Q: What factors in childhood were conducive for
you to excel in music?
As children, my siblings (brother Rohan and two
sisters) were totally immersed in arts and culture,
the diversity of which was stunning.
My father who rubbed shoulders with a stock such as
Cassie Wittachchi, Aubrey Collette of Times of
Ceylon fame and luminaries such as S W R D
Bandaranaike, Doric de Souza and Sir John Kotelawala
was a lover of all things ‘classical’.
He was a satirist and wrote under the pseudonym of
From pel kavi, was kavi, geta bera to Beethoven,
Mozart and Japanese theatre, he exposed us to what
he believed was the best the world could offer in
terms of art and culture.
The only negative aspect about this may be was the
opinion he brought upon himself and his children of
what he considered ‘bad’. So much so even today I
experience terrible pangs whenever I hear any form
of music belonging to the ‘middle’ classification,
for instance light classical! My father used to
compare such levels of expression to ‘comic books’.
He made us very much aware of levels of expression,
music occupying a huge place in it.
My father was a radical Buddhist who only believed
in living a true Buddhist and not venerating temples
He in fact took all of us to kovils and church,
not as a means of religious expression but rather as
a source of cultural inspiration and the only place
we were spared of was the mosque but to compensate
for that, at time he got us to observe the fast!
I still remember how my father once showed me the
list of classical numbers he played on the day I was
brought home as a three-day old infant!
From day one, I was not spared of music!
It was at the age of four that I received the gift
of a violin from one of my uncles.
For the next couple of years, this was more akin to
a toy for me!
I became a member of the Symphony Orchestra at the
age of 12.
People such as Reggie Siriwardene, Doric de Souza
were regular visitors at our place and their erudite
talk coupled with serving tea for them contributed
to my ‘informal education’.
It was Doric de Souza who drilled the passion for
chess in me, a game I enjoy to date.
My mother, (Sita de Saram) was a teacher of music at
Visaka Vidyalaya and she was a renowned sculptor.
I grew up surrounded by music, culture and sculptors
all around me, thus it was natural for me to pursue
a career in music.
Q: How do you perceive ‘different levels of
expression’ as you put across?
In very simple terms it’s like a hamburger or French
fries against a six-course dinner! Much more skill
is required for the latter.
Apart from the skill, there is a mammoth difference
in quality and shape as well.
If we look at a tune composed for people to dance
against Master Khemadasa’s Pirinivan Mangalyaya, we
see a huge difference in perception, quality and
Even in a ‘global setting’ we inhabit, I don’t think
great levels of expression will ever change –
whatever the medium is.
Great art will always have a little marker which
appeals even if it’s to a minority.
What about your formative years in the US?
My late brother Rohan who showed great potential in
music was trained in the US by some of the world
celebrated musicians and it was recommended that I
follow his footsteps.
I was studying at Royal College till the age of 16,
until I left for the US to enroll at the School of
It was an elite school sought after by many aspiring
At that time I was the only student from the
sub-continent and it took me almost a year to feel
The sudden parachuting from all-male Royal College
to School of Performing Arts was a tough experience
for me, so much so I felt alienated for some time
and luckily for me I had two friends who were also
misfits and we naturally got together.
My first instrument was violin and the second
Whilst being at the School of Performing Arts, I
attended Julliard School of Music which was a
special school for music, where I made a lot of
contacts. I was fortunate to have come under
veterans such as Erick Friedman and Sergiu
Celibidache during my formative years in the States.
Q: What do you consider to be your
breakthrough as a musician?
I think my biggest breakthrough was the culmination
of a slow, steady and a gradual process.
It was a massive global breakthrough for me to have
directed music for a Metro-Goldwyn Pictures’
production which is to be released shortly in the
The film involves acclaimed names such as Robert
Pattinson and Uma Thurman to name a few.
Q: What yardstick do you employ to assess
I measure my ‘growth’ by my own journey.
If I illustrate with an example, I see a massive
difference between my perception of a Mozart
symphony today, to that of a decade ago.
I know that the symphony had not gone anywhere but I
certainly have and I appreciate this difference of
My evolution I must say is still very much in
I have not experienced this sudden, massive
limelight, for me it has been a very slow and steady
plodding and I’m very happy about it.
