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Old 26-03-16, 09:31 AM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default the icon of the Sinhala cinema Gamini Fonseka

A salute to Sinhala cinema's Sakvithi

We digress for a moment to reflect on a legend of the Sri Lankan cinema and a remarkable individual who brought so much joy and happiness to an entire generation by his performance on the silver screen decades ago. Had the icon of the Sinhala cinema Gamini Fonseka been alive he would have been eighty-years-old today. Gamini became almost a cult figure in the sixties, known as the golden era of the Sinhala cinema. There was a time when our screen actors were mere caricatures of their South Indian counterparts aping their every movement. Gamini brought in a breath of fresh air to the Sinhala cinema with his macho image and unique acting talents and was the catalyst in weaning the local cinema away from the South Indian influence. The nation will today salute this Sakvithi who transformed the Sinhala cinema almost overnight by his brand of acting and majesty.

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Old 01-04-16, 03:11 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default Emperor of Sinhala cinema enthroned

Emperor of Sinhala cinema enthroned


On September 30, 2004, 11 years ago, Sri Lanka’s heroic epoch era of Sinhala cinema died with the sudden demise of legendary film personality and politician Gamini Fonseka: it was comparable to the shutting down of the screen of the Sinhala cinema where he stood very tall for nearly three decades dominating in many spheres with his unique, distinctive, inimitable styles of acting.

Sembuge Gamini Shelton Fonseka is regarded as the emperor of the Sri Lankan silver screen and first Crowned King, before Joe Abeywickrema, Tony Ranasinghe and Vijaya Kumaratunga

Gamini Fonseka was born on March 21, 1936, in Dehiwala - the third child of William and Daisy Fonseka. Starting school at Presbyterian Girls School along Station Road in his neighbourhood Dehiwala, Gamini was later admitted to the prestigious S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia.

As a youngster, he impressed with his innate talents, and gained status for imitating college teachers. Gamini when young had shown his talents in the study of the Sinhalese language and literature. D.S Jayasekara was his first mentor who later had become the Head Master of the College. It was he who introduced Gamini to act in stage plays as he had recognised his acting instincts and skills. The pedestal and footing for his fitting to be a renowned actor was laid while in S.Thomas’ College itself.

His acting was hailed, acclaimed and much-admired when he was in the upper fourth class, and he was nominated and awarded a Sinhala literature prize. The award for this achievement was presented to him by an old boy of S. Thomas’ College, Graduate, and Barrister from Cambridge University, a Sri Lankan Prime Minister, D.S Senanayake.

Gamini also excelled as a gifted and talented cricketer. He had an abrupt end to his College career at S.Thomas’ before completing his secondary education, as he was eying an opening into the Sinhala cinema.

Gamini Fonseka married his teenage adored girlfriend, Dorothy Margaret Valencia also known as Tina in 1962. The couple were blessed with four children Chamila, Thanuja, Damith and Ishara. His son Damith too inherited his talents and had a successful short stint in the cinematic field. He remained legally married to his wife Tina until his death in 2004, when he was 68 years.

Prior to the emergence of the legendary Gamini Fonseka into the Sinhala cinema, our industry was struggling as it was totally dependent on South Indian cinema. The legend Gamini was instrumental in changing the status of our film industry.

He was very fortunate to meet and to heed the professional advice and guidance of a legendary film director, Dr. Lester James Pieris.

Gamini was seen as a budding celebrity who would effortlessly revolutionize the silver screen. Before he launched into acting, he gained invaluable experience in technical aspects of film making by closely associating with David Lean who made the film - Bridge on the River Kwai. That was influential to keep Gamini in superior stead to make his individual creations, beginning with Parasathumal in the early 1960s. His first major appearance was in the film “Sandeshaya”. Gamini was a genius and hero in both commercial and artistic films which was comprehensively proved by his portraying in his roles in “Gamperaliya” and “Nidhanaya” the characters of Jinadasa in the former and Willie Abeynayake in “Sandeshaya”..

