It takes a truly funny man to portray the comic side of life and make people laugh.
Wanniaarachchige Don David Victor Jayamanne also known as Eddie Jayamanne was one of those people. He and his brother B.A.W Jayamanne made a significant impact on the Sri Lankan theatre industry through their theatre troupe Minera which was established in the 1930’s. Through their characters and scenes, they depicted a comic fusion between Ceylonese characters and Western ways. The merge between the cultures and the struggles of the everyday man to grasp the swift change to modernization and all its complications were humorously brought to life through his films.
Kadawunu Poronduwa (Broken Promise) was a milestone film not only for the Jayamanna brothers but for the entire Sri Lankan Cinema as it was the first movie to be filmed in Sinhala. The previous work done by the Jayamanna brothers had caught the attention of the South Indian producer S. M. Nayagam who secured the rights for the film in 1947. Eddie took the lead as ‘Manappuwa’ and his role was given a immense support by Jemini Kantha who played the character of ‘Josi Baba’. Music and singing added colour to the film as with many of the films in that era that were influenced by South Indian Cinema.
Eddie didn’t have to look far and wide to meet the love of his life. His work in the Minerva troupe led him to meet his significant other, a lady by the name of Rukmani Devi who had also poured heart and soul into the films he made. She is known as the ‘Nightingale of Sri Lanka’ and is another vibrant and well-known icon in the Sri Lankan theatre scene.
This success was the first in a series of great films to light up the silver screen. Films such as ‘Kolomba Sanniya’ followed the lives of a rural family trying to adjust their ways to the urban lifestyle in Colombo and made the audience laugh with its dramatised true-to-life scenarios. The recording done for ‘Kolomba Sanniya’ was carried out under the Sooriya label.
The two brothers of the Jayamanne family continued entertaining fans of the silver screen. ‘Hadisi Vinishchaya’ (1949), ‘Sengawunu Pilithura’ (1951) and ‘Umathu Wishwasaya’ (1952) were all films that were produced by the Jayamanna brothers.
In 1953, the brothers breathed life into the concept behind the book ‘Kele Handa’, another first to hit the Sri Lankan theatre where the audience witnessed a book they so fondly read, transformed into life right before their eyes.
‘Iranganie’ (1954) , ‘Matha Bedhaya’ (1955) , ‘Perakadoru Bena’ (1955), ‘Daiwa Wipakaya (1965), ‘Vanaliya’ (1958), ‘Kawata Adare’ (1960) and ‘Mangalika’ (1963) were also films that followed suit.
A few notable characters played by Eddie, such as the musician in ‘Sandesaya’ (1960) and the brother of a village fool who found a jewel and became rich in ‘Kolomba Sanniya’ (1976) are still remembered with a chuckle. He was also a prominent vocalist with work of art such as ‘Thakkita Tharikita Udapana Natanna Hithuna’ and ‘Kolompure Shriya’.
As a comedian, Eddie is remembered for his sharp wit and way of thinking that brought to light, the difficulties of the people who were struggling to adapt to the influences of the European ways. Even through the black and white gritty film, people still love watching him in action simply because it brings back many memories of what it feels like to be Sri Lankan in the 20th century.
WRITTEN BY RUVINDI THAMASHI
EDITED BY NADEESHA PAULIS