Especially in spheres of art and culture, I think
it’s important that one evolve gradually because
sudden burst of fame is short-lived and it does a
huge disservice to a person who in turn becomes very
uncertain of one’s image.
Q: Can you elaborate on your exploration of
indigenous music upon your return from the US?
At the time I returned to Sri Lanka in 1990, my
brother Rohan was invited by the late President
Ranasinghe Premadasa to launch and conduct ‘Sri
Lanka Philharmonic Orchestra.’
My brother wanted me to return home and be the
concert master of it.
I felt like a recently graduated business student
being asked to take over a company!
It was a fabulous opportunity and I came home.
The unexpected turn of events with the demise of
President Premadasa and funding being exhausted led
to the natural death of the orchestra.
After this whirlwind of events, I apprenticed in a
big way under Master Khemadasa.
I was exposed to a different genre of music under
Q: How do you identify Master Khemadasa’s
genus of music?
When I came to associate his music closely, I
realised that Master Khemadasa represented ‘serious
music’ in our country.
It’s no exaggeration to say that what we identify as
an authentically Sri Lankan music is that which was
given life to by Master.
What I find amazing in his work is that without too
much intellectualising and too much of theory, he
unconsciously touched on something of what we
identify as Sri Lankan ethos in music with no
Many of his contemporaries and may be predecessors
as well, no matter what they advocated, were heavily
influenced by the Indian Ragadhari music.
Whatever they created essentially came through those
filters and why Master Khemadasa emerged unique was
because he was free of those filters.
He is certainly the personification of Sri Lankan
Q: You bagged the Sarasavi award for your
efforts in Mille Soya. Can you shed light upon this
Mille Soya occupies a very special place in my
When Boodee Keerthisena invited me to direct music
in his film, I was taken aback. Apart from classroom
learning, I had no practical experience in film
music and I flatly refused!
Boodee’s request was nothing short of asking a
medical student who has only dissected frogs to
perform brain surgery! (chuckles)
With great reluctance I agreed on the understanding
that if it failed, we were to seek Master’s help!
Winning the Sarasavi award was simply made me
stupefied and I’m grateful to Boodee for that
Q: You have associated yourself with a new
trend of Sri Lankan film-making. How do you view
this new school of cinema?
Following the success of Mille Soya, Prasanna
Vithanage invited me to direct music for his film
Ira Mediyama followed by Machan and Vimukthi
Jayasundara’s Between two worlds which was
I would like to define the work of Boodee, Prasanna
and Vimukthi as the ‘new wave of Sri Lankan cinema’.
I believe their efforts embody a new vision for a
new Sri Lanka and we have this close knit
understanding of our vision for this country as
artistes because we have all grown up knowing only
conflict in this country and no matter how we
attempted to express ourselves, this tension was
very much prevalent in our work.
In that sense I think, this school of cinema-making
strongly projects realistic cinema. This new wave of
film-making has also deviated from certain
traditional norms of Sri Lankan film-making,
especially in the sphere of music.
For instance, as apposed to ‘stand alone songs’ the
local audience is so conditioned to, this generation
of film-makers has blended it in a way that it comes
through a particular channel enriching the context
and substance of the movie.
I think all these facets justify the fact that they
perceive cinema as a medium of art rather than
Q: What are your present engagements in the
I’m currently involved in an Indian movie titled
Mushrooms, directed by Vimukthi Jayasundara.
Today many Indian filmmakers are seeking ‘Sathyajith
Ray’ ambiance in their work and Vimukthi has been
summoned by one of them to bring back that flavour,
in which I take immense in pride in.
Apart from that I’m also working with Boodie on his
Q: Can you tell us about your family?
My wife is Anusha.
She is a chartered secretary and I have a
13-year-old daughter Suhanya studying at Ladies’
College and a seven-year-old son Araan attending
Asian International School. They are both
Suhanya is a natural musician involved in many
musical endeavours in school.
They are exposed to fine aspects of music as well as
culture but we have given them liberty to pursue the
passions of their own one day.
Q: What is your biggest strength in life?
I think it’s spontaneity.
I rely a lot on it.
Whatever I have done well in has always being
I have never really sat down and planned what I want
to do and how I want to do.
With my personal and professional life, things have
happened beside myself and so far they have turned
I think I’m a conscript in nature’s war!