By D.C. Ranatunga
I paid my last respects to Manel Jayasena, my thoughts flashed back
to the early 1960s when we enjoyed her award-winning performance
in 'Kuveni' as the much-maligned female of all-time. Her singing
was equally good, the voice so melodious. I could vividly picture
how she sang -
Sath siyak kapu mal regena mama
Sath siyak sudu kendi regena mama
Sath siyak kapu pili viyana mama
Sath siyak dena palandine
As we condoled with Henry, he responded saying, "How much you
have written about her acting". As he showed us an enlarged
photograph of a scene from 'Kuveni' hanging on the wall, with Manel
in a white saree in the dock, he couldn't suppress his tears.
'Kuveni' and 'Hunuwataye Kathawa' to 'Diriya Mawa', Manel's was
a distinguished career on the stage. She had acting ability and
a fine voice. She was a disciplined artiste. She had a busy schedule
during the sixties playing lead roles in not less than seven of
Henry's productions ranging from 'Kuveni' to 'Manaranjana Wedawarjana'.
Several others followed. At times she had to change from one role
to another almost every other day. She coped very well.
played the role of Grusha, the palace kitchen maid in 'Hunuwataya'
over 2500 times within a space of two decades she created a record.
When Henry revived the play with a new cast recently, Manel stepped
aside and got involved in the production in spite of her kidney
ailment. On opening night, she sat with Henry in the second row
at the Lionel Wendt and at the end of the show, she told me, "Now
don't start comparing the new Grusha with the earlier one."
as Grusha was unmatchable. That's why the 'Vel palame geetaya' echoes
in our ears:
Hela gamburui - Puthuni balan
Helavenakota vel palama - Desa piyan bima nobalan
Apata puthe magak nethe - Me maga misa yaman puthe
Deviyo balai muhuna obe - Umbawa raki yaman puthe
I distinctly remember the 20th anniversary show of 'Hunuwataya'
held on August 30, 1987. Henry dedicating that show to Manel wrote:
these twenty years
even while being sick at times
or feeling exhausted
she didn't miss a single show
Continuously in a thousand shows
she gave life to Grusha
Later on she took the entire burden
of Hunuwataya on herself
I dedicate this show to her - Laxmi Manel
My beloved wife
the naughty one!
called her 'dadabbariya' in the short note in Sinhala.
Manel and Henry were inseparable. When it came to theatrework, she
was another member of the Nalu Kela. Watching the rehearsals of
many a play that Henry produced in the early days, I found her taking
in his instructions and doing exactly as he directed, just as the
watched her on the sets at Kitulgala during the filming of 'Sadol
Kandulu', one of the few films that she acted in. Senator Reggie
Perera was the director. Rienzie Wijeratne and I spent a day there
to do a feature for the Observer Magazine Edition on the maiden
attempt of this lovable Senator. In recent years she was in demand
for teledramas and won the best actress award for one performance.
was a dutiful wife. She looked after Henry during his serious illness
not long ago, with devotion and diligence. She was happy the way
he came round. His recovery enabled him to look after her during
the past few months. A loving mother, she showered her affection
on their only son Sudaraka and later on the grand children.
the ups and downs in life would have affected her - yet she was
always friendly and cheerful. Her contribution to the performing
arts will be long remembered. We are fortunate that her voice will
be with us through 'Sath Siyak', the CD and audio cassette released
a few months back with cuts from Henry's dramas.
Manel, we will miss you!
Together in theatre and life
By Shyamon Jayasinghe
The passing away of Manel Jayasena marks the end of an era in Sinhala
theatre. Although, fortunately, Henry lives, it is doubtful that
he can continue with the same kind of contributions he had made
to Sinhala drama. His passion for theatre had been matched by Manel's
and it is the unique synergy of the two that produced remarkable
works like ‘Kuveni’ and ‘Hunuwataye’.
been brought up in a social and cultural environment that differed
sharply from the Peradeniya School of the great Sarachchandra, Henry
led a different force in the theatre of the day extending the stylisation
of Sarachchandra and applying the technique to deal with contemporary
issues. This came as a surprise to those critics who had argued
about the limitations of the stylised mode. Although in this sense
Henry may be regarded as complementing the efforts of Sarachchandra,
in another sense one can view him as a truly independent and vital
dynamic in the theatre of post-Maname. In addition, Henry was also
an organizer and he took drama to the people in a way that Sarachchandra
pre-Lalitha failed to do. In all this, Manel was Henry's mentor
and inspiration. The two of them began drawing full houses in Colombo
and the outstations.
wrote and produced 17 plays. I cannot think of another couple that
influenced Sinhala theatre in the way that the Henry and Manel Jayasena
duo did with such singleness of purpose.
in their lives, in theatre too they were inseparable. Only in ‘Makara’
did Manel not take the stage with Henry. Manel's performances in
‘Kuveni’ and ‘Hunuwataye’ were incredibly
sensitive. Hers was one of the finest voices to be heard on the
Sinhala stage and the way she captured the nuances in her adopted
characters always drew our admiration.
wife, Malini, and I are happy that we were able to be with Manel
during her last days in and out of hospital. We also savour the
time when the couple stayed with us in Melbourne for a local performance
of ‘Hunuwataye’. Even recently, they acknowledged that
their Melbourne days were one of the most memorable in their lives.
became all too clear that her medical battle was lost and that she
was living on borrowed time. Nevertheless, her spirit never gave
way. ‘Diriya Mawa’ was a diriya katha to the very end.
Manel Jayasena has earned her place in our nation's history.
writer was Maname's original Potheguru. He retired in 1994 as Secretary,
Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and is now domiciled