By Srimal Abeyewardene
Award winning actress Leena De Silva turns 80 this year. Her acting career spans over six decades except a short period she was away from the silver screen due to the sudden death of her husband Ravinda Rupasena.
Rupasena a versatile actor during that period passed away following a heart attack at the age of 49. Leena with two little children was shocked and grieved of the loss of Rupasena where there was a strong bond between them both in the movies and life.
Leena was a very strong woman who overcame the loss of her husband and return to movies after a short spell. For Leena, it was tough time during her young days as a her school principal was strongly against her acting in films. She was sad to be turned down the offer made by her dancing teacher Shesha Palihakkara and doyen of the Sinhala cinema Lester James Peirs. Incidentally Lester celebrated his 98th birthday this year at his Havelock Town residence.
Leena a naturally talented actress who could give excellent performance in any role offered to her. This made her one of the big stars and acting offers were rolling in rapidly. This was a period there were shinning stars in the Indian cinema such as Nagis, Nutan, Madubala, Meena Kumari to name a few with Raj Kapoor, Asoka Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kumar, Dev Ananda and Shammi Kapoor. Hollywood stars Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor were riding high. Leena was a star among them who had the beauty of a star class actress.
She spoke to the Sri Lanka Reporter at her daughter’s residence at Pickering, Ontario. One thing good for her was her parents and brothers and sisters all supported in her film career. I was really good in my studies and till I saw Kele Handa my ambition was to become a doctor. However, I was fortunate to have had parents who understood my talent and gave their blessings. When I got the offer to appear in my first film, they raised no objections.
Really it was my dance guru Shesha Palihakkara who introduced me to the film industry. When I was in Grade 9, I appeared in Ahankara Sthree by S. M. Nayagam. I performed a dance sequence as Lanka Matha in it. It was Shesha Palihakkara who did choreography in this film. In the aftermath of this film, Cyril P. Abeyratne was looking for an artiste to play the lead female role in his film Surathali produced by Jabir. A. Cader, it was my late husband Ravindra Rupasena who introduced me to Cyril Abeyratne. Ravindra played the lead male role in this movie opposite me.
It my first film, Ahankara Sthree that I met Ravindra. It was such a coincidence that this happened to be the maiden film of both Ravindra’s and mine! After this we acted in several films together- Surathali, Sohoyuro, Sundara Birinda, Suneetha and Nalagana. It was during the making of Suneetha that we fell in love. After our marriage in 1960, we appeared in several other films such as Sulalitha Sobhani, Sujage Rahasa, Amathaka Wunada and Ran Rasa.
Even after being selected my fate was such, I lost the opportunity of appearing in Dr. Peries’s Rekawa
I never gave any serious consideration about returning to films, especially after Ravindra’s death in 1978. I was having a comfortable life and it was not money which tempted me when I got film offers but it was just I could not be without acting again. I suppose every artiste feels that way, we are too wrapped up in the art of acting. Besides, Ganga Addara was too much of a temptation!
I was looking forward to working with people such as Sumithra Peries and Dr. Lester James Peries. My fate was such, I lost the opportunity of appearing in Dr. Peries’s Rekawa even after being selected by him!
Again, it was through my guru Shesha Palihakkara that I was introduced to Dr. Peries. He had seen my performance in Ahankara Sthree and was interested in having me in Rekawa. However, despite parental permission, my school Principal was very offended that I had appeared in Ahankara Sthree and sternly advised my father not to send me for any more films! I lost the opportunity of appearing in Rekawa. After many years when I crossed the paths of Sumithra and Dr. Peiris, I was too tempted to forego Ganga Addara!
Box-office hits Sundara Birinda
A box-office hit Sundara Birinda where Leena and her husband Ravindra acted was Directed by T. Yoganandan; Produced by Jabir A. Cader for Ceylon Entertainments Lyrics by W. Wilfred Silva was released on 28 April 1960. The classic cast included Ravindra Rupasena, Clarice De Silva, Leena De Silva, Ananda Jayaratne, Rita Ratnayake, Christy Leonard, L. M. Perera, Asoka Ponnamperuma, Lilian Edirisinghe.
Awaragira directed by Lester James Peries
Another film Leena played lead role oppsit Joe Abeywickrema with a galaxy of stars: Joe Abeywickrama, Iranganie Serasinghe, Tony Ranasinghe, Leena De Silva, Lucky Dias, Wasanthi Chathurani, Kamal Addararachchi, Ranjan Ramanayaka, Rathna Lalani Jayakodi, Sanoja Bibile, Bandula Suriyabandara, Samanthi Lanarole directed by Lester James Peries.
Leena was among the first stars of the Sinhala Cinema
Leena was among the first stars of the Sinhala Cinema; Sri Lanka cinema has a very long history and the first Sinhala movie was created in 1947 Kadawuna Poronduwa – Broken Promise. This is the beginning of Sri Lankan actors and actresses contribute the success of Sinhala cinema
Leena Remembers stars of yesteryear
She still grieves the sad death of ‘Queen of the Sinhala Cinema’ Rukmani Devi whom she described as a teacher to all young actresses like her. This writer covered the funeral of Rukmai Devi, while Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa led the funeral procession in Negombo. Others Rita Ratnayake, Clarice de Silva, Mabel Blyth, Udula Dabere, Shanthi Lekha, Sabitha Pera, Malini Fonseka, Suwarna Mallwarchchi, Sriyani Amarasena, Sirimathi Rasadari, Veena Jayakody, Rohini Jayakody, Ramani Bartholemuzs, Geetha Kumarasinghe, Vasanthi Chathurani Tony Ranasinghe, Gamini Fonseka, Joe Abeywickrema, Boniface Perera, Stanley Perera, Asoka Ponnaperuma. She says they all acted with.
Migrating to Canada
It was my son who migrated to Canada first in the late ‘80s. In 1991, my daughter and I joined him in Canada. Since then I have been living with them. My son and daughter are living with their families in Canada and I have three grandsons and one grand daughter, all of them keep me happily occupied! They are my, first priority in life now.