Santin Gunawardena:Stage Actor— Obsessive, Passionate,Purpose Driven, Dedicated sans EGO-By Sunil Thenabadu
One of the utmost universal qualities of successful professional working actors is that they play well with others and they’re able to make genuine acquaintances with everyone on set. They’re truly good people, passionate, purpose driven and dedicated sans ego.
They always handle themselves with grace and dignity and they have the courage to bring their personalities to every role entrusted. One such inimitable actor who had conquered the stage, mini and silver screen with consummate luxury for over a half a century is celebrated actor ‘the Sonduru Minisa’ Santin Gunawardena.
Santin possessed an authoritative vision for his future in store after he was selected for the first stage play ‘Janelaya’ in year 1962. His commitment to work towards that vision every day, the belief that it’s possible, putting service above self with creativity.
‘Hunuwataye Kathawa’ (Caucasian Circle) was staged initially in year 1967; the role of ‘Simon Sashawa’ (soldier) was portrayed by Santin Gunawardena alongside Grusha portrayed by Manel Jayasena uninterruptedly for 28 years with about 3,000 stage appearances.
It is learnt that when Manel passed away Santin had been so flabbergasted, unable to face even an interview to the national radio. With his abundance of vocal skills the popular stage song ‘Yuddeta Mama Giya Geni Gedera Thiya’ added a spectacle to his character.
Born on 14 April 1938 in Nagoda in Kalutara District, he had his primary education was at Maha Heenatiyangala Vidyalaya in the village before entering Kalutara Tissa Madhya Maha Vidyalaya in 1949 after triumphing in the Scholarship examination.
The astrologer who had read his future had predicted him to excel in sports, singing and creative envisaging to be a well-recognised individual in society. Santin had excelled sports in cricket, athletics and in studies. In year 1955 he had passed the SSC in the English medium.
While representing Tissa Madhya Maha Vidyalaya in cricket he had performed admirably in the annual big match, the famous big match battle of the ‘mangosteens’ in Kalutara in the years 1956 and 1957 and had shone as a dependable opening batsman, while in the annual big matches versatile singer Narada Dissasekera had exceled for Kalutara Vidyalaya.
Apart from been a cricketer Santin had shown immense skill in athletics. In the year 1956 had been adjudged as the best athlete among schools in the Western Province having been the champion high jumper, second in triple jump and been a member of the winning 4X400 relay team. Santin had confessed that no one in his family had excelled in sports or in arts to verify it was not genetic.
Just after leaving school he had joined Narahenpita Survey Department as a Cartographer. It is pertinent to state that Santin had shone in indoor sports also like carrom and bridge, winning many trophies and was the indoor games champion in the Survey Department. During the years 1964 to 1977 Santin had exposed his talent carrying the accountability in organising events for the State Athletic Association.
Santin had entered the stage by a sheer quirk in year 1962. During his tenure at the Survey Department he had participated in group singing at sports festivals and had been renowned for singing talent. Through his colleague Shelton Silva he had got an opening to portray a role of ‘Akasa’ as the actor selected to portray ‘Putupala’ had withdrawn unable to sing ‘Me Thiyenne Kanthoruwa Weda Arabana Kanthoruwa’ in Henry Jayasena’s first play ‘Janelaya’ in 1962.
This unanimous decision of Shelton was Santin’s beginning after which he was sought after, being nominated thereafter for every play of legendary Henry Jayasena. However, Santin had to surpass an audition steered by musician Somadasa Elvitigala, which he had achieved commendably.
It is reported that at that time the Survey Department had been the nucleus for so many artistes to bloom. Santin who was a Cartographer at the Survey Department had been bestowed a scholarship to Netherlands during 1975 to 1976 where such personnel from 22 countries had participated. Santin bought laurels to Sri Lanka been adjudicated the best Cartographer in the entire batch. It was Santin who had designed the Colombo map for the Municipal Council in a new design in 1974.
Santin tied his nuptial knot with Gunawathie Ramawickrema on 4 March 1968 an employee of prestigious Bank of Ceylon also a stage actress having been in love for eight years.
In 1968 he was blessed with a son who had lived only for two days. After a long anxious pause of nine years daughter Jayadhari Anjali was born. Obviously Santin had focused a lot of attention on her.
