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Be a light not a judge-Sathischandra Edirisinghe

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“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living in this world,” says Sathischandra Edirisinghe, one of the most well-known characters in the field of arts in Sri Lanka. Outsanding Personalities features Edirisinghe, a gentle giant whose persona in life is strikingly similar to that which he portrays on screen – magnetic.

Q. You are a veteran actor, playwright, film-maker, tele-drama director, felicitated for your service to Sri Lankan art over the last 50 years. You were honoured with ‘Kala Suri’. If ever there was  a Sri Lankan who should be called great in the field of arts, you would be that man. Do you agree?

A. I started my arts career in 1961 as an actor. My elder brother Dharmasiri Edirisinghe, is the person who introduced to Kala Guru J. D. A. Perera. I acted with Eddie Jayamanne, Rukmani Devi and Sheila Peiris. I got a very small part. But after a couple of months I sort of got a promotion to play the part of the Bamuna in Vessanthara where the script was written by John De Silva. Then in 1963, I produced my first drama. The title was ‘Baka Thapas’, which was based on a French playwright Moliere’s Tartuffe (The Imposter) I portrayed the main role with Malini Fonseka. In 1964, I produced my second stage drama, ‘Atthikka Mal Pipila’. It was my own script. The music was composed by Victor Ratnayake who at that time was a music student at the College of Fine Arts. That was his first creation on stage. I produced another four stage dramas – ‘Hotabari Yuddae’ based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a satire on the Soviet Union. Another play was ‘Thahanchi’ and ‘Sokkano Rajano’ and ‘Apaya Avurudu’.

In 1965, I got the chance to take part in a film as a Buddhist monk in ‘Sadol Kandulu’ directed by Reggie Perera. In 1982, I got the chance to appear on TV. Lucien Bulathsinhala, my first tele-drama director, the script was by Dharmasiri Gamage and the title was ‘Eke Mawakege Daruwo’. I played the main role in that drama as a school principal with Sriyani Amarasena. And after that Dhamma Jagoda he produced two tele-dramas for Rupavahini Corporation – ‘Palingu Menike’ and ‘Mihikathage Daruvo’. In ‘Palingu Menike,’ I once more acted as a Buddhist monk and in ‘Mihikathage Daruvo’ where I acted as a Muslim gentleman.Then again I took part in ‘Tara Devi’ directed by Lucien Bulathsinhala.In 1973, I produced and directed my first film – ‘Mathara Achchi’. Which was a script written by me and the music done by Victor Ratnayake. The theme song was sung by my brother Sunil Edirisinghe.Up to now I have taken part in nearly 50 tele-dramas, 40 films and acted in 12 stage dramas. I have written nearly 25 books. Eight books for children. I have had so many invitations to address schoolchildren, teachers and government workers, especially garment factory workers. Now I am 75 years, I have two sons and one daughter.

Q. From where has this enviable talent of yours come about?

A. When you take part in so many films and stage dramas you develop such talent. During my school days, at the age of 10, I started to act in school dramas. R. L. Wimaladharma trained me at the very beginning! In 1957, I left Kelaniya Sri Dharmaloka College and joined Elpitiya St. Mary’s College. There I met very good teachers. One was my teacher, Mr. Vernon Gunaratne, who produced Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Proposal’. A one act drama. So he trained me and I won the Best School Drama Actor Award.

So you have to understand your talent and then you need to practice. You need to read a lot of books and you need to see films and dramas. You need to have discourses with other actors and artistes. You need to master the art of acting. For an actor there are three things that are most important – Voice, Voice and Voice. I have this quality. When you pronounce your dialogue, you need to fill it with feelings. Tone is the most important. Your pronunciation must be clear and correct. When you go to the stage you have to study the script. You need to discuss your character with the script writer and the director. They will provide you with their input. So we need to think about it. Forget about who you are and become the character you wish to portray. Think about that character and you will be able to portray it on the stage very beautifully.

Q. What aspect of the silver screen really appealed to you?

A. I want to teach something to the audience. The people must be educated about our culture, rituals, attitudes and values. The present society – the general audience have no knowledge of such things. So as a senior artiste I feel that this is my duty to enlighten them.

Q. If you were to pick some projects that are special to you? What would they be and why?

A. Liya Thambara produced and directed by Gunasena Galappatty. I acted in it along with Somalatha Subasinghe. It was very popular and everybody praised me.Rajagedera Paraviyo was a commercial film that I did. Adhishtanaya was also another film I directed. And when in 1982, I went to Germany for the International Mannheim Film Festival, that was the film I presented. I received a merit certificate. Then again I took that film again to the Ludwigshafen Film Congress and it was a very successful film.When it comes to tele- dramas I rate ‘Tikiri Nilame’, ‘Diyawadene Maluwa’ which I produced. All in all I directed eight tele-dramas. These project received a very positive response from Sri Lankan audiences.I have directed and produced films, but my number one passion is acting. Still I like to take part in tele- dramas and films.

Q. This creative side of yours. How has it been developed and nurtured? 

A. You have to see a lot of good creations. And you need to watch films. You need to have discourses with educated people. You also have to read books. And during your leisure time you have to think about these things. You must have a plot first. Then you have to develop that. When you have enough experience it is not difficult. You need to have experience and knowledge of society. Then you can write a script.

Q. What are some of the most unforgettable moments in your life?

A. I once went with a script writer to Kuwait in 1990 for a stage drama. One of my pupils produced it. So during that period Sadaam Hussein captured Iran. We were stuck there. For 47 days in the Middle East. After 47 days I came back to Sri Lanka. That was an event that I cannot forget.

During the shooting of ‘Mathara Achchi’, I bathed in the Menik Ganga in Katharagama, my wedding ring slipped off my finger and sank under the water. I managed to get it again!

When I was in Stafford College, one day suddenly I got up from class and came out. I don’t know why. I came to Maradana Station. I wanted to come home immediately. So I got into the train and came to Kelaniya station. One of my friends was there. So he asked me to come on his bicycle. At that time my father died. It was telepathy.

Q. What is your message to society?

A. There are very talented and creative boys and girls. They don’t get sponsorship or helping hand for their creations. The government must start a film training center for acting. Government must give the young talented people an opportunity to produce their creations.

Q. What are the awards you have won?

A. In 2000, I got the Kala Suri from late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. In 2006, I was conferred with an honorary degree from Vidyalankara Pirivena. I got a presidential award as a supporting actor in 1985. And very importantly I took part in Gamini Fonseka’s Koti Waligaya, where I acted as a Buddhist monk. The screen time was only 90 seconds. For that role I got a merit award. I got a Raigam life time award.

Q. Future plans?

A. I want to go to various places in Sri Lanka, very remote areas, and give my knowledge to them to come up. I want give them motivational lectures.

Q. What motivates you in life?

A. Helping people. Our duty is to help people. For 20 years I worked at the Ceylon Transport Board. I joined as a clerk in 1965 and I came out in 1998 as a Grade 5 manager. I did not go for the job. I went for the service. Job and service are two different words. Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living in this world. Be a light not a judge. Be a model and not a critic. Be a part of the solution not a part of the problem. During my younger days, every morning I got out of the bed, immediately I go to the washroom and look at my face through the mirror, and I say these three lines – ‘I want to be important, I want to be admired and I want to be appreciated’. I have achieved all three today.

I also owe a lot to my parents because they have given me an attitude and courage and knowledge. So I cannot forget them

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