An eminent literary figure in
11, 2010 marks the first death anniversary of
legendary dramatist, renowned actor, lyricist,
translator and author Henry Jayasena.
The late Henry Jayasena was a firm believer of
Shakespeare’s memorable phrase, “All that live must
die/passing through nature to eternity”. Decease had
already taken its toll on him. He was actually aware
that as we learnt in school, “To every man upon the
earth/death cometh soon or late”.
He initially stood tall on the modest
unsophisticated Lumbini Theatre in the early 1960s.
He had confessed many times as a much adored artiste
that his heart lay in theatre.
Henry Jayasena could be easily and definitely
classified as one, alongside amongst the elite of
eminent literary figures in the annals of theatre in
Sri Lanka, like Professor Ediriweera Sarathchandra,
Sugathapala de Silva, Dayananda Gunawardena,
Premasiri Khemadasa, etc.
His numerous contributions to the theatre and
cinema spanned for almost four decades. He retired
from his acting career in 1999 while he was under
treatment for the dreaded colon cancer.
The entire treatment process took around one and a
half years. On his personal experience and
suffering, he had written in detail a book titled
Balha Gilano – The Story Of A Cancer Patient purely
to educate the masses.
However, he lived for a further 10 years leading a
normal life during which time he revived his famous
drama Hunuwataye Kathawa, an adoption of Bertolt
Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle by deploying
experienced and talented new actors along with a few
who were involved earlier in the likes of Nimal
Jayasinghe and Chula Kariyawasm. The role of judge
‘Azdak’ is superbly portrayed by Nalin Pradeep
Uduwela while that of ‘Grusha’ by Ruwini Manamperi.
Henry Jayasena was born on July 6, 1931 in a
village called Bendiyamulla in Gampaha. He was the
youngest in a family of six children, four elder
brothers and a solitary sister. His father was
Albert Rodrigo Jayasena, who was once the private
secretary to Sir Solamon Dias Bandaranaike, was a
well versed person.
He grew up in the rural hamlet of Bendiyamulla and
was initially educated at the Gampaha branch of
Lorensz College exposing him to both Catholic and
Buddhist cultures taking an active part in both
church and temple activities, subsequently at
Nalanda College, Colombo. It was the late Dr
Gunapala Malalasekera, an eminent civil servant who
first predicted a great future for him in the field
of acting after the famous educationalist observed
the talents of little Henry Jayasena while acting in
a school concert at Nalanda College.
Since, leaving school he opted for a career as an
assistant teacher of English at the Dehipe
government primary school in Padiyapellela in the
Nuwara Eliya District in the year 1950 at the tender
age of 19. He initially ventured into stage acting
by producing the drama Janaki in the same year while
he was a teacher. As he wanted to pursue a career in
the government service, he got through the General
Clerical Service Examination and secured a job at
the Public Works Department (PWD). While working in
the PWD with his immense innate creative ability, he
was able to produce a number of new plays: The first
of which was Manamalayo in 1953, then Vedagathkama
in 1954 and Paukarayo in1959. Then the vastly
improved dramatist created Janelaya and the famous
Kuweni in 1962. Subsequently, he produced Thavath
Udesanak, Manaranjana Wedawarjana, Ahas Maliga,
Hunuwataye Kathawa, Apata Puthe Magak Nethe, Diriya
Mava Saha Ege Daruwo, Makara (The Dragon), Sarana
Siyath Se Puthuni Habha Yana later on. With these
creations Henry Jayasena became a household name in
Sri Lanka owing to the massive revolution he made in
the field of creative arts.
As a gesture of appreciation for his contribution
towards literature, theatre and music, Henry
Jayasena was honoured by the OBA of his Alma Mater
Nalanda College by conferring on him the title of
‘Nalanda Keerthi Shri’ on September 27, 2003, which
was given for the first time, was a timely gesture
towards honouring one of Sri Lanka’s prodigal sons
who coincidentally happened to be himself a
It is also interesting to note that the actor
received the award at the Malalasekera Hall of the
school, named after the first principal of Nalanda
College the late professor Gunapala Malalasekera.
The media secretary of the organising committee said
that the idea behind this award was to honour their
past pupils who have emerged as distinguished
personalities in society by serving and nourishing
various arts with their many talents. It was under
the guidance of UAS Perera at Nalanda College that
Henry Jayasena and many other students made their
way into the theatre and other fields of arts.
The veteran dramatist was married to talented
actress Manel Ilangakoon in 1962. She acted as the
lead actress in Jayasena’s drama Kuweni for which
she won the Best Actress award as well as for her
singing. She started to act just one year after
their marriage. She made a very valuable
contribution to Hunuwataye Kathawa (Chalk Circle)
portraying the main female role as ‘Grushe’ for 32
years, opposite the main male character of Judge
Azdak portrayed by her husband. Their only son
Sudaraka during his early years acted for the little
Prince Micheal. Actress Manel predeceased him after
42 years of married life on July 24, 2004 following
a prolonged renal failure.
Henry Jayasena’s debut in films was in Sri 296 in
1959. During the 1960s, he acted in several films.
The part of Piyal opposite Punya Heendeniya became
an award winning role in 1964.
Then he portrayed the role of Lalith in GDL Perera’s
Dahasak Sithuwili in 1968.
He played vivid roles in many films including
Hansavilak, Kaliyugaya, Beddegama, Soldadu Unnehe,
Kaliyugaya, and Sandakada Pahana.
Some of the roles portrayed by him in the above
films were leading characters, while in some others
they were supporting roles.
In each role, he very clearly demonstrated and
proved his prowess as an actor.
He created a further image in society through his
portrayal of ‘Sudu Seeya’, the isolated intellect in
Doo Daruwo, the much acclaimed tele-drama.
Henry Jayasena retired from the government service
in 1975 to devote his entire time for the theatre
and arts. Before he retired, he held the positions
of deputy director of the National Youth Services
Centre (Arts and Sports Division) and at the Sri
Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (Programmes Division).
The late Henry Jayasena will remain a model in the
field of art and culture and as a most influential
dramatist of our times.
There is no doubt that his enduring works in
theatre and his diverse performances in cinema and
television remain as a rich cultural legacy of the
It should be the wish of every follower of the
theatre and arts that the tremendous efforts of late
Henry Jayasena rendered to these fields would be
sufficient enough to shorten his life through
Sansara until he attains Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.
- Sunil Thenabadu