Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Wijeratne Warakagoda profile
● Born in 1933 as Rajakaruna Navaratne Atapattu Mudiyanselage Wijeratne Banda Warakaoda in Warakagoda, Harispattuwa, Kandy.
● Receives education at Roman Catholic College, Marawila and Ananda College, Colombo. 
●Employed at Bank of Ceylon, Colombo Kachcheri, as a Sub Inspector in Police Service, as Chief Security Officer in Steel Corporation, Saudi Arabia, as Deputy Director General in Tower Hall Theatre Foundation (succeeded by Jayalath Manoratne) and retirement in 1990. 
● Passes audition at the Radio Ceylon and start career as a light singer in 1960.
● Becomes a radio artiste after a few months. 
● First artiste to perform in Muwan Pelessa since 1963.
● Gets on stage with Ajasatta (wins the best stylized actor award)
● Enters the silver screen with Suhada Divi Piduma
● Family: Wife Chitra performs in films and teledramas, daughter Vindya in dancing and son Jananath in music.
● 1969 Sarasaviya Merit Award for performance in Golu Hadawatha
● 1984 President’s Merit Award for performance in Kele Mal
●1985 OCIC and President’s Best Actor Award for performance in Arunata Pera

Breathing life to Asia’s oldest
radio play Muwanpelessa
The Archers broadcast on Radio 4 is the oldest radio play, now being updated on a daily basis. Muwanpelessa initially scripted by Mudalinayaka Somaratne is ranked as the second in the world, while it is the first in Asia.
Geared up towards the latter part of 1963 Muwanpelessa is still being broadcast with Waraks’ performance on Svadeshiya Sevaya.
He was picked as a British officer, who speaks in ‘broken Sinhala’, heading a team that visits the Veddah community.
Although it doesn’t enjoy the same 80 percent crowd it had those days, Waraks still continues contributing to the radio play of yore.

Master of song and stage
The ‘Hantane lover’ who pleads his girl not to emulate the Maname kumariya, has enthralled many a generation with his balmy voice and the versatile gift of acting. Wijeratne Warakagoda, the gifted actor, singer and above all, the gentle and unassuming human being, reflects on life’s cherished moments with The Nation.
“Rangahala den etha ada andure
apa dedena pem pilisandare
Anna balang kumariya Maname
Thaniwee etha himagiri arane…”

By Randima Attygalle
- The Nation

Q: Can you tell us about your childhood?
Although my father’s ancestral home town was Warakagoda in Harispattuwa, Kandy, I was born in my mother’s village- Rangama, a very remote hamlet in Kurunegala. I spent most of my childhood in these two villages. I hail from a Police family. My father, my two brothers and I served the Police. When my father used to get transferred to various parts of the country, the family also accompanied him. As a result I attended about seven schools. My longest stay in a school was at St. Anne’s College Kurunegala. I finally ended up at Ananda College, Colombo.

Q: Were you involved in theatrical production as a school boy?
I used to take part in the annual variety show in school but apart from that I never had any serious exposure to theatre. I used to watch a lot of films and excelled in singing. I used to receive a lot of awards at the school prize giving for my achievements as a soprano and I used to sing in the choir of St. Anne’s College. Even later on, my professional career as an artiste began as a singer.

Q: Can you recollect your life as a police officer?
I joined the Police service in 1956 and I served it for eight years as a Sub- Inspector. My first station was Pettah. Although I was not involved in singing or acting at a professional level during my time as a Police officer, I was always pursuing them as a hobby. My last station was Police Head Quarters at the Traffic and Information Branch where we used to collect island-wide statistics of all traffic matters. It was a monotonous desk job and the only redeeming factor was when I used to travel all over the country to conduct traffic awareness programmes in schools. This was something we did in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.

Q: What made you quit the Police service?
( Smiling) By the time I quit the Police service, I had some exposure both as a singer and an actor. Whilst serving the Police, in 1960, I sang a song for an amateur programme in Radio Ceylon called Adunika Peya. The artistes who were involved in this programme identified some talent in me and wanted me to face an audition for Sarala Gee. I was selected as an A-Grade singer of Radio Ceylon. I never had any professional training in singing. It is purely my in-born talent! Immediately after this audition, I was selected as a drama artiste at Radio Ceylon, a field I am engaged in to date! In 1963 I had my first stage appearance in Ajasaththa and acted a few minor roles in a couple of films. Therefore I was getting more inclined towards singing and acting and I was gradually losing my interest in the Police. Apart from that, the ASP under whom I was serving was also instrumental in my leaving. He used to tell me, “you must stop all your other activities and think of Police as your mother, father and wife. Your life should be Police, nothing but Police.” This was too much for me so I quit it in 1964.

