Well done Weeramunis
It’s a cosy little place ideal for a small gathering to watch a play, enjoy a music recital, discuss a contemporary topic on the arts or participate in a book launch. These have all been happening at the Namel-Malini Punchi Theatre at Borella which is celebrating its sixth birthday this week.
This was a dream come true of the Weeramuni’s – Namel and Malini whose involvement in theatre spans over four decades. After a fairly long stint abroad, mainly in the UK, the couple returned to Sri Lanka to continue with their quest for new ways and means of fostering the theatre. Namel saw the need for a small place for the dramatists to meet, have a rehearsal and perform to an intimate audience. With whatever resources he had, he got cracking and the result was a new experience both for the artistes and the audiences.
Namel and Malini have planned to celebrate the sixth anniversary with a two-day programme. Wednesday 22nd will be devoted to a religious function – a dhamma sermon at 7 p.m. by the popular Ven. Bandarawela Amitananada Thera. Two new projects will be launched the next day – one relating to cinema and the other, inaugurating a meeting place for artistes and media persons to gather and discuss issues.
The ‘Rattaran’ days
Namel’s interest in drama grew at the Peradeniya campus where Professor Sarachchandra christened him Weeramuni (he was earlier Namel de Silva). Theatre fans of that era can hardly forget Namel’s maiden performance in ‘Rattaran’ – the popular Sarachchandra playlet, which, along with ‘Kada Valalu’ offered a new experience to theatergoers. That was in 1957, his first year in the campus.
Namel tried his hand as a producer with ‘Golu Birinda’ (1960) followed by ‘Virupa Rupa’ four years later. That was the time Ape Kattiya became the much talked about theatre group making its impact with plays like ‘ Bordingkarayo’, ‘Tattu geval’, ‘Harima badu hayak’ and ‘Hele negga dong putha’. While Sugathapala de Silva produced these popular dramas, Namel joined him by producing ‘Sakala bujang penala gihin’ (1967) based on Jean Paul Sartre’s ‘Nekrassov’ described as “an entertaining enough political comedy”.
It was followed by ‘Nettukkari’ (1970), a translation (by Namel himself) of French playwright Jean Anouilh’s ‘Colombe’. Upali Attanayake (now no more) and Prema Ganegoda (domiciled in UK) played the lead roles. Well known names in theatre at the time - Somalaltha Subasinghe, Malini Weeramuni, Daya Tennekoon, G. T. Wickremasinghe (of ‘Veda Hatana’ fame), Wimal Kumar de Costa, Jayantha Karunanayake and Lionel Fernando were also in the cast. Some of them are still active, particularly in the TV medium. Premasiri Khemadasa provided the music score.
Namel continued his interest in adapting selected foreign works with ‘Vangsakkarayo’ (1972).
In the mid-seventies, Namel and Malini sought greener pastures but continued their interest in theatre. He produced plays in UK and during a stint in USA doing his Master’s in drama. Always a Sarachchandra fan, he translated ‘Sinhabahu’ and produced the English version first while in California and later after his return to Sri Lanka. He also published the English text. In London, he produced an English version of ‘Elova gihin melova ava’ and revived ‘Nattukkari’.
Once he settled down after the hectic time he had in opening the Punchi Theatre, he found time to get back as a producer. I missed his recent productions – ‘Kolamba hathe nona’ a playlet which he presented along with ‘Golu Birinda’, and ‘Madyavediyage asipatha’ – both of which got a good press. Being virtually out of the legal circuit (Namel qualified as an advocate and later a solicitor in UK), he is back to his first love.