by Sunalie Ratnayake
( June 23, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Albert Pike once said “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal”, consequently, Ranasinghe Hettiarachchilage Ignatius Anthony Silva, better known as Tony Ranasinghe; “you are immortal!”, I shall say, void of any hesitation of the slenderest manner.
Though it was a brief and unexpected encounter that lasted for perhaps three or four hours, a little over eight years ago, in a flamboyant yet placid evening in early 2007, looking back at, and reminiscing the warm and welcoming chit-chat that I was fortunate to have with this “lover of the seventies”, today in his absence only adds immense contentment to my heart and soul, as I learn from a faraway land, in the morning of June 16th, that Tony Ranasinghe is no more in physical form.
“Putha, you look familiar, so, what made you join this gathering?,” was his initial inquiry from me, as he broke the silence, once we (Iranganie Serasinghe, Pooja Umashanker, Tony Ranasinghe and Myself) were made to sit next to each other, in her cozy living-room down Sir Lester James Peries Mawatha by the host that evening, namely; Sumithra Peries, who needs no introduction.
Tony and I had never met in person prior to same, though I had watched and appreciated dozens of movies he adorned from an era prior to my birth, and all throughout my life. Fate ultimately recorded this meeting to be our ‘first and last’ in this lifetime. Even though that night I did not attend the dinner at the renowned cinema goliaths: the Peries’s, as a journalist, who served the editorial of a national English weekly newspaper back then, but rather as a subjective invitee, after learning my whereabouts cum bearings, being the humble man he always was; I recall Tony being very keen in sharing literature, as well as exchanging driblets of ideas on current affairs, at the time. It was nothing short of a brilliant, responsive, gregarious and meaningful conversation filled with enchantment of a well-read man. Nevertheless, even for a moment, he did not make me feel trivial, not only in his unparalleled versatility, but also amidst his vast knowledge-sharing proficiencies. Later-on, we sat down for dinner, and, just like all good things, this particular night too eventually wound up.
Born in Modara (Mutwal) on July 31, 1937, and having studied at St. Anthony’s College, Wattala, and De LaSalle College, Modara, this man with colossal acting aptitude and charisma began his career in ‘theatre’, performing in ‘Ran Thodu’ in 1963, grasping the Governor General’s Best Stage Actor award for his initial performance in same. Bodim-Kaarayo, Thattu Gewal, Harima Badu Hayak, Wiruupa Ruupa, Veniciye Welenda, Nil Katarolu Mal, Julius Caesar, and Dolos Weni Raathriya followed his elongated list of stage performances. Tony made his film debut with Dr. Lester James Peries’ Gamperaliya in 1964. From that point onwards, his journey was unstoppable; there was no turning back for him.
He was an actor of an infrequent caliber. In my personal assessment; the ‘one and only’ of his type, in the entire cinema history of Sri Lanka, that could not me matched or paralleled with any other, to date. Moreover, in my personal opinion; to date, Tony remains the most handsome actor I have ever witnessed in local cinema. His physical gazes were unique. His delivery was distinctive. His brilliance and individuality in acting made him fortunate in winning Sarasavi, President’s, O.C.I.C. and Swarna Sankha awards for his performances that included the Sinhala movies; Parasathu Mal (1966), Hanthane Kathawa (1969), Duhulu Malak (1976), Ahasin Polawata (1979), Ganga Addara (1980), Saptha Kanya (1993) and Pawuru Walalu (1997). The movie Vaishnavi directed by Sumithra Peries was the final script by him, in which he portrayed a couple of scenes as well. However, he could not watch it, as it is yet to be released, and his passing did lead the way.
Tony Ranasinghe leaves this world in physical form, as the “Perpetual Sparkle of the Sri Lankan Cinema”, leaving us with a priceless affluence that shall never leave even generations yet to be born, as his contributions as an actor, author and a script-writer shall undoubtedly fill significant portions of the otherwise mostly hollow literature and cinema of Sri Lanka. Good Night, Sweet Prince – May Your Soul Rest In Peace!