It was like a natural phenomenon for films in which Gamini Fonseka portrayed lead role to make box office records by running continuously for 100 days on film circuits. He possessed unparalleled talents and could indulge in stunts aerobatics, fights. Once when he acted in “Demodara Palama” , when he was 60 years old, he had to jump out of a helicopter on to a bridge, which the Director wanted to perform with a stunt. He had gallantly said “no stunts” .

With time Gamini displayed his skills in the film industry to embark upon social and political themes that were relatively inconsistent to his preceding creations. One would bear in mind how Gamini queried the inequities in the judicial structure in the country in his film “Uthumaneni.”

In “Sagarayak Meda” that irritated then Cabinet Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike, Gamini courageously challenged the rampant political supremacy of a Cabinet Minister frenzied with unconditional authority. Later, in “Sarungale” and “Nomiyena Minissu” he went into the intensity of complexities of the racial topic that obsessed the civilization. Gamini was very honest in his convictions.When he called it a day from acting he had acted in 108 films, 86 as the lead role and 19 as the supporting actor. He had directed 10 films and produced 02 films.

Gamini had, almost each year from 1964 to 1997, won a Sarasaviya award for the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and in the year 1997 was awarded the commemorative award of U.W Sumapthipala.

He withdrew from the cinema to waste his valuable time as a politician in 1988. UNP Presidential candidate Ranasinghe Premadasa, a long-standing friend of Gamini convinced the latter in the centre of the uproar of the second JVP rebellion to battle in the Matara District. Gamini accepted the bid proposed and advantageously contested the polls to be made the Deputy Speaker in the Parliament.

He presided over turbulent sessions but was highly respected by both sides of the House for his neutrality. As a member, he criticized the Premadasa management devoid of panic when effects did not happen to the profit of the people.

After the change of government in mid 1990’s Gamini Fonseka was named as the Governor of the of the North-East region by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga .

Gamini Fonseka was a man who established dignity to every sphere.Today actors and actresses are treated with dignity and high esteem by film producers and directors because Gamini established their self-esteem to the acting occupation.

He left a inheritance to pursue and not to facsimile. Anyone who attempts to copy Gamini Fonseka would be unsuccessful.

Gamini's mentor Lester James Peiris had forecasted that another Gamini Fonseka will not be born in this country for the next one thousand years. Accordingly to him, the gigantic void created by Gamini's death in 2004 will not be filled for the next one thousand years. Gamini Fonseka was a larger-than-life figure in every way.

Sunil Thenabadu
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Old 01-04-16, 03:22 PM
sriyanj sriyanj is offline
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Default Gamini Fonseka: Between love notes and fist fights

Gamini Fonseka: Between love notes and fist fights

Uditha Devapriya

There are stars who fade and those who don't. There are also those whose names are so etched in our collective memory, that to lose them from our "caress" (so to speak) would be nothing less than a travesty, a momentary lapse, on our part. We owe it to these men and women, these icons who came and enriched our lives and experiences, to never forget and always keep to heart, and for one simple reason: so as to bequeath them to generations that followed them and generations that will follow us. If we forget them, to put it simply, we forget everything.

Gamini Fonseka can't be written about. Not that easily. There have been, to the best of my knowledge, books and essays and tributes running by the dozen, all attempting to present the man and his career in the best way possible. The problem with him however is that everyone has his or her way of describing him, and it takes a while to establish a point of congruence between them. For this man wasn't just a fighter in the scripts he was in: he was also a lover, a moralist, someone who spoke for justice and fair play the way he thought he could. I saw him in Parasathumal and I saw him in Sarungale, and to me the two were (almost) one and the same.

That was Gamini. At his best.

