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Sunday, 26 September 2004    
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Shesha Palihakkara : On an artistic crusade

by Lakmal Welabada

Shesha today

He was in his mid twenties when he stole the hearts of cinemagoers as a dashing bandit prince, in the old time hit Mathalang. That was in the 50s and Shesha Palihakkara, a relatively unknown actor became famous as Mathalang and was elevated to heart throb status. today, we see the ageing actor, most of his hair gone, and the roguish twinkle in his eyes replaced by wrinkles on his face, talking not about acting, but about community service. Still, it's hard to separate the actor from the man.

"I was just fourteen when I first came to the scene as a student of dancing under Guru Chitrasena," reminisces the one time Mathalang who is in his seventies today.

Shesha Palihakkara with Clarice de Silva in the film Mathalang

He had the opportunity to enter Shanthi Nikethan and Kala Kshethra in India and studied many dance forms and other arts including painting, sculpture and music.

After his studies, Shesha came back to Sri Lanka to take part in 'Pageant of Lanka' a cultural show organised to celebrate independence in 1948. "It was my debut as a performer. I was just twenty years old then," he says.

After teaching at the Chitrasena School of Dancing for a while, Shesha joined the ballet troupe of Indian dancer, Ramagopal in 1949. This opened doors to Europe providing him with the opportunity to perform in theatres all over Europe.

His return to Sri Lanka for a short while in 1954 provided him with the chance to play the main role as the bandit prince in Mathalang, after which he returned to UK to continue his career as a theatre artiste.

After gaining much knowledge in theatre, music and literature in Europe, Shesha returned to Sri Lanka in 1959 with the grand idea of producing a film with a difference.

Along with film director Mike Wilson and Sir Arthur C. Clarke who gave technical assistance Shesha succeeded in his task and produced the first colour film Ran Muthu Doowa in 1960. It was the first ever film produced in Sri Lanka showing the under water sceneries of the Sri Lankan sea. His second production was Getawarayo which was also directed by Mike Wilson along with Thissa Liyanasooriya. Saaravita was the third and last film produced by Shesha.

After a series of disheartening incidents he lost interest in his film career, and decided to pursue his business in the plantation industry.

After a long and silent break, Shesha has returned to the scene today.

"I am not much involved in acting now. But I played the role of a Buddhist monk in Chandran Ratnam's newest English film Romeo and Juliet in the war zone recently. The film is to be released shortly," he says.

The veteran actor talks a lot about the loss of standard and quality of all forms of art in the country and says, "Being veterans I think we have a responsibility in reforming the arts. Moulding the young talents to acquire quality standards is the only answer for that.

With this intention, Shesha along with many other maestros have launched a performing arts and training program called Lanka Gandharva Yathra.

"It's a one year (5-days a week) training programme which will be conducted at the Wayamba Jana Kala Kendra at Kurunegala, where we have sufficient space and the environment that is vital for a serious aesthetic training programm," he explains. "With adequate publicity in the print and electronic media we hope to attract a fair number of applicants.

We will audition them and choose 35 school leavers of both sexes who have obtained Distinctions in their O/L or A/L exams for either vocal music, dance or drama," he says.

The course which will be conducted for a nominal fee will be in two parts. In the first six months the students will be exposed to all subjects such as music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture and literature in both oriental and western aspects and an in-depth appreciation of cinema in all its aspects and an introduction to Tamil and English languages.

The talents of the students will be re-evaluated during the second half so as to identify the main area of excellence.

Thereafter they will devote more time to specialise in these areas. "We intend to arrange dramas, ballets, dances, musicals and traditional cultural shows for them so that they could get the experience by performing to an audience and prove their worth. We also hope to foster tie-ups with community based cultural organisations in other countries.

An extended programme would be launched facilitating the exchange of students in the art stream.

This will provide lot of opportunities for our local students to have foreign exposure," envisages Shesha.

"We are not a money based organisation.

If the students are not able to bear the nominal fee that we will be charging, we can waive it off," he says.

Young talent who wish to join the Lanka Gandharva Yathra can get down the applications from 81/3, Isipathana Mawatha, Colombo 5.


Shakespeare Centre : Altered status

Shakespeare Centre Sri Lanka-Shakespeare Academy in Humanities, one of the premier Theatre-in-Education Institutes in the country will be diversifying their activities in to professional art fields segment from October in order to cater to the growing demand in theatre arts in the country.

The Centre presently offers different types of vocational training courses related to acting and theatre production through Shakespeare works with practical productions, theatre-in-education, mass media communication and writership with information technology in practical, western and oriental music languages. The expanded programme, offers a range of new diplomas on theatre topics.

The Shakespeare Centre has produced more than 1000 successful students during the past decade helping them to plan their career internationally and nationally, and at university level as well. Shakespeare Centre invites people in the fields of medicine, law and engineering to join these special diplomas, for, apart from acting theatre production and theatre-in-education, mass media communication and writership diplomas, highly interactive with role plays, group discussions and field activities it will also expose the students to personal development areas such as attitudes, communication skills and leadership.

The Shakespeare Centre Sri Lanka is a non - profit making organisation.

Applications for the new diplomas can be sent to Secretary-Registrar, Shakespeare Centre Sri Lanka - Shakespeare Academy in Humanities, 327, Darley Road, Colombo 10.


Colourful moods

'Colourful Moods' a joint exhibition by artist Kouwshigan and his students (juniors and seniors) launched at the Harold Peiris Gallery (Lionel Wendt) on September 24 will conclude today.

The artists who are taking part are Kouwshigan, the guru, Rumjhum Goswami, Raji Godwin, Anuja Panwar, Sai Suden Lakshmanan, Shaveetha Shanmuganathan, L. Prasanth, S. Ragulan, J. Abinesh, G. Mayurie and A. Senthuran.

Kouwshigan learned oil painting under artist Upasena Gunawardene and later developed skills and fine techniques in painting on his own. He has participated in Group Art Exhibition in 1998 presented by the Ceylon Society of Arts for their 111th anniversary and in 'Young Contemporaries', presented by the George Keyt foundation in 1999. Presently a graphic and website designer, he had been also working as a part time artist and cartoonist for the Thinakaran Tamil daily newspaper.


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