The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

A new role for a man of many hats

Rounding out a busy year Danu Innasithamby will star in ‘Swara’, a film with a socially-conscious message

At just over 6 feet Danu Innasithamby knows he’s the kind of actor you’d expect to find beating up the bad guys and blowing up things in an action flick.  For his film debut however, Danu has decided to challenge both himself and his audience by taking on a more sensitive role. For the soon to be released ‘Swara’ (Seven Notes), Danu will play the role of Joe – a character with a traumatic past and a tumultuous present. It’s a big leap for the young actor, whose previous experience in front of the camera has usually involved being a presenter.  His newest film, however, will take him out of his comfort zone. He describes it as a social awareness project that examines the trials and tribulations of people living with HIV

Danu wants to see the film dispel myths and the stigma surrounding the condition and to help society at large treat its victims with more sensitivity and less fear. He hopes also that the movie will humanise victims of HIV explaining that his character Joe grows up without a father, Danu says: “he found ways and means of surviving the wrong way.” Falling into a life of prostitution, Joe is exploited by people who take advantage of his innocence. He is eventually diagnosed with HIV but isn’t sure how he got it or what treatments are available. In the meantime, Joe is also struggling to come to grips with his complex (and conflicting) desires – he knows he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable as a man, but is he actually a woman trapped inside a man’s body? “In person, Joe is a very nice, giving, loving person but he’s caught up in this roller coaster ride and doesn’t know how to get out of it,” says Danu. Even though he doesn’t have anything in common with Joe himself, Danu seems to feel

sympathy for Joe’s plight. “You are born that way. You can’t change it. Unfortunately, some people end up having to pay a lifetime price.”

The filmmakers first approached Danu in 2009 with the project. Producer Nita Fernando is also acting in the film and her character is inspired by the singer Narmada Siriwardena who died of HIV/AIDS. Aside from Nita and Danu, the cast comprises Sachini Ayendra, Anusha Rajapakse, Damitha Abeyratne, W. Jayasiri, and Anjali. Also starring are Sriyantha Mendis, Veena Jayakody, Cletus Mendis and Jeevan Kumaratunge.  “We have seven powerful lead roles,” says Danu, adding “this movie stars some of the most well-known and respected people in the film industry.”

For Danu it wasn’t being in the presence of the all-star cast that made him most nervous. Instead , he says that though trilingual, he can’t actually read Sinhala – and so when presented with the script on his first day, he knew he had a problem. However, director Sanjaya Nirmal set him at ease by suggesting that the lines be read aloud to him so he could memorise them. Danu was ready to go in minutes.
Looking back at the project now he says he had a social reason and a selfish reason for taking it on.

“In playing a role like this, I get to give out a message to so many people in Sri Lanka and the world,” he says explaining that entertainers can communicate important messages effectively. “I’ve met people like Joe and spoken to people like that and I’ve come to know the pain and the tears.” Since his looks don’t lend themselves to stereotypes, Danu hopes to challenge popular preconceptions. “You can look normal and at the same time have those feelings. I want to use my talents to help people believe in themselves.”

His selfish reason was simple: “I had a chance to showcase my acting abilities.” While he admits that it would be “easy to go around a tree and look pretty,” he knows that taking such a light role would leave people in doubt over his ability to really act. He’s also pleased that his song Anuraga Nethu with words by Raj and music by Himali N.L is also part of the film. Going forward, Danu hopes he’ll be offered meatier roles as a result of this debut.

For now, however, he has his hands full. Danu, who lost his mother to cancer in December, has had a busy year. In her memory, he staged the concert ‘Love Changes Everything’ to raise funds for the Maharagama Cancer Hospital and says he’s now exploring ways in which he can use music to work on reconciliation. Having lost his father as a six year old and then being forced to leave their home in Jaffna to come and live in Colombo, Danu feels like he can play  a meaningful role in encouraging reconciliation efforts as well.

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