ANANDA WICKRAMAGE UNDISPUTED KING OF COMEDY WITH RHYTHEM, TIMING AND PACE – FOUR AND A HALF DECADES IN AN EFFERVERSCENT VOYAGE IN CELEBRITY – by Sunil Thenabadu
Ananda Wickramage the renowned actor on stage, small screen and theatre is identified as a comedy character with a dry sense of sarcastic humor, bit silly, lighthearted shameless and eccentric. Ananda knowing his comedic qualities to unprecedented tall heights has assisted him in identifying specific comedy characters throughout his tenure in acting to date even prior to the advent of television. Ananda possesses unique personality traits to remain at the top to date in his prolonged acting career spanning for approximately over four and a half decades. Each character portrayed sans any blemish has its own comedic attributes, inevitably the diverse audiences would experience a natural, organic merge. Focusing on Ananda’s comedy character will help him find the all-important comedic niche whether on stage, television or silver screen. Ananda has been throughout his tenure as an actor has explored history, motivations, actions and comedic robustness. Ananda had been successful in interacting with other secondary characters where he gets abundance of laughs which would help to build the comedic repertoire. To Ananda comedy is all about rhythm, timing and pace which he has identified precisely with every piece of scripted comedy performed admirably, to be the undisputed King of comedy in Sri Lanka having commenced his acting career in the mid-decade of 1970’s. committed to it wholeheartedly to date.
Ananda Wickramage was born on 4th August 1953 to humble parents in Kollupitiya not having any hereditary affiliations to acting.He is youngest sixth brother in a family consisted of seven siblings. Ananda is well notable for his role as ‘Mervyn’ a running character in the acclaimed teledrama Paba teledrama and his double acting roles in “Patalevilla” teledrama while his portrayal as ‘kotalawala” in acclaimed ‘Neinage Suduwa” a thrilling stage drama which had thrilled fans with abundance of humor and laughter.It has been reported that some in the packed audiences had gone out of the hall for a moment unable to stop laughing holding their stomachs.
The double acting roles in ‘Patalevilla” has a story behind a teledrama by Yasapalitha Nanayakkara which was shot in Balangoda.The role was really scripted for Wimal Kumara de Costa who had turned up for three days when the director had wanted Ananda to portray the role.The costumes designed to Wimal Kumar de Costa had matched to Ananda’s figure.Ananda with his ability to perform characters abruptly had portrayed the role to the entire satisfaction of the director.Ananda had added that in stage drama, film or teledrama the “type casted” roles are given to actors and actresses. If a role is portrayed successfully as a villain or a comedian the roles, they get are similar.
His early life had been essentially spent helping his mother as a staunch Buddhist visiting the temple daily helping her in “bodhi pooja” activities in the family temple in the vicinity of their dwelling. In this manner Ananda had been extensively involved in ‘Daham Pasel’ Buddhist activities.It is during this time he had been absorbed to the temple drama activities on stage.Ananda attributes this to a regid foundation for his future triumphs. This was Ananda’s first exposure to stage though on a very small way.Ananda had attended Issipatana College where he had been involved in sports activities after school hours.He had been used to visit Lumbini theatre to watch stage dramas along with a group of school mates which during his time had been on almost daily. It is added that his colleagues who too joined him had misbehaved at the theatre by jeering hence had been debarred from visiting the theatre but not he.With utmost enthusiasm Ananda had watched all stage plays had been thrilled watching the stars then performing. He had been used to visit back stage and mix up with many artistes one of whom was Neil Alles who was then an acclaimed sought-after actor who had lived in Slave Island.As he lived in Kollupitiya, the duo had travelled back together having developed closer links.Ananda had been liked by Neil who had become close associates though the former was a veteran .Ananda not only had visited Neil on a daily basis had also followed his acting in many stage plays.His association with Neil Alles had made young Ananda much interested in the field of acting has had ideas to reach tall heights like Neil.His association with Neil had made him to have close contacts with many senior actors and actresses as well during that time.
