What is that the new position you were given?
Director general of cultural affairs.
Who named you to the position?
Tell us briefly the role of this position?
The presidential secretariat should give me a letter, detailing its responsibilities. That is being done by the secretary to the president.
This position was not there previously
No. there were presidential advisers. But, there was no director general position.
That means, this position was created to appease you?
It is not to appease me. A DG means there is a person in a capacity similar to the minister, at the president’s office to whom artistes can make proposals and tell things.
I am yet to be informed about my role if I can make suggestions to the president on their behalf.
You are in the president’s office?
In a division there. The president’s office has various divisions. This is located at Chatham Street.
What sort of criticism do you have against this government?
As a person who holds a government position, it is not proper for me to speak about my criticisms of the government.
Why are you evading that question?
No. We, as the Citizens’ Power met the prime minister a few days ago. There, our seniors made a certain criticism and did their responsibility.
What do you think about the charter prepared by Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena, Parakrama Niriella and Sudath Mahadivulwewa?
Not those three only, but many artistes held several rounds of discussions and prepared the charter. We should insist the government implemented it. I am an artiste who agrees with everything in that charter.
After accepting the new position, how many times have you met the president?
Not a single occasion. I submitted letters to him. An open letter by Jayatilake Kammellaweera in Ravaya was one of them. The newspaper published it referring it to me. That artiste had some faith in me and pointed out various matters. I do not oppose any of them. I have referred that letter to the president and the secretary to the president with my observations, asking for speedy action.
What is the essence of your letter?
Kammellaweera mentioned basic things important for cultural reconciliation which has been in a big crisis in the past two years. The main reasons for that situation are the Cultural Affairs Ministry and the Department. The manner of subject distribution and the appointment of two ministers have aggravated matters.
On the other hand, provision of finances to the Art Council has stopped. They have changed their agendas. For instance, the Cultural Affairs Ministry has a north western province development subject. But, we do not oppose that. But, not only the north western province is required to created cultural revival.
Kammellaweera has not submitted his own view only, we have had several rounds of talks. It was noted artistes should get together as a committee of intellectuals and meet the president for discussion. To resolve the problems, the subject should be brought under one minister. The president said his attention has been drawn to that. This article was published only after I accepted this position.
Why do you take part in every foreign tour of the president?
I have accompanied him on a tour of the US only. I was told I had been chosen as an artiste among a group to the occasion of a speech at the UN. So, I participated. The president was given a list of the participants. Their passports were obtained and the tour was undertaken.
You were invited for the tour orally or in writing?
Media secretary at the presidential secretariat Dharma Sri Ekanayake coordinated it.
Not just this government, if any other government asks you to accept a MP position, what will you do?
I will never contest an election.
If you are nominated on the national list?
That will not suit me either. I do not suffer from parliament mania.
Why do you call it a disease?
That is a disease. If you take a careful look, you can see it. I have a big responsibility on behalf of those who admired my work. My job was as a clerk at the Rubber Control Department. Ten years in the public service. That was a 10 year training. That was not a disorganized training. I did that job for the people. Through this position too, I hope to work for the people.
But, after you accept the position, have an office in the Presidential Secretariat, you too become part of that disease?
No, that cannot be described as a disease. I have a responsibility on culture. I was appointed by the president not to work in the SLFP. I do not categorize artistes in any way.
That means, you do not have any ulterior motive or politics behind accepting the position?
No ulterior motives. In the past, there were many advisers. I do not belong to that category. After I accepted the position, the Film Screening Society made a request over a tax imposed on them. After they talked to me, I asked them to meet me at 10.00 in the next morning. I will listen to their request, bring it to the president’s attention and give a solution without a delay.
What does ‘Trikoni’ that belongs to you, do?
I have decided to close it down.
I do not have the economic strength to continue with it.
But, you staged ‘Trojan Women’ and raised funds for that?
A building fund for the Foundation. I am trying myself to construct a building. I have rented a place at a Rs. 50,000 monthly rent. I cannot pay that rent. If someone who loves art helps, I will construct that building.
Finally, what are your plans for art and politics?
I believe this position will not affect my work in art, which is my priority. Secondly, I left the public service because I was not given leave to attend the Manhattan film festival in Germany with my film ‘Hansa Vilak.’ After I returned, minister Gamini Dissanayake took me to a position in the Land Reclamation And Development Board. While doing that job, the Film Corporation chose my ‘Thunweni Yamaya’ under the 100 per cent loan scheme. Thereafter, I left the Land Reclamation And Development Board because I had a bigger responsibility to take ‘Thunweni Yamaya’ to the filmgoers under the 100 per cent loan scheme.
Also, we suffered very badly economically during 1988-89. After having to leave the country without a job, even my children had to suffer. We returned only after the terror period ended. When Chandrika was in power, I was to be given a justice of the peace position. A regional politician sent me a letter, saying I had been chosen for the position. But, at the time, what I wanted was a telephone connection. I wrote back to him, in the back of the letter he sent me that I do not want a JP position, but please give me a telephone line. I asked them to give that position to one of the seniors in our area who have done a big service.
Interviewed by Basuru Jayawardena