by Prasad Gunewardene
The late Gamini has many distinctions to his credit in the film and political scene. In the film scene, as his mentor, Dr Lester James Peries says, we will never see a Gamini Fonseka again. In politics, Gamini was the first professional actor to enter politics and the Chamber of Parliament.
Gamini Fonseka (March 21, 1936 - September 30, 2004)
Be that as it may, when we mark this film legend’s 75th birthday today (March 21st), it is appropriate to evaluate the qualities of this legendary actor of our times. He was a fine human being. He was a quality professional in the fields he embarked upon. He measured the talents of others correctly sans jealousy.
Though Gamini was seen and viewed as the greatest actor, Gamini saw that others had talent over him in their own way. He never hesitated to commend them in public. That was the area of discussion between Gamini, myself and my journalistic colleague, Stanley Samarasinghe when we last met the film legend at his Ja-ela residence, just a week before his untimely demise.
At his request, by prior appointment, we met that day to discuss various subjects including the judiciary at his residence. Stanley was invited by him to join the discussion on the judiciary as Stanley was a senior court correspondent of the print media for over 35 years.
Gamini Fonseka was well versed with the process of the judiciary in West, Asia and South Asia. He quoted many eminent judges from those regions. Stanley was ably competent to respond to queries raised by Gamini. At times they both argued while I watched them in silence.
It was quite interesting to see Gamini Fonseka engaged in a debate with a pen between his fingers to fill the void of the cigarette that frequented his fingers (by then he had given up smoking and proudly claimed he did so one year ago). Stanley too did not let go the dominating Gamini Fonseka. What was quite interesting was that they both lost cool but smiled at each other the next moment.
Gamini assessed and evaluated the knowledge of Stanley Samarasinghe on that day. After I went home, Gamini (my late father’s first cousin and my uncle) telephoned me to say, “I am happy that you brought an intelligent man for the discussion today”.
Coming back to our discussion with Gamini, after lunch I turned the topic of discussion to the film industry and its personalities of his era. As a schoolboy I had admired the beauty of many Sinhala actresses and I was eager to know which one of them looked most glamorous and attractive. I asked him.
He expressed an eye-to-eye contact with me to quip in Sinhala, “Umbatath podi kale lassana dewal penila thiyenawa wage” (You have also seen some nice things in your childhood). Stanley chipped into crack, “Mr Fonseka, he still likes them”. “That is in the blood of our clan, we are always attracted by beautiful things”, shot back Uncle Gamini.
Saying so, Gamini Fonseka claimed that Sandhya Kumari was the most glamorous and beautiful actress, demonstrating by his hand to describe that she was photogenic and the best in every angle.
I then asked about the beauty in Malini Fonseka. Gamini responded, “Malini is a village beauty who could be improved before the camera to the urban. She is the most intelligent actress of all times”.
He said that Malini was an actress who carefully studied the character offered to her, lived in that character and expressed it with confidence. I then told him that he was the best actor and asked who was next. Gamini stared at me and asked, “Who said I am the best actor”. I replied that it was people and country. He responded in the negative and claimed that the best actor was none other than Joe Abeywickreme. I asked him how could that be, when he won awards over awards as the best actor.
Shot back Gamini, “Awards are mere wooden implements given at occasions but the truth lies elsewhere” and added that Joe was the only actor who had a million expressions on his face to play any character to perfection. “That is why I say he is the best actor”, Gamini summed up.
“Then what about Tony Ranasinghe”, I asked.
Gamini Fonseka came back to respond in a serious style to describe Tony from the bottom of his heart. He said, “Tony the actor is the best character based actor even not witnessed in the Indian screen. He has an actor within himself who emerges at the correct moment”. Gamini claimed that Tony was the best character based actor in Asia. He had a word of praise for Vincent Karu to say he was the best fighter on the screen and added that there were occasions they both discussed and truly fought before the camera at films for satisfaction to true form.
Our last meeting ended after nine hours with this great actor on that day. As we took leave from him who stood near the jasmine wine, I heard his ‘whistle’ calling me back as I opened the gate.
I went back. He plucked two jasmine flowers from the line, placed it on my palm (he usually did it every time I said ‘bye’), looking up the blue sky he said, “Keep this in your hand, go home safely and give me a call”. I asked him why he was gazing up the sky. He shot back, “There’s somebody waiting up for me, I think my time is right for that call”.
I told him not to talk nonsense as his grandfather went beyond 80 in age. He replied, “That is Charles Fonseka, not my father, his brothers and me. We will not go to 70”.
A week later Uncle Gamini peacefully passed away in his customary morning nap after breakfast, just six months short of his 69th birthday. He was a great friend to me. I miss him every moment.
He stands as a monument in my life, till I join him someday.
(The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of www.lankapuvath.lk )