The actor who planted the seeds of humanity | Sunday Observer

The actor who planted the seeds of humanity

24 October, 2021

Vijaya Kumaratunga, better known for his boundless humanity and endless versatility has been engraved in our hearts as a renowned actor. Kovilage Anton Vijaya Kumaratunga , born on October 9, 1945 in Ja-ela, had his education at St. Benedict’s College.

Perhaps, he may not have thought that he would be a popular actor in the country when he attended the audition conducted by Sugathapala Senarath Yapa to select actors for his film Hanthane Kathawa which revolves around a love story of university students. Vijaya went to Bambalapitiya to attend the audition but got discouraged after he saw the huge crowd there.

Vijaya, who thought that he would not be selected for the film, decided to return home. Fortunately, some of Vijaya’s friends had encouraged him to go on. Surprisingly, he got selected for the film, thanks to the encouragement from his friends. Hanthane Kathawa directed by Sugathapala Senarath Yapa was screened on August 1, 1968. The lead roles were played by veteran actors Swarna and Tony.

Various roles

Speaking of Vijaya’s performances, surely, Vijaya can’t be confined to the role of lover that has amorous dalliance with flower trees and public parks. Vijaya who becomes the lover in Hanthane Kathawa portrays the role of Jesus Christ in Christhu Charithaya directed by Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne. Many characters such as Jesus Christ in Christhu Charithaya and Danaratna in Kedapathaka Chaya, Babun in “ Beddegama” and Victor in Bambaru Awith prove the fact that Vijaya Kumaratunga better known as Vijaya Kumaratunga can’t be confined just to the role of lover of the Sinhala Silver Screen.

In the film titled Kedapathaka Chaya which is based on a true story, Vijaya portrays the character of Danaratna who is killed by Nandawathi Bandara (Swarna) at the hospital.

Regrettably, this film was screened after Vijaya’s demise. We cannot ignore the fact that Vasantha Obeysekara makes films based on true stories such as Dadayama and Kedapathaka Chaya. Winding back the clock to Vijaya Kumaratunga’s childhood, he had garnered a popularity among teachers and students as the best orator at the school. Significantly, he had won a gold medal for his inborn talents.

After completing his education, Vijaya Kumaratunga enrolled at the Serendib Art Centre conducted by Shesha Palihakkara to learn dancing. It is Shesha Palihakkara who discerned Vijaya’s creativity and cast him in his film weera Puran Appu.

The film Ganga Addara directed by Sumitra Peries is another significant film which stays in our hearts. The song Gaga Addara Pem Kedawum Rasa Dahane” takes us to the Golden era of Sinhala cinema. Sumitra Peries cast Vijaya as Dr. Sarath Pathirana in this film which is based on a novel written by Letitia Botejue. The film has been woven around a tragic love story. The lead roles are played by Vijaya (Doctor Sarath), Vasanthi Chathurani (Nirmala) and Sanath Gunathilake (Ranjith).

The script for this film has been written by veteran artist Dr. Tissa Abeysekara. When Dr. Sarath (Vijaya) offers a Kos kola boat to Nirmala (Vasanthi) in the song sequence, we can see a closeup of Vijaya’s beautiful hand. The song Gaga Addara Pem Kedawum Rasa Dahane is adorned by Vijaya’s emotional voice and visual elegance which come in unison. Sarath Pathirana is a doctor who had his education in London.

He is willing to treat his patient Nirmala (Vasanthi Chathurani) who suffers from a mental disorder. In the end, doctor Sarath succeeded in curing her. However, she falls to a river and dies. Moreover, we can’t lose the sight of the “Vijaya - Malini era” which enthralled many filmgoers. Hathara Denama Soorayo directed by Neil Rupasinghe is the first film in which Gamini, Malini and Vijaya acted together.

Even the songs such as Me Desa Mage,” Kodi Gaha Yata, Aha Aha Adaraneeya Sinawe, Pathum Mallaki Me Jeewithe and Raththaranin Ran Kirilliye are enjoyed by all even now.

In one of the song sequences of the film Kodi Gaha Yata, Gamini Fonseka together with Vijaya and Anthony C Perera can be seen dancing to the song. The main roles are played by Gamini Fonseka Podde Aiya, Vijaya Kumaratunga (Vijay), Anthony C. Perera (Jagiris), Malini Fonseka (Nilmini ), Sriyani Amarasena (Soma).

Except for Vijaya’s creative spirit, that had made him stand out in the Sinhala silver screen were his untainted smile, emotional voice and his pleasant appearance. Going down the memory lane, we can focus on the film “Me Desa Kumatada” in which Malini Fonseka first starred opposite role to Vijaya Kumaratunga. “Bambaru Avith” directed by Dharmasena Pathiraja is based on a coastal village. The film has been woven around the exploitation of the poor and the confrontation of capitalist and marxist influenced doctrines.

The lead roles are played by Joe Abeywickrama (Anton Ayya), Vijaya Kumaratunga (Baby Mahattaya), Wimal Kumara De Costa (Weerasena), Malini Fonseka (Helen) and Ruby De Mel (Celestina). Anton aiya who exploits the poor fishermen is challenged by another group of youths who had adapted to a western culture.

The conflict arises between Anton ayya and Baby Mahattaya in the film. Finally, though Weerasena delivers a speech before people, no one listens to it.

Gamini - Vijaya era also can be viewed as another milestone of the Sinhala silver screen. There is no doubt that films such as Sakvithi Suwaya, Hathara Denama Soorayo and “ Hondama Velawa” bear testimony to the embellishment of Sinhala silver screen. In addition, it is evident that Dr. Lester James Peries had cast Vijaya Kumaratunga only in three films such as “The God King”, Ahasin Polawata” and “ Beddegama.”

