Thusrstan's "Son In Law" - now 30 years old

It was during my final year at Peradeniya that Maname was getting ready to go on board and I was doing a role of a Veddah. One day Dr. Sarachchandra called me and said, rather sternly; that I have to decide between Maname and my exam. It ended up in a pleasant manner when he agreed to consider a close friend of mine whom I suggested to take my place among the Maname Veddahs. Soa it was a complete departure from the great play, as my friend well fitted into the cast.

After Peradeniya I joined the Kegalu Vidyalaya in 1957 in and produced two plays called "Swarnathilaka" and "Parsassaya" with the college students. The latter was performed at Peradeniya open air theatre and Dr. Sarachchandra having seen it, wrote to me saying that it was written and produced with an intelligent understanding of folk style and keen eye on dramatic situations. The play was next staged through the National Theatre Trust.

With every new production of Dr. Sarachchandra it so happened that I too was bringing forth if own, conceived by a sharp effect of his marvellous theatre characters playing on my imagination. The horse in "Elo Gihin Melo Awa" got instilled in me and soon the character Nariya from the Sinhala folklore began to hover round me in similar fashion.

Kegalle was the well known as a place where Sinhala traditional and folk literature were available in bookstalls. I came to across a collection of folktales by a Buddhist monk where in the story of the "Nariya saha Gamaduwa" (Jackal and the village lass) the author describing the Srungalaya (Jackal) being unable to bear the immense joy that penetrated into his slender body, began to quiver; {which seen developed into a song and dance}. This sparkling description seen sparkled me with the imagination how the Nariya could make perform a jubilant song and dance on the stage.

Although I had written the playwright "Nari Bena" and "Kamare Pore" at Kegalle. their production got postponed due to my interest to join a school in Colombo; where I could find more scope for my theatre activities.

When I met Mr. Thuraisingham at the Education Department, he most enthusiastically offered me a place at #Thurstain College where a geography teacher was needed and said that he would succeeding to my request gave me time to decide. Leaving Kegalu Vidayalaya I next joined Thurstain Collage in 1960, the very year of the birth of Nari Bena.

No sooner I got myself engrossed with class work, a group of students representing the Thurstain Collage Ranga Peetaya with their patron Mr. Asoka Liyanage, confronted me near the college library and proposed that I should do a play for them. Among the student group were some of today's well known politicians, executives and businessmen.

Those days Thurstan was dubbed as a sanctuary for those who failed to get entrance to Royal and that antic players were rampant among the students. On my very first day at Thurstan there was a teacher who came panting to the common room. He said that someone had lighted a craker underneath the chair he was seated in the class.

What I could immediately offer were my two scripts of Nari Bena and Kamare Pore; which they Ranga Peetaya approved. The principle Mr. M. D. Gunawardena too happy about it and suggested that we contact Mr. Basil Mihiripenna who was pupil of him. If we needed someone to set help in dancing. Later when we failed in the attempt to train boys for female roles, he agreed to girls being taken from the friendly Gothami Balika.

Production work of Nari Bena started with compositions of music, which was handed over to the college oriental music teacher; the young and talented Lionel Algama. He had been a college mate of mine at Central College, Veyangoda. One day the production teams suggested that a song be brought in at the place where the jackal taken the girl away to his abode in the woods. I agreed to it and during the course of the college interval I wrote down the words were jotted down some lines and handed them over to Algama who effortlessly put a tune into it. And that was how the famous "Kumatada Sobaniye" song took shape.

Thurstan boys had their hopes on "Kamare Pore", which was completely in dialogue form; a frace depicting city life; which was such closer to them. The art teacher Mr. W. E. Fernando worked on the decore and the excellent fox tail he made is still being used in Nari Bena performances.

The first night of the Nari Bena and Kamare Pore on 04th November 1960 at Thurstan College hall the crowd applauded the plays immensely and immediately the organising committee decided to have further shows on the 5th and 6th. too. The crowds increased in numbers and the success of Nari Bena came to be discussed very much. The radio programme recorded by the student group had a much greater impact and the conversational song "Mehen Inda Ganna, Suruttuda Bonne" etc, was even heard in the busses and trains.

Mr. Henry Jayasena who saw one of the opening performances wrote a long letter to me, saying how much he liked it. The person who got much interested after hearing about about it was Mr. S. F. De Silva the Director of Education, who later rarely missed a performance of Nari Bena and Kamare Pore in Colombo. Even when he went to China he used to write to me asking about the progress of the two plays. The plays had to be re-done as outside for public performance, as practical difficulties arose in continuing with a student cat which was drawn from two schools.

When I left Thurstan in 1961 to join Radio Ceylon I had also developed a very enthusiastic set Geography students, many of them developed passing in that subject at the University Entrance Examination. Some of them pursued it for their special degree and obtained higher grade.

Professor Sarachchandra referring to Nati Bena in 1961 said; "It is, in fact, one of the few plays which have touch the originality". Indeed Nari Bena became a resounding factor in my theatre career and as such Thurstan Collage stand as a monument in artistic life.

As was revealed to me later there had been a plan light cracker in the basement of the theatre at the start of the play. However the revellers decided to do away with the idea, as when they were moving towards the act, had seen my face met me, and the smile on my face had compelled them to throw away explosives and take a seat in the auditorium.

Dayananda Gunawardena (1990)