Joe Abeywickrama: The actor who ennobled the Sinhala cinema | Sunday Observer

Joe Abeywickrama: The actor who ennobled the Sinhala cinema

4 July, 2021

In the Sinhala cinema, Joe Abeywickrama is one of the three crowned actors (Gamini Fonseka , Joe Abeywickrama and Tony Ranasinghe).

The well-known fact is that Joe Abeywickrama whose creative spirit transcended all the boundaries has conquered the silver screen by breaking the Status Quo.

All we cherish have to perish but the fragrance of that golden era stays in our hearts forever. Gammana Patabendige Don John Abeywickrama better known as Joe born on June 22, 1927 in Lellopitiya, Pelmadulla has rendered a remarkable service to the Sinhala Cinema.


Joe Abeywickrama is regarded as the best character actor in the Sinhala Cinema. His longest journey as an actor began in 1957. We can remember the characters that the veteran actor Joe Abeywickrama has played in films and teledramas.

The significant point as pointed by film critics is none other than his wide range of acting. He has given blood to various characters ranging from the village folk to the city folk and the villain to the hero. To cite an example, in the film titled “Sarawita karaya” directed by Tissa Liyanasuriya, Joe Abeywickrama plays the role of an innocent betel seller called “Sara aiya”. He won the Best Actor award for his scintillating performances in the film.

The most noticeable specialty in his every performance is the fact that he can delve into the characters. Then comes to our mind the film titled “Welikathara “ directed by D.B. Nihalsinghe and screen play by Dr. Tissa Abeysekara. In this film, Joe Abeywickrama can be viewed as a ruthless businessman called “Goring Mudalali.” This role is in contrast with “Sara Aiya.”

The fight between A.S.P Randeniya (Gamini Fonseka) and Goring Mudalali (Joe Abeywickrama) has captivated our eyes and hearts. Focusing on Joe’s facial expressions that change according to the mood of characters, we can point out one sequence of the film. Goring Mudalali went to the Wickrama Randeniya’s home and threatened him.

“I will not use pistols like you do. I will not shout and scream. I have a better weapon with me. So be careful hamuduruwane.”

Not only does Joe Abeywickrama deliver these lines but also heightens the echo of each line through his facial expressions and voice variation. Another factor for his uniqueness is that this versatile actor Abeywickrama can bring facial expressions and voice variations into equation to make the character alive.

Another instance for his wide range of acting is the film “Getawarayo” co-directed by Mike Wilson and Tissa Liyanasuriya. In this film, Joe Abeywickrama together with Gamini Fonseka as his bosom friend enacted the role of “Semaneris.” Jayasena Fernando (Gamini Fonseka) who is a fisherman has got a job at the company where his friend Semanaris (Joe Abeywickrama) works.

The character called Semaneris has been brought out as a loyal and innocent person. It can be said that Joe Abeywickrama gives a comic foil to the character in such a way that the main character is always highlighted. The main character obviously is a massive tree that grows gradually. In any film, we can witness many salient factors for the growth of the main character.

We can witness Joe Abeywickrama as a dumb servant in the film titled “Sadol Kandulu” by Regie Perera. His versatility has enabled himself to win the award for the best actor in the film. Going deeper into Joe Abeywickrama’s journey in the field of films, what has made Joe Abeywickrama to stand out in the field is the fact that he lives characters by delving deeper into the conscience and the pulse of the characters. Not that Joe Abeywickrama is strange to the characters. That is why we feel his mind blowing performances natural.

One example for this is “Beddegama” film directed by Lester James peries. The character “Silindu” played by Joe Abeywickrama has been praised by many film critics. His versatility has enabled him to win the award for the best actor in 1982. No doubt that “Siribo Aiya” and “Sara Aiya” can be said to be the closest characters to our hearts.

Another significant talent evident in his range of acting is the ability to perform comic characters. Even today we can remember how we had a laugh watching “Kolomba Sanniya” film. Joe has enacted a character called “Nirudaka” in the film “Desa Nisa” directed by Lester James Peries. Nirudaka is an ugly lover in a village. None but his beloved mother (Denawaka Hamine) loved him. Nirudaka starts a love affair with a village girl called “ Sundari” (Sriyani Amarasena). Later both of them get married. Though Nirudaka’s mother wants to cure her blindness, Nirudaka is afraid that she would leave him after seeing his ugly face. It is because Sundari though blind is very beautiful. Finally they cure her blindness thanks to treatment of the hermit (Ravindra Randeniya). However we should not lose the sight of the fact that Joe’s stunning performances can be seen in two English films titled “Peter of the elephants and “The Three yellow cats”. Joe has established a unique identity transcending all the traditional boundaries. That is why Joe Abeywickrama remains unrivalled forever in the Sinhala film culture.

Pura Handa Kaluwara

“Pura Handa Kaluwara” directed by Prasanna Vithanage has marked an indelible milestone in the Sri Lankan film industry. In this film, Joe Abeywickrama lives the character “ Wannihami”. In the opening sequence, there emerges a fascinating morning scenery with a Pirith chanting. All the spectators as if in a meditation get glued to the film.

Next emerges the shrine veiled in mist creating the serenity in our hearts. Then we can see a closeup of Wannihami’s feet as he walks to the half dried up river to fetch water. These lines uttered by Wannihami conveys that he is not feeble at all. When Somay tells that he can help him fetch water. Wannihami says, “why ? Do you think that I am paralysed?”.

In the last sequence, Wannihami casts a glance at the children splashing water in the river while laughing. And Wannihami smiles alone. May be it is because the children’s beaming smiles have either taken Wannihami back to his childhood or brought back his dead son “Bandara’s memories.

Joe Abeywickrama portrays thousands of emotions and feelings through his face. That is why he is regarded as a crowned actor. The veteran actor Joe Abeywickrama who conquered the Cinema world , won the Best Actor’s award for “Purahanda Kaluwara” at the 12th International Film Festival in Singapore in 1999. The veteran actor has won 18 Sarasavi Awards and Presidential Awards. Joe is the first Sri Lankan actor who participated in film fare festival.

Winding back the clock to the renowned actor Joe Abeywickrama’s childhood, young Joe, born in Ratnapura, has received his education from Sivali Central College. True that young Joe has excelled himself as a young actor by performing in Vesak dramas. In 1940, Joe came to Colombo and joined a studio owned by one of the famous dramatists Sirisena Wimalaweera. Surprisingly Wimalaweera having noticed Joe’s creative spirit, has prophecied that he would be a good actor. Indeed his prophecy came true. The crowned character actor Joe ennobled the Sinhala Cinema. On September 21, 2011, the full moon that scattered the moonbeams sank deeper into the darkened clouds leaving only the darkness. True all we cherish have to perish but the fragrance stays in our hearts forever.