Q: Can you shed light upon your other stage appearances?
In 1963, I made my debut as a stage actor through the drama Ajasaththa produced by Wimal Nawagamuwa. This was staged at the annual drama festival organized by the Cultural Ministry. I played the role of the king and emerged the ‘Best Stylised Actor’ at this festival. My second appearance was in Henry Jayasena’s Kuveni which was also an entry at this festival. Professor Sarathchandra then selected me for Maname in which I played the role of Pothe Gura or the narrator and later Vedi king. I consider both Maname and Kuveni as milestones in my stage career. They were followed by so many other significant productions such as Professor Sarathchandra’s Mahasara, Sinhabahu, and Henry Jayasena’s Hunuwataye Kathawa, Apata Puthe magak nethe, Manaranjana Wedawarjana etc.

Q: What do you feel about the present local stage productions?
In 60s and 70s, stage was booming in Sri Lanka. We had the privilege of working under lot of intellectuals like Professor Sarathchandra and Henry Jayasena. Lots of good plays were written and above all there was patronage by the theatre-goers which is not the case today. Although we find many adaptations, there seems to be a dearth of original stage productions today. Although there are many talented artistes, there aren’t many opportunities on stage for them to develop the talent in them.

Q: If you are given a choice between the stage and the silver screen, what would be your choice?
Stage of course. Cinema is also a strong medium through which an artiste can make an impact but stage is the most challenging medium. Unlike in cinema, where you can shoot and re-shoot till you get the best scene, on stage an actor has to be a perfectionist. In cinema, technology can do wonders. But on stage, you are your own master. You cannot afford to make mistakes on stage because it is a live performance. You have to be very accurate and the impact you have on the audience is of great magnitude. It is the stage which provides an actor or an actress, with the basic grounding.

Meeting Lester James Peries
“One of my friends wanted me to see Lester. He was shooting Golu Hadawatha at the time. He was a little sad because he had already done the casting. But – I still remember his words – he said, ‘don’t worry, I won’t put you aside.’ He had a small role to offer. I said it was quite all right with me. In fact it was too much to me. It was a very minor role, I was a doctor showing a death body to Punya Heendeniya.”

Q: How did you make your entry to the cinema?
It was by accident that I entered cinema! Robin Thampoe was a very successful producer and a director and he was a close friend of mine. When I was serving the Police, during my free time, I used to go and witness his shootings which were done in studios at that time. One day I was watching the shooting of his film Suhada Divi Piduma at Ceylon Theatre’s studio down Kirula Road. A court scene was in progress and they had a problem in proceeding as the actor who was to play a lawyer’s role was absent. When Mr. Tampoe asked me if I could replace him, I agreed as court work was part and parcel of my job as a police officer. So I got on set and hammered! (chuckles) The role which really made me popular with the audience was Sarath’s role (Sugath’s elder brother) in Dr. Lester James Peries’s Golu Hadawatha.

Q: Why didn’t you want to pursue singing parallel to your acting when you are gifted with a soothing voice?
(Smiling) In singing, involvements are many- you have to get the lyrics written, music provided etc. You need to go after lot of people to sing a couple of songs. This discouraged me quite a lot. I also feel that a song is not entirely the work of the singer. Whereas in acting, you deal only with the director and it is your sole identity that is projected. Although I did not want to build up a career as a singer, I devote my time to music. I enjoy listening to music.

Q: Who are your favourite actors and singers?
My favourite local actor is Joe Abeywickrama. He is such a gifted artiste. I also like Dilip Kumar and Nagis. My favourite singer is Pandith Amaradeva.

