The many faces of Xavier Kanishka | Sunday Observer

The many faces of Xavier Kanishka

12 July, 2020
Image: Nimna Devapura
Image:Nimna Devapura

Thanamalvila Kollek was perhaps the most popular teledrama during the past months drawing a cult-like following of the young and old alike. Actor Xavier Kanishka portraying the character of Kithula, a young man determined to join the Army became a household name in a matter of weeks. For many it was a character which felt close to their lives. Kithula’s untimely death in its 40th episode was one unbearable to his fans leading them to pay tribute to its character through drawings, poetry, and various other forms. However his talents were also apparent in the roles he played in other productions such as Sahodaraya, Goal, Wedinowadina Lamai and Paangshu. For Paangshu, in 2019 Kanishka even won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Golden Door International Film Festival in Jersey City, USA, a great feat for a young actor. Now following the end of the Thanamalvila Kollek teledrama and the public reception of Kithula it is more than evident that Kanishka had gained a firm footing as a talented actor in the industry. Many have predicted great things for him since.

Xavier Kanishka first felt drawn to acting when he witnessed a children’s drama directed by actor Shyam Fernando. “Everything was so realistic despite being a drama for children” he recalls. “There were no talking animals or swaying children as we would see in other productions. Children appeared as they normally would in real life. I was drawn  by that” he said. Therefore, deciding to pursue his passion. In 2011 Kanishka joined the Somalatha Subasinghe Play House. Going on to take part in its productions,he had also pursued a Diploma in Acting during 2013. According to him, other than that he had heavily relied on self-study to develop his talents. “It was more of watching films, dramas to learn and even associating with those in the field,” he said.

Professional guidance

Kanishka believes that more than an academic study in acting, what one often needs is professional guidance once a person enters the field. “A person can follow a four-year course in acting but still not be a good actor,” he noted adding that even talent might not take you beyond a certain point. “Therefore, while a study into acting is needed I believe there should be someone to provide professional guidance to an actor,” he said. According to him, while he has a passion for acting and an art form through which he can express himself, there are not many opportunities that come his way to engage in it as he pleases. “So, when we have setbacks and it takes a mental toll there needs to be someone who can motivate us and professionally guide you at the time” he explained.

However, Kanishka also admits the study of acting can be helpful in certain instances. “For example when we have to portray a character but have not had any related experience in real life, one can academically learn how to portray that character” he said.

Observing each character portrayed by Kanishka since his entry into the industry, in films such as Paanghu, Goal, and teledramas such as Sahodraya it is evident that he picks and chooses his characters with care. According to Kanishka, often there is only one pre-requisite he has when considering taking up any project. “Simply I must feel that character,” he said. “When reading a script I need to feel that the character I have been offered is one I will encounter in real life rather than one that simply does not exist in society” he added.

 Kanishka says, this helps him to portray the character easily as he is able to gather the necessary input from the society around us. “If it is a character we cannot encounter then we have to copy another actor and it will be difficult to portray” he noted. He  also says he is aware of his limits and therefore often likes to choose characters that will require him to go beyond those limitations. “So, when I haven’t explored something beyond my limits I like to take up those characters and take up the challenge,” he said.

Character portrayal

The depth of a character also seems to matter to Kanishka. “I was once offered a transgender role but it was more of a comedy role. There was no depth to it. Having transgender friends I simply could not portray that character in that manner” he said.

While portraying characters that he feels connected to, Kanishka said these often leave a mark in an actor’s life. “Kithula for example is a strong person and so am I. But he converts that mental strength to become physically strong to join the Army. That is not something I would ever do” he said.  Kanishka said he has his own perception of war, an opinion he is unwilling to change. “My mind is set to believe that many joined due to difficulties rather than to be a hero,” he explained, adding that he had to break away from that thinking to portray the character. “Despite my ideas on war, suddenly I had bought a military-like pant and was wearing it. There was a sudden change in me” he noted. “It was only when I returned to Colombo it finally hit me and I wondered as to what in the world was I wearing,” he said. According to him after any production, an actor does not return as the same person he was.