While still studying in school Ananda’s elder brothers were working in various vocations. As the ‘bada pissa’ in the family was very fortunate as he was used to get free clothes, pocket money from his elder brothers. Simultaneously young Ananda had followed Gamini Fonseka, Joe Abeywickrema .Tony Ranasinghe in films had become a film crazy fan of them too.In his school the science teacher had been Upali Attanayake an acclaimed actor and director of many stage plays like ‘Nettukkari’,Ran kenda,Suba Saha Yasa,Hetath Api Hamu Wennam..He had made use of young Ananda to make sets for his plays in the school lab for which he had given his fullest support as he was sure to get some minor roles to portray in the stage plays produced by him. For the services young Ananda was rewarded with passes for many stage plays and films which he had accepted with immense willingness and enthusiasm. It was during this phase in his life he had got the opportunity to visit the ‘Sudarshi’ where several activities like rehearsals ,other matters related to stage plays took place. Ananda got his first break to portray a minor role in the very first stage play ‘sylasnaya’ directed by Upali Wanasinghe, where some reputed artistes like Chandra Kaluarachchi,Lakshman
In year 1976 film producer Wijaya Dharmasri had been searching for a new actor for his film ‘Chuda Manikaya”.According to the script the director Wijaya Dharmasri had been searching for a murderer as described in the 12 noon Police news in the radio, a five foot tall, with hair combed sideways, innocent person who was the ideal candidate searched for the proposed role.Wijaya Dharmasri happened to work in the meteorological department next to ‘Sudarshi”.Ananda had gone to meet him during his lunch break to inquire about the vacancy that existed. The stars already selected had been stalwarts then Ravindra Randeniya,Cyril Wickremage,
film, stage and teledramas remembered by many.
It was simultaneously at this time he was portraying a major role in the stage play ‘Seargent Nallathamby’ having performed in over one thousand times in across all cities in Sri Lanka and middle eastern countries.This had prevented Ananda in accepting film opportunities though many directors had opted for him.Ananda had added that once his gives dates to a director he always obliges.
In the late 1970 era Bandula Vithanage and Tony Ranasinghe in the Shakespeare group had commenced a play based on the Merchant of Vanice ( Venesiye Welenda) a sixteenth century play written by William Shakespeare to which Ananda had been elected to portray a major role.The direction was by Prasanna Fernando who had selected Manel Wanaguru to portray the role of Porshia.On reading the script Manel had refused at first sight as she would not be able to perform as the script .But on the insistence of Prasanna and Daya Edirisinghe she had consented to portray the role.According to a production manager Manel looked so beautiful had termed her, looking as a small ‘bonikka’.This was not the first time Manel had seen Ananda.After these rehearsals Ananda had met Manel at the same rest house in Nuwara Eliya when the duo was involved in the shooting of two separate films.Ananda was portraying a role for the film “Subhodha” while Manel was at shooting for the film “Kokilayo”.This is where the love affair had really begun to which it is learnt that actress Sriyani Amarasena who was in the same cast with Manel who had been the in between pacifying Manel about the qualities of Ananda.But as manel father was also an actor Dudley Wanaguru the family had disliked this issue as Ananda had no such background. But later the families had compromised as what needs is the trust and understanding between the two.
Ananda had confessed many times that for his uprise to such unprecedented heights, so many seniors had lent their hands. Similarly, Ananda too had followed suit.In a television interview actor Kumudu Nishantha who came to the field in year 1992 was full of praise to Ananda for the immense support he lends to novice actors quoting his experiences.
Portraying comedy roles for anyone to perform sans laughing is not at all an easy proposition. But Ananda had performed all his comedy roles to precision which was the reason for his success. Having seen his impeccable portrays particularly his fantastic portrayal in “Patalevilla”, Roy de Silva the famous actor and film producer deployed him for a number of his films beginning from his film ‘clean out’.
A few of Ananda’s film portrayals that comes to mind are Lantin Singho,Sudu Paraviyo,Chuda
Ananda Wickramage also had a similar triumph in stage and television serials.Some notable works were in Ananthaya, And Company, Aswenna,Athuru Paara,Bindunu
Saman Chandraratne’s production of Daya Wyman’s ‘Neinage ‘need to be emphasized though the production did not match the standards set by the best Sinhala theatre, it may be said in mitigation that it did not intend to, the onus being firmly placed primarily on public entertainment. Indeed, the audience was greatly entertained during the entire duration of the show, although the duties of entertainment seemed to rest in the hands of a single character.
The play was based on a true incident in which John Kotalawala, a high-ranking policeman ,father of the more famous Sir John Kotalawala masterminds the arrest of a gambling den kingpin who had hitherto escaped captivity through bribing the officers of the Grandpass police station. In the play,role of Kotalawala was appropriately portrayed by Ananda Wickramage called into the case by no lesser person than the Governor of Ceylon himself, by request of a village songsmith in Daya Wyman. However, Kotalawala has to call on the services of officers under the command of a certain Sgt. Nallathumbi (Deepal Silva) it is the presence of this extraordinary Sri Lankan entertaining character that provides Neinage Sooduwa with its comic thrust.
