By Dianne Silva
Veteran theater, cinema and television actress Irangani Serasinghe is a Lankan legend, with her grace, poise and warm smile she is the epitome of an ethereal “movie star”.
She holds strongly to the conviction that any form of artistic creation must be for ones own enjoyment and expression, however she notes that today the primary motive of filmmakers is profit. “These days’ people are more interested in recovering their money, therefore they concentrate on films that the public will be interested in—instead of films that convey a social message,” she said.
She reflects on the golden days of Sri Lankan Cinema and Television and the superlative social reflection they inspired. “It is quite ironic that people today always talk about the teledramas and films of the past. I think this is because they are fed up of these boy-girl teenage romances; they don’t portray the real lives of people. Whereas Dudaruwo was a drama that people could relate to, it portrayed the real experiences of their lives. This was a story about parents and children and how one generation tried to remain in their old ways of thinking and the new generation was contending with modernity,” she says.
Reflecting on the changes happening in society, she claims that there is a longing in the public to see the pristine values of yesteryear portrayed onscreen. “I think today people long for those olden day values. If you look at films today they try to portray society as it is today, but today’s society is very different and the values of the present generation are deteriorating,” she explains.
In considering the political messages portrayed in cinema and the social duty that filmmakers have to inspire, educate and challenge their audiences she says that art must be unifying and not divisive in nature. “Too much nationalism is bad and films need to stay away from this type of message. What is more important is that essential human values are conveyed to the audience. It is very important to love your country but it is more important to love humanity. Nationalism tends to create divides between people and that is no way to develop a country—we must portray unity and universal values,” she says.
Politically opinionated and aware, she notes that national integration is primarily one of linguistic understanding. “I have always been a strong believer that at least one verse of the national anthem must be sung in Tamil; because while we sing the anthem, the Tamil people feel like outsiders. Language is the link between groups and it is the key to reconciliation. Therefore I am glad that they have made it compulsory that children have to learn Tamil and Sinhala in school,” she says.
Although gentle and graceful in stature Mrs. Serasinghe is a fireball of passion and she has her efforts firmly directed towards conservation activities. She explains that her love for nature first spurted during her childhood, growing up in Balangoda and Ruwanwella. “I was born in the countryside therefore our playthings were also things from nature. The birds, animals and everything else in nature was a big part of our life,” she said.
While at University she joined the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society and later started her own conservation society, “Ruk Rakaganno”. Despite her love for nature, she is no idealist with her head in the clouds instead she is very practical about the concrete changes that need to take place as well as the most palatable manner in which to achieve these changes. “It is very difficult to talk to people about the environment when they are struggling to survive. We try to explain to villagers that everything is connected and therefore nature is important for their cultivation work and their wellbeing. It is more meaningful to approach conservation in this way than it is to tell them to help conserve the Elephants; who regularly destroy their homes, cultivations and villages,” she says.
Mrs. Serasinghe envisions the vital role that theater can play in conveying values to children and relates the experience she had with the Theater of Friendship for Children in, what was then, East Germany. “These children acted out plays like Puss in Boots where there were socialist values propagated. We need not portray these values but any good values can be conveyed to children through theater,” she recalls.
However she says it is very important that children are given the space to create for themselves and also given respect for their ideas. “The children were asked how they would like Little Red Riding-hood to end and they all stated that they did not want for the grandmother to die or the big bad wolf to be chopped up. This shows that children are naturally opposed to violence,” she says. Mrs. Serasinghe says that when acting for children and speaking to them it is crucial to speak to them with respect. “Sometimes people talk to children like they are morons. I don’t believe in that, you must never talk down or act down to children,” she says.
Sadly she notes that competition and the competitive spirit being harboured in children and society is leading to a divisive and fragmented community. “It worries me what kind of citizens these children will grow up to be; because if you teach children to compete then they get used to always looking at others as an adversary—they stop believing that something good can come out of cooperation and unity.,” she says.
She says a competitive spirit has no place in artistic endeavours and ambition leads to discontentment and malice. “In art there should never be competition, because art is something you must do because you want to and you have something to express. Therefore encouraging children to be in these “little-star” and things is never a good idea. Fame has its own price, if you want something badly then you will always be unhappy and discontent, there is never an end to wanting. Therefore the secret to happiness is to always give up wants and attachments,” she says.
Reflecting on her successful career and life she says she regrets not being the best mother she could be. “My one ambition and goal in life was to be a mother. I don’t think that I did a bad job, because they grew up to be good children. But I wish that I could have done more and been there for them more. When you take up something like acting there are other things that take up your time and attention, so I wish that I could have given them more of my time,” she said.
Conversely she says that it is important for women to take a vital role in public life. “I think women should get involved in politics and public life and introduce a softer note to politics and ensure, in the very least, the well being of their own kind. However what happens is that the female species can be more deadly than the male—at least that is the case with spiders,” she says with a hint of mischief in her tone. Nevertheless she notes that there is a price to pay for the service rendered to others. “When entering politics and public life it is important to understand that ones children can also be effected because it is very easy to insult a woman and people are very clever at doing it,” she said.
Her philosophy on life is one of internal serenity and peace with nature. “I think that it is important to make sure that you have peace within yourself, if you can do this then you will have peace with others. It is also important to treat others the way that you want to be treated; whether it is human beings or nature. No one wants to be destroyed, stolen from or hurt—nature is also like that, so even if I get a tree cut, I ask for forgiveness, because it too is a living thing and cutting it down hurts it,” she says. (Today is Mrs. Serasinghe’s birthday)
Comments - 4
Anuradha Saturday, 09 June 2012 09:05 AM
the one & only "sudu aachchi" of ours.....a profound actress for both stage and silver screen.....what an asset she has been to sri lankan entertainment !!! on your b'day all i can say is that "AAYU RAKKANTHU AAWADAA" !!!
Zubair Sunday, 10 June 2012 09:42 AM
"Art should never be about competition." What a true statement from a great and noble lady .
Faiz Sunday, 10 June 2012 10:03 AM
Despit her artistic talent on the screen her simplicity and grace outside the big box outshine every other virtue about her.
Rameez Saturday, 09 June 2012 03:01 PM
Happy Birthday Mrs Serasinghe and many happy returns. You have been a beacon of inspiration to our local artistes and the exemplary standards set by you are simply unsurmountable. Thank you for everything.
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