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Yesteryear’s Sinhala film comedians

Humour is an essential ingredient in our performing arts. Even in our Thovil ceremonies we come across comic scenes between the chief drummer and the devil dancer. The aim here is to entertain the tired audience and to relieve their boredom and monotony. Our Kolam and also Sokari dramas put the audience in rollicking laughter. Jasaya and Lenchina is a case in point. Our celebreated dramatist John de Silva had myriads of comic sketches in his dramas.


Kadawunu Poronduva

William Shakespeare the bard in English literature had not failed to introduce comic scenes in order to add humour in his plays. They are found in his works Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew and Midsummer Nights Dream etc.

Mid 20th Century

Late Charlie Chaplin one time ace Hollywood Comedian gave inspiration to our dramatists who had humorous characters in their works. Plays like Kapuwa Kapothi, Vedahatana in Sinhala and He comes from Jaffna and Well Mudliyar in English staged in the mid 20th Century had humour and satire as their themes.

Dramas most of which were staged at the Tower Hall Theatre had two or three comedians including females. One such was Sivamma Dhanapala. There emerged drama groups like the Minerva Group from Negombo led by B A W Jayamanne, he produced a good number of plays like Kadawuna Poronduwa ((Broken Promise) Avataraya (apparition).

Another group had as its head Sirisena Wimalaweera from Tangalle. He had players like Rodee Kella, Seedevi, Amma and Pitisara Kelle etc. Like Jayamanne Wimalaweera took his plays round the country.

These two groups later took to film making Jayamnne got the credit for making the first film. That was Kadawuna Poronduwa shown on January 21, 1947 at Kingsley Theatre, Colombo. This film ran to crowded houses mostly because of the comic scenes of Eddie Jayamanne who had as his companion Jemini Kantha a Malay lass from Badulla. It is stated that this film was so popular that people from rural areas hired vehicles to see this film screened in the major cities.


Eddie Jayamanna

A feature in this film was that the comedians played the role of husband and wife. This was because at that time in Tamil films too there was a couple as comedians. An example was Krishnan and Mathuram as we saw in Chandralekah. In Kadawuna Poronduwa Eddie Jayamanne played the role of Manappu while Jemini Kantha played the role of Jossie. Their dialogues and songs were on everyone’s lips at that time.

Comic interludes

Eddie Jayamanne who was called the local Charlie Chaplin continued as the comedian along with Jemini Kantha in other films Kapati Arakshakaya up to Peralena Iranama. From there onwards his comedian partner became Mable Blythe. She hailed from Nuwara Eliya.

It is no exaggerating to say that Jayamanne films became immensely popular and acclaimed by the masses because their comic interludes.

BAW could not resist this temptation when he decided to produce reputed novelist WA Silva’s work Kele Handa.

Here Eddie Jayamanne played the role of Anda and Mable Blythe was brought in for a comic role Missie created by BAW.

In fact there was no such a character in the original novel and therefore W A Silva vehemently objected to having an additional character called Missie. But BAW insisted and convinced him that without this new comic role the film would not be a Box-Office hit. Finally W A Silva relented.

Tamil films

We see now that the then filmmakers deliberately introduced comic scenes for crowd pulling. For this purpose they copied Tamil films which had comedians like “Krishnan Mathuram, Thangavely, Pulimuttai.

Ramaswamy, Nagesh etc. in Hindi their counterparts were Om Prakash Johnny Walker, Agha David and Bhagvan. The last acted in a Sinhala film Dostara in 1956. BAW Jayamanne through his Minerva group introduced several versatile comedians such as Hugo Fernando, Bertram Fernando. Pitipana Silva, Anthony C Perera, Eddie Yapa. All of them were from Negombo area.

Of them the real maestro was Hugo Fernando who besides acting was a Music director, background singer, dialogue writer etc. Christy Leonard Perera although not from Negombo was another sought after comedian. He first came to limelight in Radala Piliruwa another work from Novelist W A Silva.

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