Making of an artiste

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Making of an artiste  (Pics by Pradeep Dambarage)

Duleeka Marapana talks about a highly commercialized acting profession in Sri Lanka and why newcomers don’t get to focus on skills development

Sri Lanka knows Duleeka Marapana best as a skillful actress who has an extraordinary talent in imitating characters. We also know her as a musician and few among the songs she has sung have reached popularity. We know little about her skills in art, yet she says that drawing is what she enjoys the most among all the aesthetic subjects. “Even today I enjoy painting. There was a time when I started to do a business in art work as well. But, I guess, it’s hard for a heart of an artiste to do business,” she laughed.

Duleeka was born in Kandy and was raised in Kegalle, her mother’s village. As a kid, she said she was free to be a part of the surrounding environment, which happened to be breathtaking. “Trees and wind were part of my childhood. I loved to be with the nature more than I enjoyed human company,” she said adding that her mother gave her enough freedom to be herself, beginning from her childhood, as she was the only child in the family. She first attended Kandy Hillwood College and then Kegalle St. Joseph’s Girls’ College. she was an all rounder in school, when it came to art festivals, she chose art as her main subject for her Advanced Level Examination (AL Exam). As a result of following her heart, she received an opportunity to enter Kelaniya University after passing her AL Exams in 1994 and graduated with a degree in Social Sciences. “There wasn’t a master to teach us the practical aspects of art. Therefore at the university, I had to change subjects,” she recalled. Her second choice was to study drama and theater studies. She first set foot on stage during her first year at University, acting in the stage play Naisarla Rajawethi and Nimnayakma Viya. As a fresher she was able to bag the award for the best actress for both dramas.

She recalled her childhood again. “At my village we had paddy fields and during the cultivation period there were a lot of villagers coming home. What I liked about this period was to observe different people and imitate them once they left. I never really cared to stop this habit although Amma used to scold me,” she laughed and added, “This could be the foundation to my interest in theater and acting.”  Her debut contribution in popular stage was Sapathni and in the 1999 State Drama Festival she won the Best Actress Award for her acting in this drama.

She uses her imagination to step into the shoes of the character she has to play. She explained that it’s easier for her to perform a character once she imagined that it’s a character she knew from her village. In 2000, she featured in teledramas and the silver screen simultaneously. The character of a blind school teacher she played, 15 years ago, in her debut teledrama ‘Sanda Amawakai’, directed by Prasanna Jayakody, is still admired. Her debut film was Ariyaratne Vithana’s Irasma. Duleeka believes that Sandamali’s character in Sanda Amawakai became a success due to Jayakody’s decision to choose a person with a good knowledge of music to play the character. By this time, Duleeka was studying for her music Visharad exams under Nanda Malani. Her song in the drama Ahasa Kaluwarai, written by Bandara Eheliyagoda, also became a hit.

Her latest contribution to theater is Lowrancege Manamali and acts alongside Mali Jayaweerage, Sujeewa Priyalal, Hemantha Prasad and Sampath Jayaweera. She is content with the feedback that’s received for this production.  “This drama is for the whole family and our aim is to present a good quality comedy to the audience that it will make them reflect on their lives while having a good laugh,” she iterated. With the success of Lowrancege Manamali, she said that the drama team is now getting ready for their second production, focusing more on how musical components can provide the audience with a good theater experience.

She also spoke about the teledrama industry. “Today there is a clear distinction in an artiste and an actor or an actress. Sadly, due to the new trend, where a teledrama is considered as a commercial product rather than a form of art, newcomers don’t get to focus on skills development,” she lamented. “Once they get into the system, there is no escape for them. They too adapt to the commercial mindset and start chasing each other in the rat race rather than think of their responsibilities,” she said. “This is why we don’t see many newcomers sustaining in the field,” she added.

She also pointed out how today’s drama field focuses more on body image rather than acting skills. “Not many skillful as well as successful actors and actresses were known for their beauty. They were beautiful in what they did. How a man or a woman looks is not important when it comes to work,” she said. “What is important is his or her personality and how he performs his responsibilities,” she explained.

She said it’s important for newcomers in the acting field also to focus more on developing their skills rather than work too hard on their outlook. “Personal value is not measured from how you look, what type of a car you drive or how expensive your clothes are,” she emphasized.  

She drew attention to the importance of appreciating art as a society. “It’s sad that we have to hear a lot of complaints about stress and depression today. We see many issues rising up within families and also in other social relationships. It’s as if we are going backwards in our relationships,” she expressed her concerns. “Making people associate with art intimately is the best way of pointing society in the right direction once again,” she opined.  She is hesitant when talking about how an art work, a song or a movie with themes like grief or separation can help personal development.

“During my lectures, for the girls in the trade zone, I have observed that these girls are too attached to these themes. They find it difficult to get out of the strong emotional feelings following breakups or separation,” she pointed out. “It’s doubtful whether it will be helpful for them to relive the grief through an art work. I believe it is better if art can make people happy helping them to get out of their misery,” she said. “It’s better if artistes can aim at making people happy to develop their personalities,” she stressed adding that using art practically is different from appreciating literature as a subject. 

She further stressed that the cultural man is in the process of extinction. “Who should help to conserve the cultural man?” she raised a question. “Some may say it’s the men who rule the country or the authorities in charge of arts and culture in the country.  But, the responsibility of conserving the cultural man lies within the nuclear family and from the environment of the school,” she pointed out. “We are still not late to do this. If we start thinking about this today and shape a new born’s life, in another 18 years, the cultural man will no longer face the threat of extinction,” she said. She concluded the interview by saying that the artiste must also identify his or her responsibility in this process. “There is a lot we can do. I’ve understood my role in it and I am trying to do my best. We don’t have to wait till some authority tells us what to do. We are strong enough to work on our own, and we can do a lot more than we think. If there is a will, there is definitely a way.”

Last modified on Friday, 24 April 2015 10:10
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