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Gamini Fonseka:

The upper echelon of Sinhala cinema

Being an old Thomian, Gamini Fonseka, rarely stepped into the old Thomian Swimming Club. He kept his cool all the time entertaining his best buddies at home in Sirimal Uyana, Ratmalana. This he treated just like an Englishman's home being his castle.


Tina and Gamini on their wedding day

Before building his house in Ratmalana, our hero of the celluloid screen lived with his parents at the Dehiwela junction at the turn off to the station road. I remember this handsome manly version of the human cult dressed in sarong and picking cherries (jam some may call it).

I was just a kid and it was soon after the popular movie "Ranmuthuduwa" was screened. "Boy, isn't he handsome" were the words I heard from a young burger lass walking with her male companion which may have obviously made the guy feel a bit jealous. He hardly spoke to anyone passing by but a certain incident made Gamini a well respected figure during his youthful days.

The story goes as his father the late William Fonseka was once heckled by famous hoodlums of Dehiwela, notably Karthelis and Podiralahamy and Gamini the son stepped in went to their doorsteps and taught the "Chandiyas" of Dehiwela a lesson they had never learnt from their parents or whichever school they went to. They were just the rag tag and bobtail of society.

The bullying of the famous thugs was put to an end by young Gamini who never thought that one day he would play the role of a hoodlum in Titus Thotawatte's film "Chandiya" where he performed with excellence opposite Anula Karunatilleke, H.D. Kulatunge, Karl Gunasena and D.R. Nanayakkara.

That was not at all the great beginning for Gamini Fonseka. Most of us have forgotten how he embarked into the giant screen even before working with David Lean in "The Bridge On The River Kwai".

Soon after "Sandeshaya", Gamini came up with an excellent performance in Premala Edirisinghe's "Pirimiyek Nisa" playing a very difficult role with Sujatha Wijesekera. The song 'Dutudawagema Lassanai' created a delicate touch of romance amongst the younger lovers of that era. Sujatha never appeared again although she was a perfect partner for Gamini. "Adata Wediya Heta Hondai" was a star studded cast with Ananda Jayaratne, Jeevarani, Alfred Edirimannie and Gamini himself.

This was almost the same time when his wife Tina (the name Sumithra preferred by Gamini) was a dancing queen in the movie "Sri 296" playing the lover of handsome Henry Jayasena, whose wife in the film was Punya Heendeniya. When I see Tina in the present days I can never imagine she was going around the lounge and the piano singing along nicely. That may have been the meeting grounds for Gamini and Tina.

A sudden step

The marriage was a sudden one and Gamini truly broke the hearts of all young female fans of his. "Ranmuthuduwa" was an instant hit for the threesome, Gamini, Joe and Jeevarani who got their biggest breakthrough from the film.

Gamini's talents were quickly spotted by all the top film directors in the country and Lester James Peiris, Titus Thotawatte, Mike Wilson, Dharmasri Caldera and most commercial movie directors signed up the local Marlon Brando for their productions.

I had a feeling that Brando was following Gamini when comparing with each other. That was the respect he earned from the film loving public. The drama in real life in Dehiwela may have created a mark of respect for all stunt actors and villains in all his films.


Tina - the Dancing Queen of “SRI 296”

Volumes have been written about his movies in the recent past but his remarkable piece of acting came really from his own "Parasathumal" at the tender age of 26. This is where he blossomed into a man who could never be compared with any other actor other than Tony Ranasinghe.

He directed the movie and played the role of Bonnie Mahatthaya exactly the way P.K.D. Seneviratne wanted it to be. Everything and every actor complimented perfectly by playing their roles in an epic manner.

I can never forget the scene where Bonnie sets fire to the paddy and laughs away (without showing his teeth and never laughed like a drain) just to get a glimpse of Kamala (Punya Heendeniya). There were many scenes and performances by Tony Ransinghe, Punya, Anula, Srimathi Rasadari, Francis Perera, S.A. James, D.R. Nanayakkara and others which made the movie one of the finest or the finest movie of all times. I doubt even Hollywood or Bollywood could come up with a film of such calibre so natural to human life.

"Chandiya" was another Sinhala movie that touched the hearts of all of us. The whistles that came non stop from the "gallery" were a perfect example of his charisma. Even after 30 years they could not produce the standards of Thotawatte's direction.

Gamini's transformation from a hoodlum to a bouncer of a night club was excellent acting. He not only acted in films but appeared in Lionel Perera's detective series in the Janatha newspaper in 1963.

"Dheewarayo" saw Gamini at his best once again playing Francis opposite Sandhaya Kumari and galaxy of stars. The film hit the audience like wildfire. Ananda Jayaratne in his own film "Aadarayai Karunawai" signed up Gamini to play the role of his closest friend (Ananda's wife in the film was Clarice De Silva) which leads to a gross misunderstanding. D.B. Nihalsinghe's "Welikathara" was one hell of a movie where Gamini acting as ASP Randeniya gave a stunning performance with Joe.

