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Monday, 2 July 2012






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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.

In ‘Viragaya’

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 performer.

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 film!

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 man.

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 decades.

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.

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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.

Laughter aplenty

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.


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