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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

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Evergreen & ever loved

There are millions of questions one would want to ask Irangani Serasinghe, a name that brings to mind the image of a quintessentially affectionate mother or grandmother. Compassion, prudence and dignity are words synonymous with her character. She is many characters in one who has given a number of unforgettable roles to the cinema, theatre and the small screen. Rekava carved her line of destiny. She later portrayed several significant roles in Delovak Athara, Bakmaha Deegay, Kinihiriya Mal, Yashorawaya, Doo Daruwo and Doowaru.

The thousands of ideas waiting to burst out of her head and shared with those around her deceives the silent serenity and composure on her face in front of strangers. Once triggered, however, our 'Encounter of the Week' is full of stories, ideas and little quips about her projects and social outlook.

Environment activist and seasoned actress Irangani Serasinghe. Picture by Wasitha Patabandige

Q: You are English educated. Therefore Sinhala is a second language for you. However your profession demands you to mostly cooperate in Sinhala.

A: I was born and bred in the village. Once I started going to school and was boarded, we communicated entirely in English. Therefore Sinhala became a second language.

However when we went home for the holidays, we conversed with the other villagers in Sinhala. Therefore it was not an entirely an alien language for me. However I did have a few problems understanding literary Sinhala. Even today when I listen to the news or read a newspaper I have difficulties understanding certain terms.

I can manage everyday language but not if I want to stress on something complex. Then it is very frustrating because I do not know the exact words to use. Sometimes there are words in the scripts which need explanation. I realize that if I knew Sinhala it would be very much easier for me.

Q: You studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art in UK. How important has that experience been in shaping your career?

A: It helped a great deal. Professor Ludowyek advised me to go to a drama school. I was astounded because I did not know there was anything to learn about drama. It was only when I went there that I realized that there is a lot to learn than merely stepping on stage and getting into the skin of a character.

It is a great shame that there isn't a state drama school to train young artistes. A few artistes like Somalatha Subasinghe have started training schools. That is good because that means that there is some form of training but that is not sufficient. The full course that I did for theatre took four years. A lot of attention is paid to speech because you have to make yourself heard to the audience in the last row.

You maybe a very talented person but every art embodies techniques. You need to learn that. If you are a pianist your fingers need to be supple. You have to learn how to handle the bow. Similarly a dancer has to learn the steps and train his or her body on how to move. Likewise an actor addresses the audience with his or her voice and body. Those two are your instruments. Therefore you have to prefect these two aspects. The training of the mind is important as well. You need to develop sensitivity.

Q: Why do you name theatre as your first love?

In Doo Daruwo

In Kinihiriya Mal

A: You act right through the play from start to finish but in a teledrama or film you can start at the end or from the middle. There is no flow. You have many close ups and there are these tiny details which you have to alter. It is like turning a tap on and off.

I was used to building up a whole background for the character while performing in theatre. That is how you build that role. In TV and cinema you have to plunge into the role at once. Sometimes you have to play highly emotional scenes over and over again if the take does not come out right. It is not easy.

Q: Most people see you as 'Mother or Grandmother No 1' in the industry.

A: True, I was mostly a mother and now a grandmother but the roles were in different situations and had different kinds of relationships with other characters. However there were a few instances in projects like Sandeshaya where I did a different role, a character of a spy!

Bakmaha Deegay is of a different style. People were horrified by my portrayal in Kinihiriya Mal. They even asked me why I took on such a role.

I informed that an artiste likes to have variety in their roles to prove that you are able to play such characters and to derive a sense of pleasure from your performance.

The public are delighted by some role you play and they like to see you in that particular mould.

Q: Dulsi Nona in Doo Daruwo is evergreen. What made her so?

A: I used to think that it is not me but it is the problems that she has which are common to thousands of people in the society.

They identified themselves with that mother. That drew them towards her.

Q: How different is your role in Doowaru?

A: It is quite a complicated role. My character evokes comedy because she reacts to drumming. She is also a far thinking grandmother and a mother who pretends to herself that her children wants her.

A mother has become a useful tool in the society. It is a pathetic situation. I understand Nalaka's way of doing thing and his demands. It is very comfortable to work with him and now we have become friends.

Q: You are not among the jury in any of the popular reality television shows on TV.

In Bakmaha Deegay

A: I do not believe in competition, especially in the arts field. Reality television prorammes are driving us to become more and more competitive. Every child is not a born dancer or singer but the mothers drive children to compete in the event. They do not project the attitude that this is just a game. This attitude is even found in schools where children are driven to do harmful deeds to children who are better than them in certain subjects when we should be talking about cooperation.

Q: You harbour a love for environmental conservation. You are also the pioneer of Ruk Rakaganno (Protectors of the Trees). What brought on this passion?

A: My passion is the natural environment. Conservation of natural resources is immensely important for the survival of Sri Lanka as well as the world. We are so negligent about this fact. We have destroyed many things throughout the ages.

I wish I knew Sinhala better because then I could talk to people about saving the environment in a more effective manner. I learnt all the terms connected with the subject and try to do my best to send home the message. I was born in Ruwanwella which comprises beautiful sand dunes. Now the beauty is destroyed because of sand mining. You cannot walk on the beach without tiny stones pricking your feet. The bottom of the river holds rocks and mud instead of sand. The river had come crept closer to the road. We are also looking after an arboretum in Dambulla which was started by Sam Popham, an English planter. He did not engage in plantation but took out all the trees which were not natural to that area. We have creatures like the loris living in that area. Anyone who wants to know about the vegetation of that area and the creatures can visit the site.

I am also involved with the Jetwing JEEP programme which contributes to minimize global warming. They protect a 100-acre Analogue Forestation site located at Jetwing Hunas Falls and create awareness among schoolchildren.

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