Gamperalia, Getawarayo, Nidhanaya, Rena Giraw, Senasuma Kothenada, Seethala Wathura (Sudu Mahattaya, the playboy of the village), Sudo Sudu, Satha Panaha and his controversial film which rocked the viewers "Sagarayak Meda" and Amal Biso to name a few were highly acclaimed by the critics and the viewers.Gamini was an entertaining speaker.

He spoke very high of his friends, the Indian actors Premnath and Shivaji Ganeshan in particular. He related stories of his "expedition" with the Indian giants whenever we met. I might have been very young at that time but enjoyed every moment of his rattles on Premnath and Shivaji. I got to know him through my uncle Derek Wikramanayake who was a classmate at S. Thomas'.

Hot nor cold

His life had the virtues of never being too hot or too cold. He was never vociferous in public. Always playing the role of an officer in the army, just as in his own movie "Nomiyena Minisun" and commanded respect from every artiste I could see Dr. D.B. Nihalsinghe, Jayalath Manoratne, Lucky Dias, Dyan Witharane and the ever lovely Menik Kurukulasooriya at his home during the preaching of bana on 30th September and they showed their gratitude to the great man.

Tributes will flow every year for Gamini. For his son Damith and the five lovely daughters together with his grandchildren Gamini was the shelter, and the deity who gave them their greatest lease of life. The greatest honour will go to Tina, his loving wife who rocked the cradle to bring up his children.

Being a true Thomian the man greatly respected by Presidents Ranasinghe Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa will no doubt add more stars to the "Nomiyena Minisa" not only in the years to come but for generations. Yes Gamini "The sun will rise tomorrow for you" just like you said it in "Parasathumal".

Even before his untimely demise, Gamini may have thought of a few lines of Robert Frost which he could have taken out and read at odd lonely moments; The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

Truly, Gamini Fonseka, the gentleman, perfectionist, actor, director and the genius never could see the sun rise to complete and fulfil his final aspirations since any human's limits are so vast. Yet, he had completed millions of chapters of wisdom and presented his final will and testament to the Sinahal cinema.

*****

Tribute from Tony Ranasinghe

The greatest tribute comes from his friend in the cinema circle, Tony Ranasinghe, who was his admirer, critic and companion of whom Gamini thought so much as an asset to the Sinhala cinema. Gamini had watched Tony's stage play "Bodingkarayo" and encouraged him more as the stage is the battery where actors can get recharged.

According to Tony, Gamini was the only actor to enter the Sinhala cinema without following a film course or training. His breakthrough came, as Tony describes, by working as an assistant art director in Sir David Lean's "The Bridge On The River Kwai".

Here Tony goes on to say that no institution would teach an actor and Gamini did on his own by sheer perseverance and that made Sir David Lean to issue Gamini a letter of recommendation citing that he did so much of work for him that in Hollywood it would have taken him 5 skilled people to complete the job. Gamini Fonseka played a minor role in a film made by a Canadian Director during that period.

"Gamini was a confident man doing anything starting from editing to production management," says Tony. He was the production manager in Lester's "Rekawa". Having paved the way for him to see more light in the framework of the cinema industry, Tony also states that at times there were disagreements between the two.

"There are three people in my cinema life who gave me the strength to move forward. They are Dr. Lester James Peris, Gamini and Sugathapala De Silva" quotes Tony with great delight. Everything was beneficial to me as they put the raw talent of mine to good use.

In his opinion the best film Gamini ever directed was "Parasathumal" which was indeed a big slice of life although his best film as an actor came in "Nidhanaya". Gamini had a more mature way of looking at life. His knowledge was so extensive.

Perhaps his association with Sir David Lean together with great actors in the class of Sir Alec Guiness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins would have been a shot in the arm to persue his career further.

In the film "Daiva Yogaya" Gamini was a production Manager and the author of the story W.A. De Silva and Premanath Moraes gave him the push to play a role in the movie. "Gamini's hidden talent as a good graphic artist was due to his association with Susil Premaratne, the famous artist," Tony very proudly puts it. It is Tony who really knew Gamini as the man.

As a lyricist Gamini was excellent. He once telephoned Tony and related to him an ode he wrote in English on Shivaji Ganeshan when the great South Indian actor passed away and Tony with Gamini's permission jotted it down in short hand and got it published as "Farewell to Shivaji".

Tony believes that Joe, Gamini and himself were the trinity of the Sinhala cinema as they all realized that behaviour is not acting and imitating someone is also not a part of it. In earnest conversations, Tony says "I always told him the truth." Tony's appreciation of the Sinhala cinema's greatest personality was such.

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