Retake on the ‘GOOD’ baddie
In a rural village called ‘Muwan Pelessa’, lived a man who was
misunderstood by many. He loved the warmth of beasts in the jungle more
than the pitiless people in the village. He was none other than the
masculine outlaw called ‘Kadira.’
Picture by Ranjith Asanka
Rex Kodippili who portrayed Kadira in the film sequels to the
legendary radio-play Muwan Pelessa, makes his presence before me.
After decades gone by, he still maintains his status as a charismatic
and respectful film actor. Thus he is still very much in demand in both
the cinema and teledrama fields.
A man of hospitality, Rex is finally all set to go down the memory
lane. His weighty voice echoes inside the house like a lion roaring in a
Q: You still have the macho look.
A: Yes. Plus the vigor too. (The branded smile appears) I can
easily deal with four or five guys at a time even today.
Q: How did you venture into cinema?
A: I was a physical training instructor in the Military
Police. After leaving the Military Police, I joined Salaka as the first
manager there. Artistes like Domie Jayawardena, Stanley Perera, Piyadasa
Gunesekera, Oswald Jayasinghe and even politicians used to come there.
Oswald Jayasinghe and I were friends because Oswald was in the Air Force
One fine day, I went to drop Oswald at a film-location in Nugegoda.
This was in 1969. K A W Perera happened to be the director of the film.
He came near the car and said, “Can you please get down from the car
Mister. I want to see your stature”. I obliged.
After quickly scanning me from head to toe, he offered me a small
role in his film Kathuru Muwath. I accepted and played the role of a
pick-pocket in his film. K A W came to see me again at my residence. He
said, “Rex, you have done a good job and we are going to remove the
whole thing from the film”. I was dumb found. In a way I liked it
because I was at the time very occupied at Salaka. Then K A W smiled and
said, “I am giving you the main villain role in the film”.
Chandraguptha Weerawardena put a photograph of mine in the Observer
with the caption, “New tough guy in films”. Then the whole industry
panicked. They were all looking for this new tough guy.
Before the release of Kathuru Muwaath, I got the opportunity to work
in four films.
Q: How would you recall doing hazardous action scenes in
A: My fifth film was an EAP film, Lokuma Hinawa. While doing a
stunt in this film, I broke my leg and was hospitalized for nine months.
In Muwan Pelessa 2, I had to fight with a black bear. The chap was
brought from the then famous ‘Circus-Pacifia’ and was unchanged for the
first time. The animal jumped at me and I had to hold him.
A fierce fight erupted. He had massive nails. I fought well and he
got some mighty jabs from me. I ended up with bruises all over my body.
I did stunts by myself in films. Soon I became the most wanted
villain. I think my villainous acts on screen have been dreaded by many
filmgoers. I am maintaining that position even today.
Once Dommie Jayawardene told me, “Rex, you will have to take over
from me and be a good villain.”
Q: You did an anti-hero role in Muwan Pelessa as Kadira.
A: Yes. The late Dharmashri Caldera and M. Arukgoda offered me
the character. It was an emotional character.
Veteran actor Piyadasa Gunesekera who portrayed Kadira’s predecessor
Wedikkaraya’s role in the film Binaramalee, commended on my portrayal of
My fans told me that I have maintained the credibility of Kadira
visualized by them by listening to the radio-play. It was like an award
given to me!
Q: You have impressed people in the circles with you singing
too. You deep voice does justice to Mohideen Baig’s songs.
A: I was very interested in singing from my childhood. When I
was 11 years, I became the best singer in that age-category in Uva
Province and received the prize from the late S W R D Bandaranaike.
Q: What is the secret behind your long existence as a
reputable film actor?
A: Well, anybody who has the aptitude for acting can do it.
One should be able to take up challenges. Other main attributes are
punctuality, discipline and dedication. Personality is vital too.
One must keep his vigor. Some people are not able to do what I do at
this age. I can still perform some of the stunts I did in my youth. Some
good actors who played the villain’s roles extremely well have wasted
their lives by getting addicted to liquor and by disrupting their
Q: Would you say that this discipline came from your years at
A: It really came from my home. My mother brought up her three
children, all boys, by herself. My father had died when I was one and a
half years old. We had to be very independent at home.
I played football and did boxing in school. We used to swim in the
Badulla River. I had a boarding life too.
Of course a part of the credit needs to go to my Military Police
training too. I became the captain of the Military Police swimming team.
I went through the mill and became a hard-nut.
Q: You conceptualized and wrote a series of investigative
articles for the Sunday Observer some time back. Would you elaborate on
A: Before joining Salaka, I had a stint as the manager at
Marina Café and Hotel at Pettah. All the fish-merchants and tough guys
used to come there for Biriyani meals and I had to mingle with them. I
became fluent in all three languages.
Keerthi Abeysekera the journalist who is a relative of mine, used to
come there. He said, “Rexie, since you are in touch with all these tough
guys, why don’t you go and interview them for the paper?”
I said ok and wrote a series of articles about chandiyas like Gini
Wathura Huzain, Bomba Huzain, Ganda Premae, Nawariyang, Hunu Kadae
Chandarae. This became a popular feature in the last page of the Sunday
Observer. Lawyers and planters used to read it mostly. My byline went as
Q: You did a memorable role as Sergent Silva in Gamini
Fonseka’s film Koti Waligaya.
A: Yes. Tony Ranasinghe told me that Gamini wants me to do the
role. After few days of shooting Gamini came up to me and said, “I say,
Rex, why don’t you handle the whole production of the film?” I accepted
The film required a lot of involvement with the army and the police.
Gamini knew my background and entrusted the coordination part to me.
When I took explosives required for the film from the army
headquarters, the Chief of staff Brigadier Balthazar said, “Rex, you are
taking ammunition to blow up the whole of Colombo”. He provided us with
a bus load of soldiers.
There was this emotional scene in the film where Gamini was deprived
of his love.I as his deputy try to console him by offering a small
drink. That is a striking moment in the project. The film became a huge
Q: How was your association with Gamini?
A: We met at a cricket match. Then in the 1970s he was
actively involved in politics and we used to visit his residence at
Ratmalana in the evenings to keep him company.
He was a very versatile person. He was a good singer, piano player
and a very good artist.
His drawing style was close to Susil Premaratne’s. Gamini doesn’t
entertain anyone in his room when he goes for a shoot. Sometimes Tony
and I used to creep in there. Gamini was a tough person and so was I. He
Q: What should we do to rejuvenate Sinhala cinema?
A: We cannot take the steps that Hindi cinema has taken. We
must introduce actors with personality. Scripts must have novelty and
substance. Every Dick, Tom and Harry should not venture into
The National Film Corporation must facilitate joint-ventures with
other countries. This gives our artistes an opportunity to learn from
foreign expertise. I have been in the sphere for 43 years and have never
gone abroad on a scholarship for at least one week.
Machan is the only Sinhala film given a world-release by a prominent
company so far.
Q: Out of all your films which is your favourite?
A: The storyline for Bicycalae was mine. Premakeerthi scripted
it. The evergreen song Tharu Yaye Athin Athata sung by Gratien Ananda
and composed by Rukantha Goonetilleke came in the film.
I did different roles in Raktha and Ahimi Dadaman. It took four hours
to set my make up in Ahimi Dadaman. Therefore I could work only for
three hours a day. Asha Daasin was a hit.
There are many more projects which my fans will be able to recall.