was the forte of Gamini Fonseka, Sinhala cinema’s undisputed
superstar, who died on Thursday
By D. C. Ranatunga
Gamini Fonseka dominated the Sinhala film scene for at least five
decades. He was young. He was handsome. He was smart. Above all,
he had talent. He was a brilliant actor. Between 1956 (when he was
an 'extra' in 'Rekawa') and 1998 he had acted in 96 films.
Malini Fonseka to Sangeetha Weeraratne, there is hardly an actress
who has not starred with him. And he rarely let the filmgoers down.
It was a treat to watch him on screen.
made his mark in Dr. Lester James Peries' 'Sandeshaya'. He stole
the show from Ananda Jayaratne who played a more important role.
We enjoyed his films from then on in the 'Mike Wilson/Tissa Liyanasuriya
production Ranmuthu Duwa and Getawarayo, Lester's Gamperaliya, M.
Mastan's Dheewarayo, Robin Tampoe's Sudo Sudu, Titus Totawatte's
Chandiya, K.A.W. Perera's Senasuma Kothanada, Dharma Sri Caldera's
Seethala Watura amidst several others within a short span of just
six years - 1960 to1966.
then came his first attempt at direction. Chitra Balasuriya got
the late P.K.D. Seneviratne to write a script and picked Gamini
to direct the movie Parasathumal. Gamini himself played the lead
role with Punya Heendeniya, Anula Karunatilleka and Tony Ranasinghe
playing unforgettable roles. Gamini was adjudged best actor at two
festivals - Sarasaviya and Swarna Sankha.
Editor Denzil Peiris decided that the English readers should be
made aware of what was going on in the Sinhala theatre and cinema
in the mid-1960s, we devoted several columns in the Observer Sunday
to a column titled 'In Focus', in 1967, I wrote on Gamini's busy
schedule: "Four films released in a row and in every one of
them he plays the lead. This is the rare achievement of a top actor
on the Sinhala screen, Gamini Fonseka. Two of them - Ipadune Ayi
and Rena Giraw have already proved to be box office hits and the
one to come, Soora Chauraya will certainly draw crowds with the
stir caused by the banning of the film by the Censor Board and its
is right on top. He has appeared in more than 25 films (in ten years)
and acts in no less than five films right now. He is still the most
sought after actor. The secret of his success is hard work. He has
earned a reputation for being punctual, cooperative and prompt on
the sets. His fellow players find him extremely helpful, and the
cameramen find it easy to work with him." Awards just came
Gamini's way. From the day he was recognized with a merit award
for his role in Gamperaliya at the inaugural Sarasaviya Film Festival
in 1964, he never looked back. Many an eyebrow was raised when he
was adjudged the best actor for his role as Jamis Banda (local version
of James Bond who was the rage of the day) in 1968. Mike Wilson
had made a Sinhala version of James Bond. He called the film 'Sorungeth
Soru'. The panel of judges decided his was the best role that year.
excelled in whatever role he played.
The role as Willie Abeynayake in 'Nidhanaya' would have contributed
in no small measure towards the film being selected the best among
the films produced in the first 50 years of Sinhala cinema. In fact,
he had played key roles in four of the first ten selected films
- Nidhanaya, Gamperaliya, Welikatara and Parasathu Mal.
Ariyaratne's Sarungale brought him two coveted awards - the Presidential
Award and the Sarasaviya Award in 1980. In this film he played the
role of a Tamil clerical hand. He was superb in expressing emotion.
was many an instance when we thought it was silly for a great actor
like him to play certain roles. He had a different perspective.
"If someone invites me to act in a film, I must give him the
best. I am a professional - so it's up to me to make the best out
of a role," he said.
Gamini's role as a film director, Wimal Dissanayake and Ashley Ratnavibhushana
wrote in 'Profiling Sri Lankan Cinema': "Gamini Fonseka is
one of the most gifted and versatile actors in Sri Lanka. He has
been closely associated with the artistic as well as commercial
cinema. He directed a number of interesting Sinhalese films. The
first was ParasathuMal made in 1965. This film deals with individual
desires and their unfulfillment in societies that enforce complex
displayed a good understanding of the technicalities of filmmaking,
although artistically speaking, this film left much to be desired.
"We next meet Gamini Fonseka as a filmmaker in the 1980s. By
this time he had developed a penchant for making films with a direct
was concerned to analyse such concepts as freedom, justice, equality,
fairplay in a somewhat melodramatic manner. Utumaneni made in 1980
belongs to this category. Sagarayak Meda (1981), Koti Valigaya (1986),
Anthima Rathriya (1988) and Nomiyena Minissu (1994) manifest his
eagerness to focus on political experiences. Although there is a
certain superficial allure to these films, they fail to add up and
explore cogently and in depth the contours of the political experiences
that they seek to explore."
as a camera assistant, Gamini came a long way - actor, film director,
lyric writer - before moving into politics and becoming the Deputy
Speaker and later Governor of the North-Eastern province. He quietly
faded away from the cinema. Yet he was not forgotten. There were
ceremonies to felicitate him even a few months back.
was the subject of research - as Nuwan Nayanajith Kumara did recently.
He was loved by his fans. And he will be remembered for a long,
long time as the 'actor of our era'.