His dream, my nightmare
laughs Malini Weeramuni:
Only Malini Weeramuni is at home when I walk into the cool interior
of the "Mole Hill" on Kotta Road Borella on a Tuesday morning. "Namel
has gone for a radio show" she tells me, greeting me with her warm smile
and open arms.
It's not often that I get hugged and kissed like this when I am on an
assignment. But this is nothing new at the Punchi Theatre; the moment
you walk in, you become "family".
Looking just as young or even perhaps younger than Seelawathi Nanda
in 'Rata Giya Attho' (remember how she takes a miris gala to London?)
Malini Weeramuni is eager to talk about the up coming Nurthi Gee Night
scheduled for next Saturday (25th, August 2007) at the Punchi Theatre.
Malini and Namel Weeramuni (File Photo) , The Punchi Theatre
,Pic by Vipula Amarasinghe
"We are very grateful to the Tower Hall Theatre Foundation for
agreeing to perform for us at the Punchi Theatre".
I jot this down assiduously, eagerly waiting for an opportunity of
asking her to talk about her life with her "knight in shining armour"
Namel for, seeing them together it becomes obvious that here is a couple
who is in perfect harmony with each other, a couple who has found their
own music-a music which had lasted forty-five years.
So, how did Namel and Malini meet? Shattering my great expectations
of hearing about a Jane-Eyre like encounter (he fell from his horse at
her feet) she dismisses my question with a flick of her hand and a real
conversation-stopper "We are cousins". Oh! Cousins, but obviously
cousins who are tailor made for each other. Malini becomes dreamy as she
recalls her first Christmas with Namel in London.
"There was snow all around us on that day. The small room we were
living in, had only a paraffin heater to keep the cold away. I prepared
a meal of rice, dhal, chicken curry and potatoes for dinner.
Namel who had been working the whole day, pumping petrol, for these
were the early seventies when everything had to be manually operated,
came home at about ten thirty in the night grinning from ear to ear.
This being Christmas day all his customers had tipped him lavishly. Most
of them had wished him a Merry Christmas and asked him to keep the
After a bath, and after dinner when he gave all the money he had
earned that day, to me I went to the kitchen, found an old biscuit tin
and placed the pounds in it, muttering to myself "this is for our
She then laughs and rephrases the sentence "His dream and my
nightmare", for maintaining the Punchi Theatre with the increasing costs
of electricity etc. is no easy task.
The collection thus begun, was transformed, upon their return to Sri
Lanka, into a special theatre with its doors always open to artistes
veterans and amateurs alike, to stage their shows for a smaller audience
instead of paying tremendous amounts for big theatre halls.
But filling that old biscuit tin had not been easy. Namel, after
completing his apprentice work at a solicitor's office during the day
time worked at a petrol station from five to ten in the night.
As his income was not enough to meet all their daily expenses Malini
too had found work, as a clerk in a hospital at Lancaster Gate during
the day time and as a cashier at the Mat Market in Notinghill Gate from
six in the evening to nine in the night.
"We had to save money to buy the tickets for our three children who
were being looked after by my mother and sister back in Sri Lanka. By
the time we brought them to London we could afford a bigger room"
She remembers how a friend called David Scott had complimented her
one day by saying "Even if you go to a deserted island you will always
find something to cook for Namel." Things had begun to pick up when
Namel became a solicitor.
"He did very well" says Malini in a voice brimming with pride. "He
formed a company of his own and had three offices employing forty five
people". Yet, they gave all this up to return, home, to their
motherland. "We remember trying to find a place to rehearse The Lame and
the Blind on one of our holidays here. All the rehearsal halls were so
expensive. Namel lost his temper and said 'let's build at least a Maduwa
of our own so that we will have a place to rehearse and stage our
Today, the 'maduwa' is an oasis for every kind of artiste willing
enough to plunge into the financially profitless yet spiritually
rewarding world of creativity.
The most recent contribution made by the Namel Malini Punchi Theatre
is the introduction of the concept of Dinner Theatre to Sri Lankan art
Having already conducted four events in this series with the aim of
introducing the artistes of the 50s and the 60s to the younger
generations the Punchi Theatre is now preparing for the fifth show
titled 'Nurthi Gee Night.'
These shows are unique because at the end of the performance the
audience has the opportunity of not only mingling and chatting with the
artistes but also of having dinner with them as well. "Namel and I are
happy to keep the torches burning for the artistes of the past who
deserve to be brought back into the limelight.
But it is with immense difficulties that we find the money to cover
the expenses for these events. I use every rupee I earn from acting in
teledramas on the Punchi Theatre and it is not as if I am paid 60 or 70
thousand rupees." Malini stops talking.
The sound of the traffic outside increases. I move my eyes onto my
note book. It is hard to take in the tears glistening in Malini's eyes.
Minutes pass before I look up again. But now, she is smiling.
"We are happy that we returned to Sri Lanka" she assures me and says
she wishes to send this message to all those Sri Lankans who have sought
greener pastures in foreign places. "Do not turn your back on the
country where you learnt your ABC (ayanu ayanu ugath rata). Its never
too late to return home and do something worthwhile for your country.
Leave those bottles of Scotch and come back!"
Nurthi Gee Night
An evening of legendary music:
Who among us has not heard the song, Danno Budunge; sung at weddings,
on family outings and paduru parties? You may not know all the words but
you are bound to know the line that follows the first two words.
If you are cracking your brains trying to remember, your hard disc
needs a replacement. But you are forgiven if you are someone of my
generation (born in the 70s or after) if you say you do not know that
the song is from a drama called Siri Sangabo.
"Danno Budunge belongs to the Nurthi Gee tradition which is the
predecessor of modern music, explains Douglas Siriwardene, Director
General of the Tower Hall Theatre Foundation. Nurthi Gee night at the
Punchi Theatre on 25th August 2007, he says, will feature songs almost
hundred years old but which continue to be popular among the old and the
In order to educate the younger generation, brief descriptions of the
songs will be given at the beginning of each performance providing an
educational as well as an entertainment filled evening.Catch you there
on Saturday (25th August 2007) at the Punchi Theatre at 6.45 p.m. to
watch a brilliant performance of Nurthi Gee and to share a Kottu
afterwards, mingling with the stars.
For more information contact Malini Weeramuni on 2672121/0773170117