The anecdotal nature makes this account highly readable
Malini Ranasinghe needs no special introduction to fans of the Sinhala theatre. She was Suppa Devi in Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s celebrated drama ‘Sinhabahu’ when it made its debut in 1971.
To the first post-independence generation, the names Suppa Devi and Sinhabahu became not just household names but generic terms representative of a new cultural awakening.
Though she acted in Maya Devi and Sudu Karal, two plays by K. B. Herath, and won the Best Supporting Actress award for her `performance in the latter, it’s for her acting in Sarachchandra’s Sinhabahu, Maname and Wessanthara that she’s best remembered, and her role in Sinhabahu stands out among these.
Also, she did the background singing in five of Sarachchandra’s dramas and radio plays and has acted in three films and nine teledramas.
Very few of our artists have written memoirs. In the theatre, Henry Jayasena comes to mind but hardly anyone else, and no female personality one can think of.
Therefore, Malini Ranasinghe’s lengthy, anecdote-packed memoir comes as a milestone. Reading it is akin to going back to not just another era but a culture.
It is that anecdotal nature which makes this account highly readable. That, plus the completely relaxed, laid back nature which is the hallmark of the author’s storytelling. These are stories, but based on facts, not fiction. Nor does she have any axes to grind. Malini Ranasinghe comes across as someone to whom life was kind, starting with a happy childhood followed by a love affair which led to a congenial marriage, with the right breaks coming at the right time in her life.
The book has been edited by Buddhadasa Galappaththi, but the story is her own. Naturally, many figures from the theatre figure in the book, but this isn’t just a compilation of famous
names. In fact, many of those mentioned are no longer in the public memory. The story starts with her school days and centres around her parents, siblings and the café owned by her father, a successful businessman, in Colombo.
"Malini Ranasinghe’s lengthy, anecdote-packed memoir comes as a milestone. Reading it is akin to going back to not just another era but a culture"
A science graduate, her time at the University of Peradeniya led her to meet two influential figures in her life. Dr Ediriweera Sarachchandra, who invited her to be part of her theatre group, and her future husband and fellow Sinhabahu actor Terence Ranasinghe.
Thereafter, her life was centred around Kandy, where she began her career as a school teacher. Her in-laws were well versed in English literature (the author herself studied in English medium both at school and university). Her deep attachment to her parents is evident in the space devoted to writing about their final days.
She writes with equal affection about her life in the theatre. Specifically, Sinhabahu became the centre of her universe. The expectations and excitement which revolved around this play and Maname, Sarachchandra’s breakthrough work, pervades these pages. Though she had initial fears of singing the difficult high notes of Sinhabahu, she managed to overcome them. Terence Ranasinghe was the narrator in this production, Jayashri Chandrajith was the lion, Nissanka Diddeniya was Sinhabahu and Yashodhara Sarachchandra was Sinhaseevali.
Indulgence in nostalgia is inevitable in this kind of narrative, to the writer as well as the reader. But there are episodes to remind us that all wasn’t well with the country, for example when she writes how her school principal stood up to armed JVP gunmen in 1971. But the narrative doesn’t turn dark anywhere. There is an all-pervasive sense of goodwill and good feeling through the book.
As all good things must come to an end, the writer and her husband said goodbye to Sinhabahu in 1992 at the Lionel Wendt. To fill the vacuum, she focused on life at home, starting with home renovation. The author finally strikes a melancholic note towards the end, when she writes at length about the illness and death of her husband, and the loneliness which enveloped her afterwards, with their children living abroad.
However, she does not indulge herself in this sadness, and the final chapter is devoted to happier memories of her time as Suppa Devi, and we learn that the names of Malini and Terence Ranasinghe were included in the Guinness Book of Records as the “Most Durable Actor-Actress Duo.”
The book contains an introduction by Buddhadasa Galappaththi and has many black and white photographs of her family and life in the theatre. It’s published by Fast Publishing (Pvt) Ltd. And is priced at Rs. 450/=