Reminiscing Gamini Fonseka - “Emperor of Sinhala cinema enthroned”

Reminiscing Gamini Fonseka - “Emperor of Sinhala cinema enthroned”

19 March 2019 10:01 am

On the 30th September 2004, 14 years ago Sri Lanka’s heroic epoch era of Sinhala cinema died, alongside with the sudden demise of legendary film personality and politician it was comparable to the shutting down of the screen of the Sinhala cinema where he stood very tall for nearly three decades dominating in many spheres spaced out from his unique, distinctive and in his own inimitable styles of acting.

Sembuge Gamini Shelton Fonseka is extensively regarded as the emperor of the Sri Lankan silver screen and first Crowned King before Joe Abeywickrema , Tony Ranasinghe and Vijaya Kumaratungal Gamini Fonseka was born on 21 March 1936 in Dehiwala the third child of William and Daisy Fonseka. Starting school at Presbyterian Girls School along station road, Dehiwala, located in his neighbourhood. Later,Gamini was moved to prestigious S.Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia.

As a youngster, he had impressed with his innate talents when he gained a status for imitating college teachers. Gamini when young had shown his talents in the study of the Sinhalese language cum literature. D.S Jayasekara was his first mentor who later had become the Head Master of the College. It was he who had introduced Gamini to act in stage plays in College as he had recognized in abundance his acting instincts and skills. The pedestal and footing for his fitting to be a renowned actor was laid while in S.Thomas’ College itself.

His acting was hailed, acclaimed and much-admired when he was in the upper fourth class was nominated and awarded a Sinhala literature prize. The award for this achievement was presented to him by an imminent old boy of S. Thomas' College, Graduate, Barrister from Cambridge University, a Sri Lankan Prime Minister D.S Senanayake. Gamini also excelled as a gifted and talented cricketer. He had an abrupt end to his College career at S.Thomas’ before completing his secondary education as he was eying for an opening into the Sinhala cinema.

Gamini Fonseka married his teenage adored girl friend, Dorothy Margaret Valencia also known as Tina in 1962 whom he had been intimately and emotionally involved during his teen age. The couple were blessed with four children Chamila, Thanuja, Damith and Ishara. His son Damith too had inherited his father’s talents and had successfully had a short stint in the cinematic field. He remained legally married to his wife Tina until his death on 30th September 2004.

Prior to legendary Gamini Fonseka emerged into the Sinhala cinema, our industry was struggling as it was totally dependent on the umbilical string of the South Indian cinema when it was plunged into their ditch. The legend was chiefly instrumental in changing the infancy status of our film industry which was in the immaturity stage for decades. Of course the South Indian films made with high technology were of course impressive and to break that trend  and hoodoo was his desire which he to a great degree succeeded by acting, directing, editing mostly his own creations which was hitherto then was attempting and besieged to position up on its own.

He brought in a cosmopolitan type of acting and twisted to an indigenous home grown type of films which made a radical sweeping which rejuvenated thus uplifting our cinema to a very sky-scraping magnitude. For this theatrical change we all should be indebted to this genius actor, director editor of numerous spectacular and fabulous films. In short he freed singlehandedly those in our industry from further suffocation from South Indian film obsession.

At the time he launched on this revolutionary and avant-garde task he was very fortunate to meet and to heed professional advice and guidance from an already legend in the field Dr Lester James Pieris and hence was equipped to take stiff challenges with his knowledge possessing a trilingual tongue This was an advantage as he could converse with people of the calibre of K.Gunaratnam, Alfred Thambiah, Robin Tampoe, S.Nayagam, M Selvaratnam etc. apart from been an old boy of S.Thomas’ College

Gamini was seen as the budding celebrity that would effortlessly competent to revolutionize the silver screen. Before he launched into acting, he gained invaluable experience in technical aspects of film making closely associating David Lean who made the film- Bridge on the River Kwai. That was influential to keep Gamini in superior stead to make his individual creations inaugurating with Parasathumal which stimulated and motivated film fans in the early 1960s and Gamini's name was flanked by the jaws in every family entity. His first major appearance was in the film “Sandeshaya”.Gamini was a genius and hero in both commercial and artistic films which was comprehensively proved by his portraying in his roles in “Gamperaliya” and “Nidhanaya” the characters of Jinadasa in the former and Willie Abeynayake in “Sandeshaya”.

It was like a natural phenomenon for films in which Gamini Fonseka portrayed lead role to make box office records by running continuously for 100 days on film circuits. He possessed unparalleled talents and could indulge in stunts aerobatics, fights. Once when he acted in “Demodara Palama” when he was 60 years old he had to jump out of a helicopter on to a bridge which the Director and wanted to perform with a stunt. He had gallantly said “no stunts” .Once he has had to dive into deep sea 40 feet in “Ranmuthuduwa” which he portrayed devoid of any panic. All such scenes were completed in his own inimitable style which scarcely any other actor could emulate easily.

With time Gamini displayed his skills in the film industry to embark upon social and political themes that were relatively in inconsistent to his preceding creations. One would bear in mind how Gamini queried the inequities in the judicial structure in the country in his film “Uthumaneni.” In “Sagarayak Meda” that truthfully irritated then Cabinet Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike, Gamini courageously challenged the rampant political supremacy of a Cabinet Minister frenzied with unconditional authority and a doctor persecuted under such a rule. Later, in “Sarungale” and “Nomiyena Minissu” he went into the intensity of complexities of the racial topic that obsessed the civilization. Gamini was very honest in his convictions. When he called it a day from acting he had acted in 108 films, 86 as the lead role and 19 as the supporting actor. He had directed 10 films and produced 02 films.

Gamini had almost each year from 1964 t0 1997 had won a  Sarasaviya award for the best actor, best supporting actor, best director and in the year 1997 was awarded the commemorative award of U.W Sumapthipala.

He withdrew from the cinema to waste his valuable time as a politician in 1988. UNP Presidential candidate Ranasinghe Premadasa, a long-standing friend of Gamini convinced the latter in the centre of the uproar of the second JVP rebellion to battle in the Matara District. Gamini accepted the bid proposed and advantageously contested the polls to be made the Deputy Speaker in the Parliament. He presided over turbulent sessions but was highly respected by both sides of the House for his neutrality. As a member, he criticized the Premadasa management devoid of panic when effects did not happen to the profit of the people. He gave innovative existence and recognition to the Office of the Deputy Speaker.

After the change of government in mid-1990’s Gamini Fonseka was named as the Governor of the of the North-East region by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Gamini Fonseka was a man who established dignity to every sphere that he was implicated in. Today actors and actresses are treated with dignity and high esteem by film producers and directors because Gamini established their self-esteem to the acting occupation. He left an inheritance to pursue and not to facsimile. Anyone who attempts to copy Gamini Fonseka would be unsuccessful. Gamini's mentor Lester James Peiris had forecasted that another Gamini Fonseka will not be born in this country for the next one thousand years. So, the gigantic void created by Gamini's death in 2004 will not be filled for the next one thousand years. Gamini Fonseka was a larger-than-life figure in every way. Physically he had a superior heart than of a standard human being and that could have been a reason for his sturdy temperament power and influence.

He had a natural death at the age of 68 years at his residence in Ja Ela on the 30th September 2004.

Sunil Thenabadu

18, Nevron Drive, Bahrs Scrub

Queensland 4207, Brisbane, Australia