Nallathumbi, famous more for his role in the eponymous stage play also produced by Chandraratne and originally starred with the late Nihal Silva, in fact represent a character-type present in many theatre traditions. His rude, brash, clowning character can be traced back to the clown character of the Sanskrit temple drama of Kerala. The vidushaka functioned as the alter ego as with Shakespeare’s ‘low’ characters spoke in the local vernacular, thus distinguishing him from the other, Sanskrit-speaking characters.
He worked to a strict set of conventions, and as he paralleled the hero’s escapades with his own, substantially baser ones- with verses on food and sex proliferating- he was a huge catalyst for much extreme amusement.
A parallel can also be drawn between Nallathambi and the ‘parasite’ character of Greek new and Roman comedy; indeed the brash humor and comic set pieces of Roman comedy are paralleled in Sooduwa, which is not surprising considering the similarity in audiences.
For the first time in Sri Lankan teledrama history, a miniplay with two ends-both tragic and happy in ‘Pata Weeduru’- Coloured Glasses’ was made to telecast.
Explaining the two ends the director and popular actor Ananda Wickremage added. “The two ends concept was first introduced to the Sri Lankan cinema, in “Duhul Malak”. Today’s audience is varied, while some like tragic ends there are others who like happy and light tingle in the teledramas they watch”.
“So there would be two ends in the final episode” he added. Ananda Wickremage earlier had directed ‘Wes Maruwa’. “The teledrama develops on the theme that one’s choice in life especially with regard to the marriage is not always what one wishes to have”, Ananda had added about his directorial attempt.
Dr. Jayadeva and Attorney-at-law Jayadeva are two brothers who are awaiting to get married to two sisters Chintha and Amali. Even though both couples are anxiously about their marriages they have many differences. Doctor Jayadeva who dreams of an ideal marriage has doubts about it. This was due to his fiancée Amali’s attitude towards life. Amali a model is fond of high life quite in contrast to what the groom to be wants in life.
Meanwhile Marlon, a rider is married to Nirmala and they lead a happy and contented life. One day Marlon meets with an accident and is admitted to hospital to undergo treatment lasting a long time. Marlon is getting treatment under Dr. Jayadeva. The doctor who sees how Nirmala looks after her husband begins to compare the situation between himself and Amali. Dr. Jayadeva who likes Marlon and Nirmala gets friendly with them. On being discharged from hospital Marlon appreciative of what the doctor had done for him. He invites doctor to his house. Dr. Jayadeva who enjoys the company of Marlon’s family becomes a close family friend. These regular visits gets the rumour will working. Amali’s ballet teacher, Kosala is instrumental in spreading this rumor.
How would ‘Pata Weeduru’ reach its two ends which is both happy and sad? The cast included Nilmini Tennekoon, Roger Seneviratne, Jayantha Bopearachchi, Manel Wanaguru, Sulakkana Mihiripenna, Mahendra Perera, Ananda Wickremage, Ruwanthi Mangala, Visaka Siriwardena, Raveendra Yasas, Jagath Benaragama and Sandeepa Sewmini. Camera was handled by Manoj Ranasinghe. Art director Bandula Weerasekara. Music was by Nelson Dharmasena. The story, screenplay was by Ananda Wickramage and he produced and directed the teledrama too.
Ananda and Manel duo are blessed with two sons Janith and Sanketh both educated at Royal College.The parents duo had not forced them to follow them or any other path.But via hereditary affiliations both are talented in art having acted in a number of teledramas.Younger son Sanketh in married lives with his wife in Uk , the duo is blessed with a child making the parents proud grandparents. About Sanketh’s future the parents have added cannot be predicted but Janith is triumphing in many areas like acting, producing stage plays, teledramas, as a television host.Janith with his enormous talent had produced a film released on this month June 17th ‘Game’ which is successfully running to packed houses. The parents have added to the media that both sons take a huge amount of interest in looking after the parents the father in particular as he had been rather sick.Mother had disclosed to the media that the duo even does things perhaps beyond their means.
During the career spanning over forty-five years dominating the stage, teledrama and films Ananda Wickramage had disclosed he loves the stage best as it is in front of a live audience hence the pleasure derived is very much more when the audience react instantly.For his many accomplishments had received several state awards at many festivals and ceremonies. There is still a lot of life in Ananda as he is only sixty-nine years old able to undertake to portray roles as before to which all fans would wish him good health and longevity.
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