Santin had introduced creative ‘Gunie’ to Henry Jayasena’s ‘Manoranjana Wedawarjana’ and subsequently to ‘Hunuwataye Kathawa’ (The Caucasian Circle, portraying three roles viz Nataliya, Grusha’s in-law, mother-in-law) and several other plays like ‘Apata Puthe Magak Nethe,’ ‘Janelaya,’ ‘Makara,’ ‘Diriya Mawa Saha Eyage Daruwo’ and ‘Thahanam Deshaya’ in which her portrayals were applauded. The duo’s only daughter Jayadhari had also acted in ‘Janelaya’ as Miss Karadasi and in ‘Hunuwataye Kathawa’ as the elderly lady.
Santin had been a sought-after stage actor. Several directors had come to his office in quest for him requesting him to portray roles. One such significant juncture was when Simon Nawagaththegama offered a role in ‘Suba Saha Yasa’. He had come to invite to portray the ‘Doratu Palakaya’ role, opposite to the king’s role portrayed by Upali Attanayake. This was another feather in his cap as the role further substantiated his apt.
Santin had directed seven short tele-dramas apart from acting in them. He had also portrayed roles in films such as ‘Arumosam Wesi’ and ‘Sivarangasena’. Santin had once confessed that “one can teach technology, but one cannot teach creativity”. This advice from him was to all novices to have creativity in mind if they are to impress in this field. In his twilight years he had quipped that there were virtuous signals sprouted by young actors which is good for the industry.
Appreciation of Santin Gunawardena’s 50 years of stage dominance was appropriately organised was held at Tower Hall Foundation at Savusiripaya Auditorium on 31 May 2012. In year 2013 he was awarded the once in a lifetime award the ‘Natya Keerthi Award’ presented by the Cultural Department by the then Minister of Cultural Affairs and Art T.B. Ekanayake. By this time Santin was in a wheelchair in his twilight days ailing from his terminal illness.
What is appended below are some statistics of lifetime of achievements made by Santin to arts compiled by the authorities of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Arts.
He was introduced to Henry Jayasena by colleague Shelton Silva at the Survey Department and in 1962 was selected to portray a role in Henry Jayasena’s ‘Janelaya’ on 29 April 1962. After this every Henry Jayasena play for Santin was a walk in the park.
Then he was drafted to ‘Kuweni’ in 1964/1965, followed by ‘Thawath Udesanak,’ ‘Ahas Maliga,’ ‘Hunuwataye Kathawa,’ Apata Putje Magak Nethe,’ ‘Diriya Mawa Saha Ege Daruwo’ and ‘Sarana Siyothse Puthuni Hanba Yanna’. The popular dramas other than Henry Jayasena’s were ‘Raththaran Putha,’ ‘Sigiri Kashyapa,’ ‘Suba Saha Yasa,’ ‘Sirith Wirith,’ ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Sambada Mama Rasputin’.
It needs to be emphasised that Santin had won several awards for directing dramas for festivals organised jointly by the Eksath Bauddha Bala Mandalaya and the National Housing Development Authority.
He had collected awards for first place in seven short dramas like ‘Kanakok Handa,’ ‘Wera,’ ‘Peni Walalu,’ etc. Santin had acted in tele-dramas like Dhamma Jagoda’s ‘Sandaka Kathawak,’ Bandula Vithanage’s ‘Aththa Bindei,’ Soma Kiriella’s ‘Pencha,’ Vipula Sumanasekera’s ‘Sathange Puththu,’ Lester James Pieris’s ‘Giraya,’ Sumithra Pieris’s ‘Gehenu Lamai,’ Nalan Mendis’s ‘Du Daruwo,’ ‘Senehiwanthayo’ and ‘Mama Novei Mama’ and Sanjaya Nirmal’s ‘Divya,’ etc.
All art works needed for drama advertising at Lumbini, Lionel Wendt and Tower Hall were the superlative labours of sought after Santin. He also designed all cover pages for all Henry Jayasena’s plays, possessing talent in profusion in that field of art too.
In year 2013 he was suddenly hospitalised and his 45th wedding anniversary was celebrated in hospital. His terminal illness was diagnosed as the lung tissues becoming thicker, making it difficult for him to breathe. In year 2013 the Sinhala New Year was celebrated with all his family members which was unfortunately his final family get together before succumbing to his terminal illness in the same year.
Santin was very subtle, sympathetic and not at all selfish. He did not care in the least for material wealth. He had willingly written all his ancestral wealth to his siblings. He never liked to hurt feelings of others.
As disclosed by his wife Gunie, she firmly believes that Santin was the kindest person in the whole planet. In the context of the above the amount of input made by veteran Santin Gunawardena to the stage, small and silver screen is gigantic, perhaps certainly no other stage actor had achieved the same through an era of acting.