Leonie Kotelawala lives in our hearts | Sunday Observer

Leonie Kotelawala lives in our hearts

9 July, 2022

Her Grade Two class teacher by the name of Silvia Wijesekara invited her to perform a dance at the school concert. “Pipena Rosa Mal Nela” flavoured with her scintillating performance enthralled the audience.

At that time, she was only a 7-year-old child. Amazingly, this little girl who started her acting life from the school stage gained recognition by winning the first UNDU award for her character’ Mary’ in ‘Kumarihamy’ teledrama. She is none other than Leonie Kotelawala who left an indelible icon in our art world.

Sadly, on June 19, 2022, she departed from our midst. Going down the memory lane, we can still remember her performances in teledramas and cinematic creations such as ‘Charu Latha’, ‘Thara Dewi’ , ‘Bandhanaya’ and ‘Sama’.

Born on September 18, 1944 Leonie had her education at Good Shepherd Convent which broadened her horizons.

In her childhood she used to spend musical evenings singing songs with her two sisters and brother. Stage was not magic to Leonie who rocked the school stage as a child actress. She had grabbed every opportunity to perform in school dramas. With the support of her uncle Stanley Wimalaweera, Leonie Kotalawela entered the Radio Ceylon and contributed to many radio plays as a radio dramatist.

Back in 1969 she became an A-grade singer in Radio Ceylon. When her maiden performance came through a stage play titled “Manamalakama” directed by G.D.L Perera, she was 12 years old.

As the time passed, Leonie was exposed to many veterans in the field like Sugathapala de Silva , Karunaratna Amarasignhe and Bandara K. Wijethunge. The writer’s surmise is that Leonie could stimulate her skills by observing such veterans. She contributed to radio dramas like ‘Hathalis Ekdenek’, ‘Moranathenna’ and ‘Kelemal’. Speaking of her performance in stage plays we cannot forget ‘Thotupala’, ‘Mehew Lokayak’, ‘Sakkara Wattam’ , ‘Rathu Rosa’, ‘Manamalakama’. As noted by artistes, Leonie used to study the script before getting into the character with the intention of building her character naturally.

That Leonie could win the first UNDA award for her role ‘Mary’ in ‘Kumarihamy’ will bear testimony to her brilliance. Amazingly, she won the OIC award for the same role. Budding actresses too should follow in her foot steps to do the justice to creations instead of throwing out dialogues. Leonie could prove her versatality through teledramas and films. G. D. L. Perera’s cinematic creation titled “Sama” paved the way for Leonie to play many roles in films such as Chandali, Pipena Kumudu, Vajira, Purunuppaththi, Bora diya pokuna, Raja Daruwo, Sarasavi Diyaniyan, Ekamat Eka Rataka, Bndanaya and Dewena Wihagun and etc. As revealed by critics, in 1962 Leonie won the Best Actress Award at the Sri Lanka Arts Council for her performance in Sama. Significantly, Leonie was fortunate enough to work with giants like Joe Abeywickrame.

Obviously, characters that Leonie portrayed were closer to our hearts because of her natural performances.

The best example for this is the character ‘Ayida Hamy’ in Nalan Mandis ‘Nedeyo’ teledrama. Apart from that, what came to our minds were ‘Charitha Thunak’, ‘Charulatha’, ‘Hiruta Muwawen’, ‘Kumari Hamy’, ‘Nedeyo’, ‘Sangeethe’, ‘Somage Sihinaya’ and ‘Thara Devi’. Regrettably, she is no more with us. Evidently, Leonie still lives in the deepest part of our hearts.