numba Evidin and Banen
Benda Rajarata Pedesinne.
His language was not meant only for the elite literate or only for
small children or only for adults. He used his language to address both
young and old, and both the illiterate and the literate, creating vocal
balm to heal their minds.
It is said that to compose a song, Premakeerthi only took the time
required to light up a cigarette and smoke it. In that short span of
time, he completed typing out the song on his typewriter.
The late Dharmasiri Gamage had said this of Premakeerthi: "He was a
person who could dwell on tragedies he had experienced in his life as
blissful dreams. Tears did not unnerve him and pain could not deter him.
Such an attitude is only possible for an artiste who can pick a flower
from the pond of tears and disseminate its fragrance to the rest of the
Preamkeerthi had an enormous number of requests to pen lyrics. It was
not because he worked at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and it
was easier for him to play songs. It was because of his ability to be
creative. Every sentence he wrote had a freshness of poetical
Premakeerthi made comic songs into an art form. "Sri Lanka has a
tradition of comic songs," he said. "I have always felt that comic songs
should be changed to a meaningful medium. These songs should not be
comical but satirical. Satire is like a double-edged sword. While making
people laugh, the comical situation can also be a critique of society. I
wanted to see how the public will react to satirical songs." His first
satirical song, Aluth Kalavak Soyagaththa Man Diyunuvenna One Nam, Nikan
Inna Epa Kohoma Kohoma Hari Dapalla Ban Pethsam penned for the film
Sujeewa and sung by late Freddi Silva is testimony to that vision.
He did away with accepted traditions of news presentation and greeted
people with new traditions of radio and television presentation.
In that era, programs connecting listeners on telephone was not
prevalent. Premakeerthi did that on his radio news program Sarisara and
tested new manners of news presenting.
"The attention span of any one on any sound is only 30 seconds. After
that, attention breaks down." Premakirthi used this attention span of 30
seconds to the maximum as an announcer to break news on a topic.
It is also said that he was present at a hotel in Anuradhapura during
its December 31st dance. Crowds were dancing to a varied manner of songs
which included Gunadasa Kapuge's song on the mother - Davasak Pela Nethi
Hene Akala Vesi Eda Heluna. Premakeerthi approached the dancing young
men and asked them not to dance but to listen to the song. They did so
and one young man even had tears in his eyes. "Let the tears come," said
a sensitive Premakeerthi. "It shows how you appreciate the song."
On his 11th death anniversary, the Beddelanda Yaya village located in
the Wellawaya Pradeshiya Sabha in the Monaragala District was
inaugurated as 'Premakeeerthi de Alwis Memorial Village' by Premakeerthi
Commemoration Forum and 'Premakeerthi Daru Rela' (Children of
Premakeerthi) organised by his wife Nirmala and son Poorna Sampath.