Irangani Stage and screen legend | Sunday Observer

Irangani Stage and screen legend

4 October, 2020
Irangani Roxanna Serasinghe
pix: Roshan Pitipana

She stands out from her first movie Rekawa in 1956 to date, there has been nothing but stellar performances from this actress and the same can be of her stage and teledrama performances. She is none other than Irangani Serasinghe– the much loved and revered iconic actress of the silver screen, stage, and teledramas.

Though frail of body at 94 years , her fiery and indomitable spirit and innate compassion for others shine through her personality.

Early years

Irangani Roxanna Serasinghe (nee Meedeniya) hails from the land of the fabled Berunda Pakshiya – the Thun Korale. She was born on June 9, 1927. Mudugomuwa Walauwe, the ancestral Meedeniya home is in Anguruwelle, a few miles from Ruwanwelle. Her father, Joseph Hercules Meedeniya was a Rate Mahatthaya (RM) and her mother was Violet Ellawala. Her paternal grandfather J.H Meedeniya was an Adigar.

It was an idyllic and beautiful setting for a child to grow up and little Irangani thrived in the healthy , calm environment. Indrani, Irangani and Kamini were the three Meedeniya girls and Mahinda the only boy. Irangani was the most mischievous of them all as well the proverbial tomboy in the family. This prompted her maternal grandmother to nickname her Chandi, a name by which she is known among family and friends even today.

Even as a little girl Irangani had a penchant for drama. When she went to bathe in the river with her mother and others little Chandi never went to the water but stayed on the bank. When her mother stepped into the water Chandi feared her mother would be harmful and would cry and beg her to return to the bank.When her entreaties fell on deaf ears she would get into a frenzy, roll on the bank and tear up the grass on the bank and eat it.

One Christmas Chandi went round showing off her Christmas gift of a doll to all and sundry including the pigs. In trying to make the pigs see her doll Chandi lost her balance and fell into the pig trough in all festive finery.

She began her education at St. Bridget’s Convent, and then moved to Bishop’s College, where she took part in several dramas.

Irangani’s foray into the world of Drama began when she started to mimic people she met in everyday life,. Later, she joined the High School, Kandy to do her Higher School Certificate, the HSC. Here, she played Professor Higgins in Bernarrd Shaw’s Pygmalion. Unknown to her, the man who was to be her future husband had been in the audience and impressed by Irangani’s masterful performance had said ‘that girl can act’. He was none other than Winston Serasinghe ,another silver screen idol.At the time of the event in question Serasinghe had been serving with the Department of Prisons in Kandy.


Irangani gained enty to the University of Colombo in 1947 but her father J.H. Meedeniye Rate Mahatthaya was dead against it. and the young ,aspiring undergraduate had to wage a great battle with him to go to University. Soon after this her father suffered a heart attack and passed away. Irangani and sister Kamini entered Colombo University the same year. The Meedeniya sisters refused to be stuck inside the conservative frame work of the then University life and raised eyebrows by cycling and going for swimming at the S. Thomas College, Moun Lavinia Pool. Irangani Meedeniya joined Musaeus College , Colombo upon graduation and married dental surgeon Dr. S.B. Dissanayake. When her husband won a scholarship to the UK for post graduate studies Irangani accompanied him. On hearing this Prof. Ludowyke advised her to study drama in England. She was accepted by the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol and studied there for an year.

She spent two years at the London School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. Unforgettable experiences for Irangani were meetings with renowned actresses Flora Robson and Dame Sybil Thorndike. On her return from the UK Irangani was unfortunately unable to secure the teaching post she hoped for. So, she joined the Sunday Times as a features journalist. She also worked as a drama producer at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). Irangani Serasinghe worked as a travel executive at Walkers Travels and Tours for a time.

Winston Serasinghe was the person who commented on Irangani’s acting talents when she was schooling. Later they met and a romantic relationship developed resulting in marriage. Serasinghe himself was one of the acting greats in the country. Together and individually, the husband and wife, the acting duo have left many indelible marks in Sri Lankan stage and film. They had two sons, Ravi and Ranjith. Sadly, Ravi passed away at a young age. Ranjith’s two sons, Suramba and Ansuman are Irangani’s pride and joy.


The man who revolutionised Sinhala cinema, Dr. Lester James Peirisreturned from the UK in 1955 and this paved the way for Irangani Roxanna Meedeniya to enter the movie world. Peiris knew Irangani and was aware of her acting ability having seen her stage performances. He first cast her in a documentary.

Thus, Irangani first faced a movie camera in 1955 under Lester James Peiris’s direction. She played the lead in a documentary, Be safe or be sorry for the traffic police. She played the role of an inconsiderate, elderly lady driver. In 1956, Peries chose Irangani to play the role of Kathrina Hamy in his ground breaking movie Rekawa.

She considers herself very fortunate that Peries was the director of her first film. Though she was only 29 years old she had to play the role of a much elderly woman ,Kathrina Hamy. This was just before her marriage to Winston Serasinghe.

