Cletus speaks across generations
The hulk of an actor welcomed me with his
dazzling smile. His features and physique reminded me of a Roman soldier
in Julius Caesar’s militia.
Cletus Mendis as he is known by all, looked calm and collected yet, all
set for a cordial discussion.
The stuntman turned versatile actor revealed many untold facts in his
life and in the celluloid world to ‘Daily News’ Projector.
Many people are talking about your portrayal in ‘Vijaya Kuveni’. The
character is a pillar in the production. How did you add such
credibility to this role?
Cletus Mendis. Picture by Roshan Pitipana
I had in-depth preproduction discussions with director Sugath
Samarakoone about my character in ‘Vijaya Kuveni’. We wanted to revive
the real situation in history.
Sugath elaborated what he expected of me. He is also an excellent
casting director and knew which actors suited the roles exactly.
Decades back I did the character of Octavius in the stage drama
‘Julius Caesar’. Gamini Fonseka was Julius Caesar. Prof Sarachchandara
saw my performance and invited me to play Prince Maname’s role in his
play ‘Maname’. Kisagothami Sarachchandra groomed me to suit the role.
This was a milestone in my acting career. The guidance and experience
I gained by engaging in such ventures and associating with learned
people inculcated many values and expertise into my personality.
Nissanka Diddeniya was a close associate of mine. He helped me link
with great personalities like Prof Sarachchandra.
Although I was typecast mostly as a villain in cinema, Anton Gregory
cast me in an anti-hero role in ‘Paramitha’.
Dharmasena Pathiraja had guts to cast me in a different role in his
teledrama ‘Kadulla’. It positioned me in viewers’ minds as a credible
My role in the film, ‘Viragaya’ too was appreciated by scholars. I
think experience moulds an actor to do challenging roles. I have been in
cinema as an actor for 35 years.
Your debut film direction ‘Parapura’ (Generation) is expected to hit
the screen in near future.
In a scene from ‘Vijaya-Kuveni’
The initiative came in 2010 when I went to Oman for a musical show.
An announcer there asked me why I had not tried my luck with film
directing. When I was getting down from the stage, a pleasant looking
person came up to me and said, “Cletus, if you direct a film I will
produce it”. That is how the project kicked off.
‘Parapura’ is produced by Basil Jayasuriya and Srimali. The concept
is mine. The film’s backdrop is set on agriculaure. It comprises a good
cast. The story revolves around three brothers played by Ranjan
Ramanayake, Chili and Kamal Addaraarachchi’s son.
Uresha Ravihari has rendered her voice for the songs in the film.
Dinesh Subasinghe, who has been educated at Indian maestro A R Rahman’s
Academy, handled the music scores.
Sanath Gunetilleke projects an anti hero character in ‘Parapura’. He
did it with absolute perfection. I did not want to typecast him as a
villain. This is because I have many years of frustrating experiences in
projecting a stereotype villain in Sinhala films over and over again.
What compelled you to become an actor?
The late Ranjan Mendis who acted in ‘Apeksha’ and ‘Palangetiyo’ was
my class mate. We played football in school and were in the national
pool. We applied to join the army and only Ranjan was selected. The
reason for my ineligibility had been my father’s engagement in politics
for the opposition party.
In 1971 my sister sent me to Katupotha to learn business. I taught
gymnastics and martial arts to the youth there. We built a clan and did
dramas at Church feasts.
In 1973 I faced an interview conducted by Henry Chandrawansa in
Colombo to select actors for a film. I met Sugath Samarakoone there.
The film was ‘Wanagatha Kella’. Witnessing the injustice done to
budding artistes in the sets compelled me to hit the cameraman. The
director apologized to me. Finally I became the fight director in the
Then in 2004 I joined Vishva Kala Sarasaviya at Mt Lavinia to learn
acting. Udayakantha Warnasooriya too was there with me. I saw injustice
happening to the female members there and couldn’t help but beat all
those responsible again. That was the end of Vishva Kala Sarasaviya.
Fighting against injustice was my forte. I am an extremely sensitive
Later I was introduced to Robin Fernando by my friend Ranjan who had
already made a name as a film actor. I did a supporting role in Dr
Lester James Peries’ ‘Weera Puran Appu’ and got to know Ravindra
Randeniya, Wilson Karunaratne and many other personalities in the
celluloid world.After ‘Weera Puran Appu’, I acted in ‘Yali Pipunu Malak’,
the film version of the popular cartoon story by Janaka Ratnayake. It
was also the first directorial venture of Anton Gregory.
