'Gratitude' is how one could possibly describe the sentiments of the large audience who turned up at the inaugural lecture to commemorate Tissa Abeysekera. It was 'full house' at the auditorium of the National Film Corporation (NFC). Not often do we see such a gathering on an occasion of this nature.
The lecture had been organized by Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) to pay tribute to a man who had done a lot for cinema in this country. ANCL Chairman Bandula Padmakumara had been a keen cinema enthusiast from his schooldays at Ananda and it's no wonder he took the initiative in remembering Tissa whom we all admired for his efforts in providing quality fare whether it be the big screen or the small screen, a work of literature or a talk at a book launch.
NFC Chairman Kumar Abeysinghe, another lover of the arts in his short address appreciated Tissa's efforts at improving the quality of the local cinema particularly during his tenure as NFC Chairman.
The keynote speaker, former senior administrator and well-known writer Amarahewa Madduma is always interesting to listen to.
He stressed on Tissa's interest in encouraging youngsters towards cinema production. Tissa helped and promoted them. As NFC Chairman he launched a programme to set up cinema clubs among the youth. He guided them through lectures and publications. Tissa's effort was to build a new generation.
The speaker discussed Tissa's talent as a script writer (to him Tissa's best efforts were in the scripts for D.B. Nihalsinghe's 'Weli Katara' & Lester James Peires' 'Nidhanaya'), as director (excelling in 'Viragaya'), and his knack to pick the right player (Sanath Gunatilleka in 'Viragaya', for instance) and guide him or her to get the best..
Turning on to Tissa's politics, Amarahewa Madduma said he was always a LSSPer whom the party did not make use of. "If ever LSSP won an election, Tissa would have been the Minister of Cultural Affairs,” he said.
Saying that Tissa was never a 'yes' man, he said Tissa taught people to think. He described Tissa as a "maha pusthakalaya" - a vast library!
He also made a few suggestions as to how Tissa Abeysekera can be remembered. Awarding scholarships to up and coming students of cinema was one. Establishing cinema clubs countrywide would be a continuation of something that Tissa started.
The NFC can create a Presidential award for script writing in Tissa's name. The establishment of a Foundation and the publication of collected works by Tissa including the film scripts he wrote were also suggested. He also proposed the naming of a road and the release of a stamp.
In conclusion he referred to Tissa as "a versatile genius".
A collection of articles published in the Sinhala newspapers following the passing away of Tissa Abeysekera was also released that day. The well presented ANCL publication titled 'Cinema Sanskrutika Praagnaya' has been compiled by senior journalist Sunil Mihindukula on an idea mooted by Bandula Padmakumara.
Writing an introduction to the publication, 'Silumina' editor Karunadasa Sooriyaarachchi describes the multi-faceted features of Tissa's talent. A front-liner among the distinguished Sri Lankan filmmakers; The foremost creative film script writer; Renowned bilingual critic; Fine actor second to none; Celebrated speaker; Writer of distinction; Political analyst with a vision; Humanist of the highest order; Artiste of repute; Teacher; Administrator.
The 45 articles reproduced in the publication by varied writers ranging from fellow film directors, actors to academicians and critics provide valuable material for any researcher or student of cinema. The writers discuss the enormous talent that Tissa possessed. In the process, his entire cinematic career is vividly portrayed.
A.D. Ranjit Kumara traces his association with Tissa for over 40 years, reminding us of Tissa's early days. Many of us did not even know that Tissa's efforts at filmmaking began with a telephone call that one time CTB chairman Anil Munasinghe made to Sarath Amunugama (possibly the latter was then Director Information) wanting him to recommend someone to handle a documentary on the CTB. Tissa's name was mentioned.
The three of them met at lunch and Tissa was given the job.