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Golden memories of Denawaka Hamine (grand old lady of the silver screen)

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Date: 25 April 1968
Venue: Ladies College Hall
Event: Sarasaviya Awards Night

As presenter Wijeratne Warakagoda announced her name, the hall exploded into non stop applause till she walked up to the stage, collected her award from Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and walked back to her seat.

At 61, she had been adjudged the Best Character Actress of the Year for her role as the anxious mother in 'Sath Samudura', Dr. Siri Gunasinghe's maiden effort revolving round a fishing family. The panel of judges headed by Prof. Gunapala Malalasekera had unanimously decided that Denawaka Hamine was hard to beat when it came to character portrayal. Her elder son in the film, Edmund Wijesinghe (of 'Maname' fame) won the award for the best character actor.

 

Well known film critic odenawaka.jpgf Filmfare, the popular Indian film magazine, Mrs Karanjia, who was a guest of Sarasaviya at the Awards Festival having seen Denawaka Hamine's first film, G.D. L. Perera's 'Sama asked whether "the old lady" could be sent to Bombay. "Our stars will have a lot to learn from her," she said.

Dr. Roger Manvell having seen 'Sath Samudura' insisted on meeting "the old lady". A car was sent to bring her. When she arrived, Dr. Manvell congratulated her warmly on her excellent performance.

Denawaka Hamine (Mrs. Dona Meraya Denawaka/ Denawaka Aunty to fellow artistes) proved that age was no barrier for acting. Until a few months before her death last week in the mid nineties, she was a much sought after actress. She was so natural be it on stage, big screen or the small screen. She did not act her roles - she just lived in them. And the audiences simply loved to see her.

It was quite by chance that Denawaka Hamine, a school teacher by profession, turned to acting. When G. D. L. Perera formed the Kala Pela with the intention of promoting theatre and other art forms, Denawaka Hamine accompanied a young girl for rehearsals in a play. One day, G. D. L. asked her to stand in to play the role of an elderly woman. Though it was her first appearance, she acted like a veteran. So much so that when the play was staged and she had to die, she did it so well that the audience was dumbfounded. They wondered whether she had actually died!

The break in 'Kandulu' was followed by other Kala Pela productions 'Manamalayo' and 'Sakkarawattang'. And when she played the role of Nonnohamy in 'Sama' she excelled as the dominating mother. In 'Totupola', her role as a kind-hearted village woman brought her a Merit Awards at the annual Arts Council Drama Festival.

Denawaka Hamine broke into films in the cinematic version of 'Sama' when, with her authentic acting, cinemagoers experienced something rare in Sinhala cinema at the time. Her performance in 'Sath Samudura' was on par with the best in any country. Her greatest gift was her ability to capture the audience even when she played a very minor role. In 'Parasathu Mal', for example, she was a perfect village gossip. In 'Sadol Kandulu' she played the role of a domestic in the walauwe.

Contracts simply flowed in when filmmakers realised she had the potential to turn any role into a memorable performance. Her tally of films is said to be around 300. "I have the confidence that I can portray any type of character. Even if they want me to play a romantic role, I will not hesitate. Of course, I wouldn't know how the audiences would react," she once said.

In the small screen, she appeared in 'Kopi Kade' and many other teledramas. Many are the awards she won during her career spanning three generations of filmmakers. The State recognised her talent conferring on her the 'Kalasuri' title in 1987.

The lovable lady of the silver screen is no more. Yet her portrayals will remain etched in our memories for a long time to come.
D. C. Ranatunga

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