There were, of course, those usual, less than memorable roles. We remembered the fisticuffs in them, the lovers crooning by bushes, the hero dashing his way to save the heroine. That hero was always Gamini. Even in his less than conventional performances - in Koti Valigaya and in Parasathumal - he couldn't quite get rid of his bravado, that sense of daring and mischief which won him everyone in his country. "He was an icon" is at best, I feel, a clichéd and overused way of describing this, for the simple reason that he went beyond being just an icon. He became a symbol. And like all symbols, he ended up using the same trademarks. Again and again.

No, writers haven't really done justice to the man. There were those who referred to him as a "Method Actor", a man who emulated Marlon Brando and that in a way which was at best imitative, at worst crass. He was not Brando, that much is clear. He had his affiliations, his devotion to various stars held as sacrosanct in his day (including Paul Muni, the Austrian actor). But to call them imitative and hence regard them as rubbish would be to do a grave injustice to this man.

For the simple fact of the matter was, Gamini Fonseka knew his people. I remember watching an interview of him conducted by the inimitable Nuwan Nawayanjith Kumara sometime back. Gamini was, if memory serves me right, asked about his background and roots. Having recounted his past for a few minutes, he detoured and made a point which probably summed him up better than anything else could. "Just because I was brought up in Dehiwela," he said, "and just because I was educated at S. Thomas' College Mount Lavinia, that didn't mean I forgot my roots. We were from the village too, you must remember. We knew how to live with our community. We were hence never detached."

He spoke with such conviction that I'm sure he was being honest with himself. And anyway, even in his less than serious performances you saw this pretty well. He was unparalleled in Chandiya and Yakadaya, two films which had him play out the hard-bitten antihero. Perhaps that accounts for how he could blend into other characters as well: he was repulsively empathetic opposite Vasanthi Chathurani in Amal Biso, and quietly poignant (not to mention convincing) in Sarungale. The latter film, incidentally, brought out and exemplified Gamini the lyricist ("Bambarindu Bambarindu" remains, for me, a haunting tribute to the crisis featured in that remarkable film, which at once personalises what Gamini, as the caste-conscious but gentle Nadarajah, grapples with).

He was also not a populist. Observe the films he directed. True, they were all concerned with the common man, but for Gamini what struck a chord in them all was his personal, intense preoccupation with justice and fair play. This could at times be a weakness, of course: it almost robbed Sagarayak Meda, which lampooned a dictatorial minister in a fictional government, of human density, for instance. His themes were all black and white, with no shades of grey. His world was occupied by the good and the bad, and in the end, the good triumphed, even if that moment of triumph could be bitter.

Towards the end of his career, his roles became less sympathetic. He infused sensitivity remarkably into his depiction of Simon Kabilana in Lester James Peries' Yuganthaya, who was at once authoritarian and unsure (Sarath Amunugama, in a speech on Lester some years ago, once compared the final close-up shot of a distraught Simon to those harrowing close-up shots in Eisenstein's landmark film Battleship Potemkin, of people so uncertain and afraid of the future), but he was repulsive as the mudalali in Sumitra Peries' Loku Duwa. I have been told that he modelled himself on a real-life mudalali when he was acting in that film. I am sure it was that conviction which came through. At once.

Actors sometimes tend to play themselves. They do this so well that at times we forget the distinction between performer and performance. Gamini was like that. In one sense Parasathumal and Sarungale are clean different. But in another sense - taking into account his performances - they were virtually the same, because both had Gamini as Gamini. This is not a crude simplification but a spontaneous reflection on the man's talent. In the end he won us.

All those awards and titles he received, though rightly deserving, were peripheral. What mattered was how the people viewed him. What matter was how his name became his performance.

He was towering, this man. He knew when to step in a script and how to contort gesture and feeling. He was quiet in Gamperaliya but could be brash. He was authoritarian in Yuganthaya but could be forlorn (and he was, as Getawarayo showed).

Together with Joe Abeywickrama, the man who made you laugh, and Tony Ranasinghe, the man who filled you with empathy for him from the word go, he formed the trinity of actors who continue(d) to enrich our collective unconscious. If that isn't reason enough to celebrate him, I don't know what would be.


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