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Monday, 21 January 2013






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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.’

Rex Kodippili
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 den.

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 before.

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.

In Raktha

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 films?

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.

In Damayanthi

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 Kadira.

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 careers.

Q: Would you say that this discipline came from your years at the military?

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 that?

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 ‘Rex Mahattaya’.

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 challenge.

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 success.

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 liked me.

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 film-making.

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.

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