Q: What are your comments about the status given to intellectual property in Sri Lanka as far as artistes are concerned?
I think as artistes we are being exploited quite a lot. Unlike in the West, we do not have well organized guilds for artistes to make a collective voice when their copy rights are violated. Rather than individuals fighting for rights, there should be collective bodies to protect the rights of artistes. When the copy rights of my song rangahala den etha were violated, the lyricist Hudson Samarasinghe initiated litigation. Although I did not want to get involved in the case, I believe what Mr. Samarasinghe did was justifiable. Rather than trying to make a name through someone else’s creations and distorting the originality of it, I think the young generation should make an attempt to do their own work.

Q: How did you meet your wife?
I saw Chithra for the first time when she acted the role of Kuveni’s daughter’s in Henry Jayasena’s stage drama Kuveni in 1963. I think I was at the correct place at the correct time! (chuckles) We associated each other for about seven years and got married in 1970. Chithra and I have appeared together as husband and wife on the screen as well and we are playing the same in the tele-drama Snehaye Dasiya which is to be released shortly.

Q: In what way did you and your wife inspire your children Vindya and Jananath to excel in two different branches of ‘art’?
Although Vindya excelled in dancing and Jananath in music, they both acted as children. Later on they chose their own fields of interest and we never pushed them towards any line. We only showed them the correct path. I identified the musician in Jananath even as a child and I encouraged him to develop his talent. Vindya has just returned to Sri Lanka after completing her Masters in Dancing at the University of California. We are very proud parents today because both our children have excelled in their chosen fields.

Q: Of all life’s events, which do you consider to be the most poignant?
(Smiling) In a personal capacity, it is my marriage and in a professional capacity my leaving the Police service! If I had not left it I would not have become what I am today.

Waraks goes Gold

Someday in January, 1960, Sub Inspector Wijeratne Warakagoda faced an audition at the Radio Ceylon. Warakagoda no doubt aced the audition and started his career as a light singer. In five decades to come, slow but steady Warakagoda would build up his versatile personality: narrator, radio artiste, singer and performer.

Different stages of performance
Someday in January, 2010, Waraks will complete 50 years in his artistic career. It will be the golden jubilee in his life.
Waraks could fine tune himself over time and trends. At the Radio Ceylon this young SI Warakagoda seemed very much talented. That expanded into stage a swell as silver screen. Even when the TV made its way in, he was one indefatigable performer cum narrator.
"Still and all I think the radio experience means a lot. It's very precious, you know. For some reason I think radio performance is much more serious than TV presentation. You give people a moment to think, or rather contemplate the person they listen to."
Teledrama, very much unlike radio drama, now seems to be instant entertainment. You may forget a previous episode involuntarily, mainly because you have so many channels to watch. In a way that is soothing - that's what people ask for when they want to forget their daily chores. That half-an-hour slot will be a bliss, one can never know.

Warakagoda family: Daughter Vindya, Waraks himself, wife Chitra and son Jananath.
One of his radio plays Muwanpelessa in 1963 enjoyed a 80 percent audience of the then population. They had no other channels to tune, of course. No channel or teledrama today enjoys such a privilege however good they may be. Options are open far wider, or perhaps far and wide, now.
Amateur artistes make a leap into the performance business with no radio experience. There is hardly anyone to rectify their voice modulations.
"When they don't pronounce something properly, they don't give correct meaning to the script. That means ultimately they don't deliver the right message. Mission of either the director or the scripter would not be fulfilled then. It's a sad thing"
Despite serious training like voice modulation, some teledramas still appeal to a good deal of audience. Does that mean serious training is now over-the-hill when it comes to a popular drama? Waraks doesn't shake hands with this theory.

Wijeratne Warakagoda. Picture by Malan Karunaratne
"For argument's sake you can say that. But quality-wise, I don't think I agree with that. You should have it the standard way. Always better do something with at least a little learning rather than nothing at all."
Waraks has his own way of doing things. When asked if he is influenced by anyone he couldn't find right words to respond.
"Ever since my childhood I wanted to be a singer. But my parents didn't want me to become a professional artiste. They pursued me to do a pensionable job. That's why I left the banking career for police service. None of the banks was under government control at the time. Whatever job I did, I nursed this secret passion very lovingly."
Waraks is not pleased in the least of the present-day teledrama industry.
"They seem to be solely in search of fast money. In our times money was not a big issue, since most of us were anyway employed. And also we were more fond of the art."
When money becomes priority, art won't be art anymore, Waraks seems to whisper somewhat frustrated.