Tale of a nightingale Angeline Gunatilaka at Sandeshaya.org

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Mata asai hinehenna mulu jeewithe…seemed to reverberate in her whole soul of serenity and rhythm so feminine. Caressing the hearts of several generations with a voice ‘ever green’, Angeline Gunatilaka remains lustrous as her melodies. The Nation takes a stroll down memory lane with this nightingale of the silver screen…Tale of a nightingale   Angeline Gunatilaka - Sandeshaya Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan Art of Actress Models Dancers Singers Beauties

By Randima Attygalle
Q: Can you recollect your childhood memories?
I hail from Matara where I had my basic education at St. Mary’s Convent. All together we are 10 in the family- two boys and eight girls. I was called the ‘lucky seventh’, which indeed is true looking back at my life! When I was eight years old the family had to move to Colombo as my father was serving the CGR. We were on a massive estate called Basildon Farm in Madiwela. The house we lived in was massive and haunted and we used to cling on to each other’s skirts and go upstairs for prayers as there was no electricity at that time! Colombo was a whole new world to us. We were admitted to St. Thomas College Kotte and unlike today, the whole of the Pagoda area was just wilderness with gravel roads. People used to take the route via Kotte. When we were in Matara, we were driven to school in our family buggy cart. It was a symbol of prestige at that time. However, when we were driven in the same buggy to St. Thomas College Kotte, the whole of Kotte hooted at us! (laughs)

Q: Do you hail from a musical family?
Although we had no professional singers in our family, we all loved music. My mother could play the foot-bellows and my granny used to play the flute, thus passion for music was in our genes. My two elder sisters were excellent pianists and I, who was more inclined to singing, used to envy them standing beside the piano when they played beautiful duets! My mother sent me to a Burgher lady who stayed opposite our school for piano lessons. She was a strict disciplinarian. Soon I got tired learning theory! However, I could play by-ear, a skill I possess even today. Later on I pursued music under the legendary Sunil Shantha with whom I used to sing at variety shows held in Town Hall, Colombo.

Q: How was the star born?
(Smiling) During my school days, my sister Rose used to enroll me for singing competitions for novices. At one such competition which was compeered by Eddie Yapa and Ladi Ranasinghe, I secured second place. I was Angeline de Lanerolle at that time and was around 12 years old. The winners were picked by the audience itself at Studio 6 of Radio Ceylon. Siri Sarath Kumara, who was present at the event, commented on my singing. He was keen that I pursue singing as my profession. When he came and met my parents, my father and elder brother were against the idea! However, my mother was supportive and Mr. Siri Sarath Kumara introduced me to Karu aiya of Lama Pitiya where I emerged a star. I was very popular as Angeline de Lanerolle among listeners. Sadly I couldn’t remain there for a long time due to restrictions regarding age. But Lama Pitiya laid a solid foundation to my career as an artiste.

Q: How did your career commence as a background in movies?
On the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon, my contemporaries- H.R. Jothipala, Morris Dahanayake, Christopher Paul and Henry Perera (to name a few) were quite popular at that time. There was a singing contest held among us which was judged by film producer S.M. Nayagam and celebrated music director R. Muththusamy. Henry Perera emerged as the winner for which he was awarded a Parker ‘51 pen which was a treasure at that time! Fate was such that I secured the second place for which the prize was an opportunity to sing a duet with Sydney Attygala for the film Sohoyuro produced by Mr. Nayagam. Thus I sang my first film song Adara ambare alokaya vihida… This was followed by so many- Suhada Madura Preme obata denna awe, preme deepashika, ma eda, mata asai hinehenna, pemwathiyange, sulang kurullo etc. I remember with gratitude Mr. P.L.A. Somapala who was a strong influence on my cinematic-singing career.

Q: Do you have your favourites among your songs?
I think each song of mine is special in some way. Therefore I love all of them, equally! Hits like Sulang Kurullo and Punchi Putha mage iskole giya are hummed even by the present generation. The message of love embodied in Sulang Kurullo and every mother’s experience of her child’s first day in school immortalised in Punchi putha will always stand true in times to come.

Q: Looking back, we see that many of your accompanying legends have left this world. What are your comments about the void created as a result?
It is tragic that people like Jothi and Milton left us prematurely. All the songs I sang with them became hits and people loved this combination of voices. If we have earned a name as successful artistes, it’s because of people who loved us. I think one has to be blessed with a good star to earn the love of people. They thronged the film halls in the 60s and 70s not merely to see the film but to enjoy the singing. The vacuum created as a result of the loss of these artistes cannot be filled. People question why I cannot be heard in films any more. I am not a mercenary person and I have my principles about the accompanying artistes. I have sung a lot with the new generation, but I am particular about whom I sing with.

Q: Who are your favourite singers?
H.R. Jothipala, Milton Mallawarachchi and Gratien Ananda are my favourites. I think they have voices like no other.

Q: How did you meet your life partner?
I married Lesley Gunatilaka in 1966 in quite a bit of haste! My marriage made news in the papers as well! (laughs). It came as a shock to my family as they naturally expected me to marry a person from the singing field itself. We are a loving couple and I am blessed to have Lesley as my life partner.

Q: Has any one of your children taken after you?
Both my daughters Milani and Dilshani can sing but they did not pursue it professionally. My youngest daughter Dilshani excelled in Western music though. I gave my daughters the freedom to indulge in interests of their own and never forced them to follow my footsteps as a singer. Today I am a happy grandmother of four grandsons and one grand daughter. They keep me young and fully occupied as well!

Q: What are your other interests in life?
I am very much involved in charity work for children in need. Every month I allocate a sum for children suffering from various ailments, whose parents find it hard to finance surgery. I also intend to initiate a fund for this type of children in the future. My other dream in life is to put up an abode for parents of such needy children who come to Colombo for treatment. These parents who travel from rural areas haven’t a proper place to take refuge till their children receive treatment. I hope I will be able to make this dream a reality soon.

Q: Your personality remains evergreen just like your voice. What is your secret?
(Smiling) I think I am very beautiful in my heart more than my appearance. My undying faith in God has helped me come a long way in life. I am a person who is afraid to lie, who is afraid to go against my conscience fearing that God will punish me. My faith protects me and my family. Even my home is blessed by the grace of God. I have a magnanimous heart and I love to give and help those in need. We live in a vicious world and if we can add happiness into some one else’s life, especially those in need, I think we will all be able to lead blissful lives.

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  • DaydayZed says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog ~ thanks for posting such good material.

  • Vijay News says:

    Vijay News

    Sandeshaya dedicated to Sri Lankan Sinhala films, movies, cinema… » Blog Archive Tale of a nightingale Angeline Gunatilaka at Sandeshaya.org