The beloved mother in Sinhala cinema
Having seen the era of studio cinema, Shanthi Lekha was privileged to
witness the ups and downs in Sri Lankan cinema and also to play a
memorable role in the first Sinhala teledrama `Dimuthu Muthu'. She is
remembered as the most beloved mother in Sinhala cinema. The death of
popular actress Shanthi Lekha born Rita Irene Quyn, in France came at a
time when one of her memorable films `Gamperaliya' (The restored version
of it) is released in France; Shanthi Lekha's adapted country for over
Lekha, who owed her screen name to her first husband Shanthi Viraj,
first played a role in D.T. Fernando's play `Shantha Prabha' (1942)
while attending Holy Family Convent, Kalutara. Although she was famous
as a film-star, Shanthi Lekha commenced her career as an oriental dance
girl in stage plays where leading roles were played by Dommie
Jayawardena and Nona Subeida.
In 1935, she entered the arena of films when she played a role in `Sujatha'
with Dommie Jayawardena, dancing to the song "Pem Rella Nagi" wearing a
Although Lekha was paid a sum of Rs. 500 for the role and a contract
prohibiting her acting in films of other production companies, the
producer K. Gunaratnam gave her roles in several films including in `Warada
Kageda', `Radala Piliruwa' and `Dostara'.
Her role in `Sujatha' came in for criticism. The parish priest (Lekha's
family was Catholic) told her mother that Shanthi had gone to the devil.
However, looking back on her career, the role she played was not only a
defining moment in her career, but one in Sri Lankan cinema.
However, Shanthi Lekha's memorable role of mother in Sinhala cinema
commenced with Dr. Lester James Peries' `Sandesaya' in 1960.
Subsequently, she played mother's role in over 350 films.
Shanthi Lekha won Best Supporting Actress Awards at the Sarasaviya
Film Festival for Gamini Fonseka's `Parasathu Mal' (1968) and
Mudalinayaka Somaratne's `Binaramali' (1969). She also won Presidential
Awards for `Mayurige Kathawa' and `Ridee Nimnaya'.
Although she played diverse roles in Sinhala cinema, she cherished
her roles in `Uthumaneni', `Eya Den Loku Lamayek', `Amal Biso', `Parithyagaya',
`Hithawathiya', `Sasara Chethana' and `Sakvithi Suwaya'. Although
unknown to many apart from being an accomplished actress, Shanthi Lekha
was also credited to be the first Sri Lankan woman make-up artiste.
During an illustrious career in cinema, she brought to the screen
Bernard Ranasinghe whom she subsequently married. Following his death,
Shanthi Lekha spent a couple of years in London where she helped Sri
Lankan film producer J.D.L. Perera to find a British market for Sri
Thought it was not fruitful at the time, it would have been the first
such attempt to find an overseas market for Sri Lankan films.
Dr. Lester James Peries on Shanthi Lekha
(July 1, 1929-May 11 ,2009)
"When she started off, she used to play the vamp what they called
female villainess. She would have played ordinary roles. When we were
casting Gamperaliya, I had Irangani Serasinghe in mind. Unfortunately or
fortunately Iranganie got pregnant, there was no possible way. I take
chance and cast Shanthi Lekha and to our surprise Shanthi Lekha with a
little bit of rehearsing I instilled into her that she does not need to
act but to behave in those circumstances. She was very acceptable and I
was quite happy and that led too her new career; not as vamps, but
playing as good mothers. She had a very good flair for comedy because in
Gamini Fonseka's films she was superb as an aggressive villainess. She
was always first cast by Gamini. We thought that people who go to India
and acted in studios will never ever pose for camera. But I would say
that she was a fine example of person who grabbed across the board."