Then I was given the role in ‘Paramitha’ by Gregory. I portrayed the
role of an anti-hero there. It was somewhat a different role which dealt
with love, hatred and deception.
Afterwards I was typecast as villain in an array of films for
You had produced a film, ‘Weera Udara’ some time back.
I produced ‘Weera Udara’ before venturing into film direction. I have
bitter experiences with that film. The Sinhala film industry was in dire
straits at the time. Cinema goers and producers were distancing
themselves from Sinhala cinema.
That was the time actors became producers with the sole intention of
safeguarding the industry from perishing. ‘Weera Udara’ too faced many
challenges. We were struggling to keep our film in the circuits.
The distribution network of Sinhala films must be revamped. We had
been talking about state-of-the-art mini cinemas for decades and the
National Film Corporation is still sitting out on the idea.
What is the highlight of your career in the celluloid world?
D R Nanayakkara was an actor whom I greatly respect and adore. I was
cast as a businessman in ‘Paramitha’ and D R was my assistant.
Gregory said ‘action’ and the Shooting began. D R came to me with a
bundle of files and delivered his dialogue calling me “Sir…”. I got
distracted and was dumbfound. I could neither deliver my dialogues nor
perform. Gregory was querying as to what went wrong.
D R instantly understood the situation, told Gregory to calm down and
came to me. He said to me, “Take it easy, brother. I may act as your
servant today and tomorrow I will perform as Gamini Fonseka’s boss. That
is cinema. You can respect me in whatever way you like outside the sets
but now you must perform your role well.”
That was a golden advice given to me by D R.
I used to visit Gamini Fonseka when he lived in Ja Ela. Once I
snatched the cigarette he was smoking and threw it away merely for the
love and respect I had for him. Gamini roared like a lion in rage. I was
very hurt. I bent down and remained like that. Gamini saw my tears
scattering onto the floor. He came to me and patted on my shoulder
saying, “You are too sensitive, chum. You have substance to become a
good actor. Get rid of your ultra sensitiveness.” He also gave me many
books to read.
A joyride that you don’t want to miss
The ‘Madagascar’ gang
They’re in Africa. It’s Alex the Lion’s birthday. His friends in
adventure, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo, and Melman the Giraffe
have recreated the Central Park on sand. But Alex wants to go to his
real home, New York.
‘Madagascar 3’ which is currently screening at Liberty cinema,
Colombo, and Willmax, Anuradhapura, takes off from where ‘Madagascar:
Escape 2 Africa’ ended.
Penguins Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private are their ticket to New
York, what with their super van-cum-airplane equipped fully with GPS
navigation and other military intelligence paraphernalia. But there’s a
hitch: Alex is on animal control officer Chantel DuBois’ Most Wanted
list. The wily, exaggeratedly evil-looking, gravity-defying DuBois’
shuttles between scooters and makeshift airplanes, all so that Alex’s
‘excessively hair-conditioned’ mane can adorn her wall of prized animal
heads. Her flights of fury ensure scooter chases that could give any
action film a run for its money.
Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman reach Monte Carlo (the adventure
involved in this journey is not explained). Italy. London. Finally, New
York. On the way they manage to convince Vitaly the Siberian Tiger and
Gia the Leopard to take them onboard a circus train, obviously lying
about being circus animals themselves.
With uproarious chases, smart penguin chatter, love blooming between
Alex and Gia and King Julien’s hilarious display of affection for Sonia
the Bear, ‘Madagascar 3’ makes for a more than delightful watch. Hail
King Julien and his antics to impress his new found love!
There is hardly time to register or ponder over what unfolds; it’s so
fast-paced it could get nauseous. Add to this a spectacularly colourful
and playful display of pyrotechnics, set appropriately to Katy Perry’s
‘Firework’. Madagascar 3 does not shy away from glorifying animals in
circuses, but they’re all having fun and entertaining you to bits. We
must not complain. The burst of colour is not likely to impress all;
still the animation is clearly the result of artistic revelry. The
quality of animation of the Madagascar franchise was never in doubt.
‘Madagascar 3’ is a joyride you don’t want to miss. It’s a perfect
treat for you and your kids!
‘Vijaya Kuveni’ marks 50 days
Sugath Samaraskoon’s debut cinematic venture ‘Vijaya Kuveni’ ran for
50 days in theatres island wide. The film is set in the era when Aryans
visited the island which was inhabited by members from the Yakka, Naga,
Raksha and Deva communities. It is a historic epic which relates the
tales of our ancestors.
A felicitation ceremony was held recently at the National Film
corporation premises to honour the team for their contribution. Our
photographer Lalith C Gamage captured these moments from the event.