The God king

The film titled “The God King” directed by Dr. Lester James Peries is a British - Sri Lankan historical film. The film revolves around a historical conflict between Kasyapa (Leigh Lawson) and Mogallana(Ravindra Randeniya). Vijaya Kumaratunga played the role of Lalith. Other roles are played by Joe Abeywickrama (Swami), Geoffrey Russell (King Dhatusena), Iranganie Serasinghe (Varuni), Anne Loss (Leila), Douglas Wickremasinghe (Council Leader), Mano Breckenridge (opposition leader) and Menik Kurukulasuriya (Somitra).This film is based on the well-known story. The king Kasyapa killed his father who is the king Dhatusena by walling him alive, with the intention of seizing the throne of the country which belongs to his brother Mogallana (Ravindra Randeniya). Knowing the imminent disaster, Mogallana fled to India to escape from Kasyapa. He organised his army in India. Kasyapa built his palace on the top of the Rock.

The film Ahasin Polawata directed by Dr. Lester James Peries was released in 1978. The script for the film was written by Dr. Tissa Abeysekara. It is based on a novel written by Eileen Siriwardene and was shot in 23 days. Tony Ranasinghe played the role of Dr. Sarath an abusive husband. Vijaya’s role is Dr. Sarath’s friend called Lalith. The role of Sarath’s wife Vineetha is played by Sriyani Amarasena.

The film titled Beddegama is directed by Dr. Lester James Peries. This film is based on the book “The Village in the Jungle” penned by Leonard Woolf. The film was produced by P.Wilfred Perera.

The script for this film was written by A. J. Gunawardana. The role of Babun is played by Vijaya Kumaratunga. The main roles are punchi Menike(Malini Fonseka) , Silindu (Joe Abeywickrama), Fernando Mudalali (Tony Ranasinghe), Exorcist( D.R Nanayakkara), village head Babehami ( Henry Jayasena), Karalina (Trilicia Gunawardana) and Mudalali (David Dharmakeerthi).

His political journey

Vijaya Kumaratunga entered the political arena through the Lanka Sama Samaja party. He became a member of the Sri Lanka freedom party ( SLFP) in Katana electorate. Vijaya Kumaratunga contested the 1977 general election from the SLFP. Sirimavo Bandaranaike could not contest the Presidential election because her civic rights had been taken away.

As a result, Hector Kobbekaduwa contested as the SLFP candidate. Vijaya and Chandrika campaigned for Hector Kobbekaduwa. J.R. Jayewardene won the election and was re-elected as the President.

Later, Vijaya kumaratunga was accused of being a Naxalite and imprisoned under the J.R regime. Veteran actor Gamini Fonseka who always stands against injustice done to the artists personally met J.R. Jayewardene and appealed for Vijaya ‘ s release.

Veteran actor Tony Ranasinghe drafted a petition but only a fistful of artistes had signed it. However finally, in January 1983, Vijaya was released. Vijaya Kumaratunga ran as the SLFP candidate in a by election in Mahara in 1983. Sadly, Vijaya was threatened by the U.N.P henchmen. Vijaya won the first count.

But a recount was ordered. Suddenly, a blackout occurred at the counting centre. When the electricity was restored, the UNP candidate had recorded a victory by a few votes.

The opposition had alleged that someone had eaten some of Vijaya ‘ s votes in order to ensure the UNP victory. Back in 1984, Vijaya together with Chandrika , T.B Illangaratne and Ratnasiri Wickremanayake broke away from the SLFP in order to form a new political party with a broad vision. It was the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party(SLMP). The SLMP founded by Vijaya Kumaratunga had made a remarkable contribution to peace and reconciliation of the country.

Visit to Jaffna

In 1986 Vijaya went to Jaffna, visited Nallur Murugan Temple and met some of the LTTE leaders such as Sathasivampillai, Krishnakumar Alias “Kittu” and his spokesman Sri Kumar Kanagaratnam alias. Later the LTTE invited Vijaya to Jaffna. Vijaya together with Ossie Abeygunasekera visited Jaffna.

Tamil people and the LTTE leaders welcomed them warmly. Later, two Sinhalese soldiers were handed over to Vijaya by the LTTE. On February 16, 1988 , there dawned the darkest day on our Sinhala cinema.

As revealed by the brutal killer-Lionel Ranasinghe and alias Gamini, Vijaya Kumaratunga was standing near the gate of his residence on Polhengoda road. Vijaya was shot twice in the back.

After he fell to the ground, the brutal killer got off his motorcycle and pumped bullets into his face and head at a close range. According to Lionel Ranasinghe‘s confession, he had been ordered by the JVP to kill Vijaya Kumaratunga. Vijaya‘s post-mortem examination was conducted by Dr. M.S.L Salgado and the judicial Medical officer of Colombo.

The Additional Government Analyst M.A.J Mendis had revealed that nine T-56 bullets had pierced through Vijaya‘s face.

After the post-mortem examination, one of the best makeup artists in the country named Ebert Wijesinghe had made a tremendous effort to make Vijaya’s defaced face as natural as possible. But it had become impossible to do so.

Vijaya‘s wife Chandrika Kumaratunga had suggested that the upper part of the corpse should be covered with the coffin in such a way that no one can see Vijaya’s defaced face. Though a heartless killer snatched Vijaya ‘ s life, he lives in our hearts forever.