Irangani says that at first she was very scared about playing the role of Kathirina Hamy as she had not done any dialogues in Sinhala. The Sinhalapronounciation too scared her. But this is where this incomparable and iconic actress’s rural environment stood her in good stead.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer recently, she said, “in playing Kathirina Hamy I did not go to imitate the village women I knew. But I could remember well their mannerisms, the way they moved, the way they spoke. So, this is what I drew on when playing Kathrina Hamy”.

She also said that she preferred village women’s roles to middle class roles but that she gets more middle class roles to play. In her autobiography, Irangani by Kumar de Silva this Grand Dame of Sinhala cinema says that when she played the role of a mother in Rekawa she herself was not yet a mother. However, she did play the role . According to this veteran actress, to successfully play a role you must become that character. Yet, something of you too becomes integrated into that character. This is why when different actors play the same role each portrayal becomes different.

Irangani followed her stellar performance in Rekawa with many others of the same ilk. In 1960, she played the role of a female spy in Sandeshaya , another Lester James Peiris film. Here, she had the traumatic experience of a near drowning.

While filming God King Irangani had to lie on a funeral pyre while another actor had to throw petrol, in reality water on her after which the pyre was to be set alight with irangani discreetly moving out of the scene. As the actor was about to throw water on an impulse Director Peiris had checked the liquid.

Contrary to the man’s assurances, it had been petrol and not water that he had been about to douse Irangani with. The director’s timely action saved Irangani’s life. Bakmaha Deege was another memorable film for Iranganias it was directed by Dayananda Gunawardana.

Irangani Serasinghe’s movies include Rekawa,Sandeshaya, Bakmaha Deege, Oba dutu da, Pavana ralu viya, Delovak athara, The yellow dress, God King, Sudu Seveneli, Sagarayak meda, Wekanda Walauwe, Adara Kathawa, Kinihiriya Mal, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,(Steven Spielberg) Water (Deepa Mehta), Loku Duwa, Vaishnavee and Gutthila. The film Gaadi is yet to be released.

The Stage

The Stage is Irangani’s first love. She began her stage drama career during her days at the Colombo University. Her first performance was in the Cuthbert Amerasinghe production of The second Mrs. Tanqueray. It was in 1948 and when young Irangani auditioned for it she was chosen for the lead.

It was at the Colombo University that Irangani met that doyen of English and drama, Professor E.F.C. (Lyn) Ludowyke. His guidance gave much fillip to her acting career. Her second play Antigone was directed by him. Irangani’s other plays include Black Chiffon, Othello, Ernest MacIntyre’s The Caucasain Chalk Circle and Macbeth. She also acted in several of Raju Coomaraswamy’s plays.

She made her debut on the Sinhala stage acting in Henry Jayasena’s Apata puthey magak nethey. She also acted in Dhamma Jagoda’s plays including Ves Muhunu, the Sinhala version of A streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams.

Irangani Serasinghe is also the only surviving member of the cast of the first play produced at the Lionel Wendt Theatre , Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths directed by Neumann Jubal, an Austrian director.

The young actress also went on tour with various productions to cities like Kandy and Jaffna.

Macbeth and Antigone remain firm favourites among her stage plays. Irangani along with husband Winston Serasinghe were also prominent figures of the ‘Stage and Set’players.


Irangani, Queen of Drama made her debut in tele dramas acting the role of Sudu Hamine in Parakrama Niriella’s Yashorawaya. It was a huge hit from the word go and viewers are still talking about Irangani’s portrayal of the character of a mother in a family facing much financial hardship but still trying to keep up with the Joneses.

She says she enjoyed acting in Yashorawaya very much. Her role as Dulcie Nona in Doo Daruwo directed by Nalan Mendis captured the hearts and minds of the young and the old.

The mega teledrama was true–to-life and Irangani’s realistic portrayal of Dulcie Nona, a widowed mother facing problems with her children and financial difficulties made audiences feel at one with her. Irangani’s other tele drama hits include Nedeyo, Sathpura Vasiyo, Village by the sea- Gamperaliya , Veeduru Mal, and Sihini where she plays the role of an old lady abandoned by her children. Apart from her acting, Irangani Serasinghe has rendered yeoman service to environmental conservation in this country. As an undergraduate she joined the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society. She set up Ruk Rakaganno with sister Kamini Vitharana and engaged in many battles to save trees and the environment.

She went among the villagers and made them aware of the value of environmental conservation. Today, at 94, she still continues the battle for conservation. When the Sunday Observer met her recently sh was pondering on how to fill the void created by the demise of her sister Kamini.


For her incomparable acting, Irangani won several awards. In 1967 she bagged the Sarasaviya Award for the Best Actress for her role in Oba dutu da and in 1995 won the same award for Pavana Ralu Viya. In 1985 she won the Presidential Award for best supporting actress for Adara Kathawa and at the 28th Sarasaviya Awards she carried away the best supporting actress for her performance in Sudu Seveneli .

Her other Awards include Kala Keerthi by the Sri Lankan Government, the Sri Lankan of the Year (2017) - Entertainment Distinguished Achievement - Ada Derana and Best Actress Special Jury Award - State Radio Awards 2019. She is also the recipient of the Deepashika Award.