Milestones in the evolution of Sinhala film music

Kala Korner by Dee Cee

Before introducing two new CDs released by Sri Lanka's leading songstress, Nanda Malini with a selection of her film songs sung over the years, it's opportune to look back and see how Sri Lankan film music progressed over the years.

Sri Lankan cinema is now in its 63rd year. The first Sinhala film, 'Kadavunu Poronduwa' (Broken Promise) was screened in January 1947. The local film industry was heavily influenced by India and the early Sinhala films either followed the Indian film slavishly or they were carbon copies of South Indian films. Studio facilities being not available locally, local producers made their films in South India using Indian directors and technicians in addition to the studio facilities.

Music was always an integral part of Sinhala cinema and here again the local producers depended heavily on Indian musicians. They not only provided the music but used Indian tunes for the film songs. Most of the songs were mere copies of Indian ones with Sinhala words replacing Tamil or Hindi words. There were also instances of Indian singers, particularly females being used to sing Sinhala film songs.

Although there was an early breakthrough when Shanthi Kumar directing 'Asokamala', the second Sinhala film, boldly used Mohamed Ghouse to direct the music with Amaradeva (then W. D. Albert Perera) singing some of the most popular Sinhala film songs, the trend of using Indian musicians continued for quite some time. The mid-1950s saw things changing gradually and the Sinhala film taking a more meaningful path with Lester James Peries giving the lead with 'Rekawa'.

The local film industry got recognition with the inauguration of the Sarasaviya Film Festival in 1964 when the best films, actors and technicians were selected and awards given. Film music gained due recognition with awards being presented to the Best Music Director, the Best Lyricist and the Best Playback Singers (male and female).

While W. D. Amaradeva got the first award for his score in 'Gamperaliya' (there were no songs in the film), other music awards were carried away by 'Ranmuthuduwa' with Chandraratne Manwasinghe being chosen as the best lyricist and Nanda Malini and Narada Disasekera the best playback singers (All three awards were for 'Galana gangaki jeevithe').

Over the past five decades, film music has come a long way with some of the country's leading musicians setting high standards. Premasiri Khemadasa's contribution stands out while several others blossomed with opportunities they got in providing music for Sinhala films.

There were instances when even if the production was weak, the music stood out. Nanda Malini sang her first song in 'Ranmuthuduwa' for which she won the Sarasaviya award. Since then she has been the Best Playback Singer 22 times winning Sarasaviya and Presidential awards. (She has also been the most popular singer six times).While the lyric writers gave her meaningful words, she did justice to them with her voice and style of singing. And she was a treat for the music directors.

The recent releases give us a selection of 32 film songs she has sung. While most of them are still popular, some have virtually been forgotten. Even the names of some of the films are rather unfamiliar. Yet all of them carry Nanda's voice which is what the fans enjoy. The CDs titled 'Dedunu Paaya' & 'Mahagiri Arane' (titles of two songs) have a collection of songs sung between 1964 ('Patachara' )and 2003 ('Sudu Salu' ).

It's not just Nanda's voice or the songs that are of value. The CDs feature a host of lyric writers as well as a number of music directors. While we the average listeners are provided with a fine variety of songs, they provide students of music with valuable material to study different aspects of a music director or a lyric writer's talent. The majority of songs are maestro Khemadasa's creations. As a musician who always experimented, his songs in the CDs expose the vast talent he possessed. These demonstrate his contribution to Sinhala film music.

The CDs are also a fitting tribute to other eminent musicians including Amaradeva, Somadasa Elvitigala, Shelton Premaratne, Sarath Dassanayake, Lionel Algama, H. M. Jayawardena, Victor Ratnayake and Rohana Weerasinghe. Among the lyric writers are Manawasinghe, Mahagama Sekera, Arisen Ahubudu, Karunaratne Abeysekera, Dharmasiri Gamage, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, Augustus Vinayahgaratnam, Bandara K. Wijetunga, Ajantha Ranasinghe and Sunil Ariyaratne. What a gathering!
Nanda's effort in releasing her songs periodically is thus a priceless contribution towards the progress of Sri Lankan music.

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