By Ramesh Uvais
As the country celebrates Universal Children’s day today - October 1, Rashtoday takes you down memory lane focusing on gifted children who made a name for themselves in the entertainment scene, largely thanks to the guidance, dedication and commitment of devoted elders.
Today one would perhaps not know about Nanda Malini, Premakeerthi de Alwis, Angeline Gunatilaka, Indrani Wijebandara, Rupa Indumathi, Malkanthi Nandasiri, Damayanthi Jayasuriya, Punsiri Soysa, Nirmala Ranatunga, Chandrani Gunawardena, Geetha Kanthi Jayakody, Saman Athaudahetti, Rohana Siriwardana, Chitra Kalubowila, Nelum Kalubowila, Neranjala Sarojini and hundreds of others if not for Radio Ceylon’s Lama Pitiya training ground by Siri Ayya and Karu Ayya (Karunaratne Abeysekara) and later Sumana Jayathilake’s Handa Mama.
The country’s first child artiste is recorded as Iranganie Jayamanne who acted in the first Sinhala talkie ‘Kadawunu Poronduwa’ in 1947.
Dr. Lester James Peries’ 1956 landmark movie ‘Rekhawa’ had Myrtle Fernando and Somapala Dharmapriya playing the lead children’s roles.
Titus Totawatte’s 1979 movie Handaya also had a host of child artistes who acted and sang. Among them were Pradeep Roshan Fernando, Kithsirimevan Jayasena, Darshana Panagala, Kasun Madurasinghe, Lalith Kumar Danchuwasekara, Kelum Wijesuriya and M. Mahingoda.
In recent times, popular film personalities Somaratne Dissanayake and Renuka Balasooriya were the undisputed godfather and godmother of several child stars who were gifted to the Sinhala cinema. Going by the long list of child artistes introduced by Somaratne and Renuka one may wonder whether they possessed any magical power to do so.
Starting from Nithyawani Kandasmy and Pramudi Karunaratne who played Saroja and Waruni in their movie ‘Saroja’ and shot to fame instantly, even winning international awards, they introduced more child stars later on. Nithyawani holds the record of being the only child star to win the Sarasaviya best actress award in the country.
With other films, Somaratne and Renuka introduced more talented child stars like Sajitha Anuththara and Dasun Madusanka (Suriya Arana), Sachin Chathuranga Mendis and Ruwanthika Ishadini in Bindu, Tharaka Hettiarachchi in Punchi Suranganavi, Kokila Jayasuriya and Sharanya Jayakody in Siri Raja Siri, Dulanjalie Ariyathilake in Samanala Thatu, and several others including Harshana Dissanayake who shot to fame as a singer with the hit song ‘Iren Handen Eliya Aran’.
Even their record-shattering movie ‘Siri Perakum’ had a heap of young talent including Pramuditha Udayakumara while Menara Weeratunga who plays a key role in their newest movie ‘Tsunami’ has been nominated for the best child artiste award at an international film festival due to be held this month.
Priyantha Colombage’s maiden award-winning children’s movie ‘Arumosam Wehi’ and V. Sivadasan-Sunil T. Fernando’s Daruwane also featured a host of child artistes.
Lalith Rathnayake’s ‘Vishama Bhaga’ lead player Pansilu Wickremaratne clinched an international award for the best child artiste.
‘Rukada Panchi’ had child artiste Kushenya Saumi Fonseka playing the key role in the movie produced by Kularatne Ariyawansa and directed by the Kalpana and Vindana Ariyawansa brothers.
Besides them we had Sarala Kariyawasam who played the pivotal role in Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ which brought her international recognition. Nobody would dispute the talents of little Dinuli Mallawarachchi who mesmerized small screen audiences too.
Child star Sandali Welikanna has also proven her inborn talents via films and tele dramas while Himasha Manupriya of Derana Little star fame also became a household name.
Talking of commitment towards the cause of children in the arts fields, one cannot ignore the positive contributions made by award-winning dramatist Nalaka Swarnathilaka who also possesses some magical powers in extracting the best talents from children. His works like Anne, Danga Malla and Mama Wenama Malak have groomed hundreds of child stars who are exceptionally talented.
We wish to also take a look at celebrities who made their way up the ladder starting their artistic careers as child artistes. Among them are Damitha Abeyratne, Uresha Ravihari, Kanchana Mendis, Veena Jayakody, Sabeetha Perera, Sujani Menaka, Manik Kurukulasuriya, Jenita Samaraweera, Manel Wanaguru, Dammith Fonseka, Kushani Sandarekha, Paboda Sandeepani, Nethmi Umaya Adhikari, Shyama Ananda, Shiromi Fernando, Buddhini Jayawardana, Kumudumalie de Silva, Ruwan Srilal Dalpadadu, Nathasha Perera, Ajith Jinadasa, Mario Ananda and others including Rukmani Devi, GSB Rani Perera and several others who started their careers as school children and some as infants.