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Henry Jayasena:

Last of the great Sinhala dramatists

The Henry Jayasena creativity On stage

1951: Janaki
1953: Manamalayo
1954: Vedagatkama
1959: Pavukarayo
1962: Janelaya and Kuveni
1964: Tavat Udesanak
1965: Manavarjana Vedavarjana
1966: Ahas Maliga
1967: Hunuvataye Kathava
1968: Apata Puthe Magak Nethe
1972: Diriya Mava saha Ege Daruwo
1973: Makara
1975: Sarana Siyoth se Puthun Hamba Yana
1978: Siri Sangab
1983: Jayathu Lanka Silver screen
1959: Gahanu Gata, Sri 296
1963: Gamperaliya, Vena Svargayak Kumatada and Suhada Sohoyuro
1964: Heta Pramada Vadi
1968: Dahasak Sithuvili
1980: Hansa Vilak
1981: Beddegama, Soldadu Unnahe
1983: Kaliyugaya
1984: Ammai Duwai (Raththaran Neth)
1988: Sandakada Pahana

Henry Jayasena is dead. I heard the devastating news as I reached Lake House last afternoon. I wanted to weep but I couldn't muster enough tears; they had dried with old age. I lost a dear old friend but his loss was greater to the arts of this country.

Playing his maiden role in Hunuwataye Kathawa

Although he was not moulded in the hallowed Shakespearean traditions he stood tall on the Sinhala stage in the poor modest unsophisticated Lumbini Theatre on Havelock Road and he extricated from the impoverished Sinhala audiences a warm response, for he was a classical dramatist and a superb actor.

He was often spoken in a manner somewhat effeminate but he would explode like Brando if the character he was portraying demanded a certain degree of toughness. He did so as a drunk in Titus Totawatte's brilliant film Handaya. He was a lovable drunk with Joe Abeywickrama in Soldaduwa a typically unconventional film. We were aghast with fear the cinema world was typecasting him as an alcoholic. But fortunately Henry overcame it.

Henry's great forte was the stage, the theatre and he knew it. For some time he discarded film roles and stuck to the theatre. His brilliance shone on the stage and he knew it and exploited himself fully.

With Kuveni and Hunuwataya Henry proved his dramatis personae elegantly and he had gone out of the millieu of Shakespeare, Brecht was secondary. Henry was first rate Sinhala power drama. His style lay in the stylized Sinhala plays; he infected a special poetic art to the traditional Sinhala theatre or Natya, the poetry that emerged through folk drama and the marrying of Sinhala verses/ and prose musicalled by the ancient kavi and Samudra Gosha. Henry was at centre stage acting but the song was there behind the scenes vibrating and humming.

A Scene from Gamperaliya

His was great theatre and he stood out splendidly. Henry would have winced at these comments for he was a self-effacing man. But this is a fact of art.

Henry and I were together at Siri Aiya's Lama Theeraya in the old Radio Ceylon down Cotta Road. Henry came in for the Friday 45 minute live broadcast with Trilicia Gunawardena. He had a Dilip Kumar hairstyle and was Siri Aiya's matinee idol. When I met him last at his modest home at Nugegoda we talked about Siri Aiya. Henry outstretched his arms and said 'This is all Siri Aiya'. He had just recovered from a bout of colon cancer; he had suffered anguishly. Of course his wife Manel was by his side nursing him faithfully.

Recalling his ordeal he confessed to me ' I don't wish even my worst enemy to go through this chemotherapy to cure him'. He was O.K. But in a few years Manel died of womb cancer. It was paradoxical.

Manel who had laboriously reproduced Kuveni almost single handed predeceased him. Henry was inconsolable. On the national TV Henry broke down. It was pathetic. So long Henry. I am keeping a copy of Kuveni you gifted to me with the inscription... 'Remembering old times'.

His life in a nutshell

Henry Jayasena was born in Bandiyamulla, Gampaha. He was educated in Lorenz College, Gampaha and Nalanda College, Colombo. He started off as an English teacher at the Dehipe Primary School in Nuwara Eliya in 1950.

He later entered the General Clerical Service Examination and was posted at the Public Works Department of Sri Lanka. He retired as the Deputy Director for the National Youth Services Council (Programs Division)

Being a famous performer in films, Jayasena has many films to his credit: Sri 296 (1959), Gamperaliya (1964) and Dahasak Sithuvili (1968) are a few. Dr. Henry Jayasena was more famous as Sudu Seeya in Doo Daruwo telecast in the early 1990s.

They said...

"Henry Jayasena was a strange man with no stone unturned in every field of arts in Sri Lanka. He professionalized himself as an all rounder to all kinds of art as a translator, original writer, theatre director, theatre actor, film actor, children's writer, poet, lyric writer, broadcaster and more.

He was an indigenous conscious man in his artistic works though his studies of aesthetics involved in modern techniques of his time.

He himself described his career in a column in Daily News Artscope, which was later published as 'The Play is the Thing'. He was a man of vast horizons in art and life. He was a very serious actor with various talents.

To me he is an actor even more than Gamini Fonseka, because he was a method actor of Stanislavski style."

"I think he is one of the greatest actor ever, whether it be on stage or film, he can never be replaced. His contribution for almost half a century is unique. When you take his maiden Hunuwataye Kathawa, it will come shoulder to shoulder with any drama compared internationally. It's highly reputed and he created a revolution in the field of drama.

He is a super class film actor, writer, poet and an excellent translator. It's very rare to find someone with so many talents and someone who dedicated his whole life to the development of the art. "

"I think he was actually one of the most sensitive, childish, talented persons Sri Lanka has ever had. My husband and I are both are lucky to have known him and worked with him. Specially, Gam Peraliya, I was amazed with the way everything was done.

It's a terrible loss, I'm really sad and I'm sure the whole nation is to. But it is enevitable. I think the last few years he lived with Manel, his life long partner were the best and after losing her, in a way he was not happy and now the person who feel the most emptiness in his life will be his son Sudaraka who was always a devoted son.

Lets hope he will have the strength with the memory of his parents. He is one irreplaceable human being who was gentle, caring, fairly bashful not brash. We known him from his younger days and we grew old together. May he attain Nibbana!"

"He is one of the best actors I have met. He's really a knowledgeable person and a real good human being and a real mahattaya."

"Jayasena was a natural actor with a superb vibrating voice and a great stage presence, a director of creative ability, a simple writer of great depth and a deep man who talked sense.

While production-wise Hunuwataye Kathawa is his best adapted play,Kuweni is his greatest original," praised Weeramuni, adding that an American critic who had seen Hunuwataye Kathawa hailed it as one of the most powerful plays he had seen anywhere. Henry was also a very gracious person and a very fair critic of other people's work."

Criticism on Henry's plays

"The way he adapts Oscar Wilde's creativity to the Sinhala stage is a little hard for the general Sinhala audience to grasp. Its characterization is at its best."

"Its deep dramatic quality makes it invaluable. Especially with its traditional drum style. It is meaningful."

"Its new form brings out an academic sense."

"Plays like these are the epitome of Sinhala traditional drama culture."

"It offers so many things for the budding play artistes to learn"



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