Donald Karunaratne is no more... | Sunday Observer

Donald Karunaratne is no more...

4 September, 2022

“Camera pans down the barren land, captures Jayanath's eyes flaming with anger, frames Rathmali wielding a club in her hand and catches the red car zooming through the barren land and running over Rathmali."

This is the final sequence of Wasantha Obeysekara's landmark cinematic creation "Dadayama" woven around a true story. This article is neither about the film nor about the director , but about the cinematographer who handled the camera for Dadayama.

He is Donald Karunaratne who worked as the camera director for more than 65 Sinhala films. That he won multiple awards including Sarasaviya, Swarna Sankha, Janadipathi, and OCIC at film festivals will bear ample testimony to his skills.


Being open-hearted, he worked with both amateurs and veterans such as Dr. Lester James Peiris, Dharmasena Pathiraja, Wasantha Obeysekera, Sumitra Peiris, Menik Sandarasagara and Tissa Abeyesekera. Speaking of his association with Dharmasena Pathiraja, we have to focus on their films. At the time when Donald met Pathiraja, he was working as the assistant cameraman for Sumiththa Amarasinghe in Hanthane Kathawa.

Pathiraja together with Donald made their first film which went on to win awards at the Borgama short film festival. The film was based on Ajith Tilakasena's short story "Sathuro." Most veteran actors such as Wimal Kumara de Costa, Simon Nawagattegama had acted in this short film.

Pathiraja together with Donald wanted to make a sequel to Ahas Gawwa film based on a script penned by an award-winning author Chandraratne Bandara. Sadly, without a financier they could not proceed with the film. This is the tragedy that most Sri Lankan film-makers had to experience.

Donald gave his maximum for the Sri Lankan cinema risking his own life. "Pon Mani" directed by Pathiraja was shot in Jaffna when the battle against terrorism had extended its tentacles to every corner. Pathiraja and Donald had to stay in the house of the former Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraippa. At that time, not a day passed without t victims being reported on televisions. In addition, Donald had contributed to most master pieces like Ahas Gawwa (1974), Ahasin Polawata (1978), Karumakkarayo (1980), Ganga Addara (1980), Kaliyugaya (1981), Dadayama (1983), Sagara Jalaya Madi Handuwa (1988), Golumuhude Kunatuwak (1991), Pon Mani (1993), (Tamil), Sakkarang (2016) and Vaishnawi( 2017).

His association with international film makers.

Moreover, Donald worked not only with Sri Lankan film-makers but also with international film makers. His contribution to the films such as Seetha Devi ,Thousand Flowers is remarkable. Seetha Devi directed by Menik Sandarasagara is an Indo-Sri Lankan co-production.

Thousand Flowers , though directed by Dharmasiri Wikremarathne, was shot in Sri Lanka, France and Thailand. If speaking of Donald's contribution to documentaries, we can remember that he made several TV documentaries for Channel Four and DWR of Germany. Significantly, Donald handled the camera for a German film titled Three Yellow Cats which was shot in picturesque locations in Sri Lanka.

International arena

Sri Lankan actors like Ananda Jayaratne, Joe Abeyewickrema and H.D. Kulatunga acted in the film. Stamping his imprint in the international arena, he had built a companionship with several German film directors and cinematographers like Helmut Trunz and Wolfgang Petersen. Moreover, to master in new technology Donald attended workshops and visited Arriflex camera manufacturers in Germany.

It would be no exaggeration to say that Donald is a smart cinematographer because he made use of new technology and sophisticated equipment. For instance, he used a red dragon camera to shoot Dr. Sumithra Peiris's Vaishnavi. No doubt that there are many lessons that we can learn from Donald Karunaratne.

He won 19 best cinematographer awards and was honoured by the President’s Lifetime Award for his legendary contribution to the Sinhala film industry. Alas! Our legend is no more with us. He breathed his last in Los Angeles, United States at the age of 77.