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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2552

Queen of the Sinhala Cinema to pursue a new chapter in her life

By a Special Correspondent

Malani Fonseka on her recent U.S. tour speaks of her dreams for Sri Lanka’s movie industry

Washington, 26 March, (Asiantribune.com):In an essentially self-centered world, rare is the person who takes time to dwell on the broader needs of a profession in terms of posterity.Malani Senehalatha Fonseka celebrated forty years on the silver screen, among her fans and well-wishers in the U.S., Malani could not but help reflect upon the yawning gulf between what is available and what is needed to achieve professionalism in the Sri Lankan world of movies.Malani Senehalatha Fonseka celebrated forty years on the silver screen, among her fans and well-wishers in the U.S., Malani could not but help reflect upon the yawning gulf between what is available and what is needed to achieve professionalism in the Sri Lankan world of movies.

Malani Senehalatha Fonseka, dubbed ‘Queen of the Sinhala Cinema,’ who, during her recent tour in the U.S., spoke wistfully, yet with determination, of her dreams for the future of Sinhala cinema.

Having risen to the zenith as an icon of Sinhala cinema, Malani feels her next role is to help produce quality, professional movie stars in Sri Lanka. As she celebrated forty years on the silver screen, among her fans and well-wishers in the U.S., Malani could not but help reflect upon the yawning gulf between what is available and what is needed to achieve professionalism in the Sri Lankan world of movies. And for Malani, what sticks out like a sore thumb is the need for an academy for professional drama and theater.

This is where the Queen of Sinhala Cinema hopes to step in, to give more of herself to the profession she has given her life to. “I have a dream to give my knowledge to the aspiring stars of the Sinhala screen, of how to be a professional movie personality,” she said. She has long realized the fruitlessness of waiting for state help, and has made plans to fulfill her dreams by venturing into it on her own, intuitively feeling that a new chapter is opening up in her life.

Her idea is to initiate a Movies and Drama Institute in the house her mother has gifted her and provide the opportunity to aspiring stars to achieve professionalism in the field through proper training. She feels she would be satisfied to know she has created at least a handful of professional movie stars.

Malani spoke of her debut in the movie world with Tissa Liyansuriya's Punchi Baba (The little Baby) in 1968. She never looked back, but moved on to star in over 200 films, some of which were international movies. As she spoke of the Golden Era of the Sinhala Cinema in the 1970s and early 1980s, she was visibly distressed at the dire straits it is in today, starting with the July 1983 riots that snowballed into the current conflict. “In a situation of war, the first casualty in the entertainment industry, and that is what happened to us,” she said. She recalled how Sri Lanka’s movie industry produced over 200 movies a year before 1983, and now produces meager 10-15 movies a year.

As the cinema lost popularity with the security situation in the country worsening over the years after 1983, movie budgets became more frugal. Entertainment in turn became cheaper, and the casualty was quality. As the teledrama industry began to thrive, producers and script writers mushroomed, with little check on quality. It became “like an instant food,” as Malani described the phenomenon. Of course, there were quality-conscious teledrama producers, but, by and large, the entertainment industry saw a decline in quality. To add to the woes, the market for Sinhala movies is limited to Sri Lanka, and that too, not beyond the North Central Province, said Malani.

Living and breathing art, which speaks a language beyond borders, Malani is anguished by the bitterness and animosity between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, brought on by the conflict. She spoke of all her Tamil friends, Tamil directors, singers and coworkers in the field, during times when being Sinhalese or Tamil was of no consequence, when, being a good human being was all that mattered. Today, it is a totally different situation, where distrust and suspicion have clouded and tarnished relationships, and openness is a thing of the past.

In these trying times, it is Malani’s belief that she should rely on herself to do what is in her power to do, to bring some relief and revival to a languishing movie industry. To bring Sri Lanka’s standards of professionalism in movies to international level is a daunting task, she well understands that. She is proud to accept that challenge, she said, and she would do her best to return the favor as nobly as possible, to the movie industry, for the honor it bestowed on her as Queen of the Sinhala Cinema.

- Asian Tribune -

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