‘It’s the role that matters’
Nimmi Harasgama is an actress who will dare to take risks to make a name in the competitive arena of acting in Britain, says Chandri Peris in London
Nimmi Harasgama is perhaps the only actress to make a successful transition from the English speaking Colombo-based "arty" society, to the pinnacle of the Sinhala film industry. Her role in the recent film "Iramadiyama" directed by Prassana Vithanage, gained her the award for Best Actress at the Las Palmas International Film Festival (2004).

We have seen her frequently in TV advertisements for John Keells, Lever Brothers and Sampath Bank but Nimmi also has a successful career as a fashion model and is the co-producer of a cutting edge English magazine, quirkily titled "Adoh" which is distributed around Colombo on a monthly basis and which hopefully will soon be produced in Sinhalese as well.

At present living in London, Nimmi hopes to divide her time working in both Sri Lanka and Britain. Television audiences saw her extraordinary talent when she appeared in an episode of the famous British TV series "Doctors". She is also seen on BBC TV regularly, in an anti-smoking advertisement.

Nimmi began her career as an actress by obtaining a B.A Honours degree in 1994, from Goldsmiths College in London, which is known for producing a regular crop of highly talented actors and actresses who have successfully supported the ever-increasing pool of artistes who are the bedrock of the British arts and theatre scene.

Being of Asian origin, Nimmi had to compete with the huge influx of Asian talent in Britain today, but with her performance in Howard Barker's "Judith" (1994) she soon established herself as someone to watch out for.

Returning to Sri Lanka in 1995, Nimmi worked with several foreign film productions gaining invaluable experience. Among these were opportunities to appear opposite actresses like Olivia Hussey and Geraldine Chaplin and to star in a Sri Lankan feature film about AIDS. sponsored by the Elton John Foundation.

Talking to Nimmi, I got the distinct feeling that this is an aspiring actress who will most certainly be a big name in the future, simply because of her unique lack of inhibition and an almost incredible ability to take risks as an actress. This quality, goes against the usual grain of our Sinhalese actresses, who still aspire to play the parts of schoolgirls even though they are way beyond the age of 50 and do not give up on playing the heroines in films that they manage to produce themselves.

Looking beautiful at all times, even though the roles may not require it, has become the hallmark of most of our film actresses and this is an aspect that Nimmi will not bother too much about, since she already has the looks and will not be too bothered about shedding them for the requirements of a good role if it comes her way. I asked her about playing parts that may be seen as 'political' or those that may require nudity or go against traditional cultural conventions and discovered that, where Nimmi is concerned, being an actress, for her means becoming immersed in a role to such an extent that she becomes the part in its totality.

This seems to be the sort of challenge that Nimmi will welcome and tackle head-on simply to prove that being an actress is a profession and that it does not reflect one's personal life. In the very likely event that she is successful in furthering her career in Britain it will be Sri Lanka's loss and Britain's gain.

Breaking boundaries: Await another musical treat from Pradeep
By Smriti Daniel
Fingers skitter over the surface of a tabla, like an ecstatic tap dancer. In moments the violin joins in, responding to the rapid rhythms of the percussionist in a melody that weeps and laughs, that hangs on a note and then rushes on, outracing itself. But it is the sitar that Pradeep Ratnayake holds cradled against himself, that is at the heart of the whole arrangement; and whether it is a saxophone that croons along with him or a pair of Kandyan drums, he is the soul of the music.

Pandit Ravi Shankar would be an intimidating man to meet at any time, but to play a sitar in front of him must be quite a trial in sheer concentration. Nevertheless when 12-year- old Pradeep was asked to perform before the great sitar virtuoso, he did so with such skill and aplomb that he was immediately offered a place under the maestro, at the latter's school in Benares, India.

Many consider Pradeep Ratnayake an artiste of consummate skill, and this is not only because of his mastery of the classical Hindustani music forms but also because of his innate ability to take an instrument out of its traditional context and give it a new life. For him as a musician there seems to be no higher calling; and all his music, all his experimentation seem geared towards the fulfilment of an ambition he defines as "giving the sitar a Sri Lankan identity."

Drawing a wealth of inspiration and joy from the varied and rich sources of Janagayan, Carnatic and Hindustani music on one side, and the "infinite variety and melody of the Sinhala folk tunes" along with classical western music on the other, Pradeep constantly strives to give his work new dimensions previously unexplored. His series of Pradeepanjali concerts, of which the one scheduled for November 9 is number eight, have been an undoubted success. Pradeep's 25-year love affair with the sitar has always seen him performing to packed halls, and has earned him and his fellow musicians, standing ovations and accolades from Geneva to Bombay.

Amongst the musicians who will be sharing the stage with him is renowned violinist Lakshman Joseph de Saram. For de Saram playing with Pradeep in the upcoming concert provides him an opportunity to explore the intricacies and wonders of jazz fusion. As the violin is considered essentially a western instrument and predominantly in the province of composers such as Tchaikovsky and Bach, he finds it more "geographically satisfying" to explore harmony with Sri Lankan artistes. For Grant Chamberlain, who will be bringing the sounds of his saxophone to the ensemble, this genre of music challenges him to step out of what he terms his "comfort zone". He has been working with Pradeep for only a short time, but already there is the give and the take of knowledge and skill. Pradeep for instance, has been encouraging both Chamberlain, as well as the other musicians, to experiment with the Jhala style, which would involve faster and more nimble playing.

Pradeep's musical career has been defined by his desire to constantly expand his talent. He completed his Masters from Visvabharathi, Santiniketan with the distinction of scoring the highest ever marks received in a degree in Sitar from there, and now has a strong foundation in the tradition of Hindustani classical music.

The USA- Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission is sponsoring Pradeepanjali VIII. Free passes to the show will be available at their head quarters at No.7, Flower Terrace, Colombo 7 from November 1.

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