He also noted that in certain instances one’s actual life affects the portrayals of these characters. “Once I had to portray the character of a new journalist where he takes a great risk. It is one I could not possibly take in real life. Many later commented that the confidence of taking such a risk in real life as seen through the portrayal of my character” he said. “Unconscious fear in my mind perhaps was shown through the acting. I like it when people point these out even though I was not able to portray the character successfully.  And I have retained those in my mind” he added.

Though mega tele serials have become popular among the public Kanishka has also chosen to stay away from such productions. “In drama, we learn that it should be a mirror of society. But these are not that way. An artificial universe is created and people are forced to accept it. They get addicted to it and get entrapped in an illusion” he noted.

According to Kanishka, though he would still not accept offers to be part of such a serial he would be more accepting of them if they were created to mirror society. “But then the task of the creator will become tougher and he will have to put more effort into the project. He will no longer be able to just go to the set and write some dialogues. If they can make these changes then I will be more accepting of it,” he said. However,  Kanishka says,  there are  more reasons as to why he should not be part of such projects which  only keeps stacking up.

Thanamalvila Kollek

Speaking about his success in the teledrama Thanamalvila Kollek, Kanishka says not only his character but all those depicted in the teledrama became close to the people. According to him, this was because characters such as this were not celebrated and seen through teledramas before. “In older teledramas, we encounter such characters but since recently it is the same type of role that we see,” he said. With people often gravitating towards television for entertainment, Kanishka observed that characters such as these that they can identify with were not seen in recent times. “From the messages I got I realised for many certain characters felt like their own friends, siblings or lovers,” he said adding that this clearly affected the people moving them to accept these characters.

However, he does have a critique of the artistic taste of some sections of the Sri Lankan audience. “People don’t have time for art and with the problems they face they simply watch anything that is shown,” he said. According to him Covid-9 and the ensuing lockdown gave people time to watch more artistic work in the form of films and teledramas. “But some watched because it was what was trending and others had watched without any proper analysis of the work,” he noted. “There is an issue of quantity versus quality in the audience” he noted adding that however, the appreciation of all viers is important and valued.


Last year in recognition of his talents, Xavier Kanishka won his first film award for his acting in the film Paangshu. He was able to bag the award for the Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Door International Film Festival in Jersey City, USA. But according to Kanishka, he doesn’t give much thought to awards. “There is some happiness but I do not think much of it” he said. According to him, an award is more valuable to the film. “A film like Paanghu which is an art-house film finds it generally difficult to pull in an audience. But an award can give it recognition and pique the people’s interest” he said.

Instead of the award, Kanishka said his experience in Paangshu which was his first film was more valuable to him as an actor. “Visakesa discussed with me as to how he saw the character, and once I understood we prepared for it,” he said. The preparation went so far as to improvise incidents that could have taken place prior to the actual scene in the script. “I was able to get more ideas and angles for portrayal through this. It was, therefore, a new experience,” he said.

The film and the director’s belief in Kanishka’s talents were also able to swipe away any self-doubt he may have had. “Initially I had the habit of always asking the Director on what I should do. There was some fear as there was no way to correct anything once the scene was shot. Visakesa then once told me, look we have discussed this and I believe in my actors,” he recalled.

According to Kanishka, that gave him the confidence to act out the character given to him in the way he believed was correct. “Thereafter it was easy,” he said.

Rather than awards, Kanishka said there are only two things that give him happiness through his work. “First is the ability to live the life of the character as he would experience it. To try out what the character goes through and what I feel about him. Every day is different and this is what brings me the most happiness” he said.

Second, Kanishka says that the acceptance of a character portrayed by him also gives him great satisfaction. “I am only feeling this now. At times I can’t even handle the reception of the people,” he added.

While many young actors such as himself face trials and tribulations in the field according to him the greatest challenge now for the industry is the fast-paced change in media. “People have limited time to spend on art and they have many options available to them” he noted. According to Kanishka, this means people can reject any artwork with their thumbs in a matter of seconds giving limited time for creators to draw in an audience. “It is difficult to keep up with the speed of the audience. Wasthi has managed to balance this” he said, adding that creators and actors will have to address this challenge in the future. “If not I feel we as an industry might become extinct,” he said.