Throughout history, an innumerable (uncountable) number of literary
and artistic creations have been bestowed on us in the form of dramas,
songs, films, books......
only a handful of these creations have been aimed at children who are
considered as the future of the country, requiring proper nurturing and
guidance through high quality artistic material.
When we consider the aesthetic sector in Sri Lanka, we come across a
veteran dramatist who has produced quality material for children as well
as adults. She has done a lot in the area of children’s theatre; perhaps
some of the best dramas for children may have been presented by her.
She is none other than Somalatha Subasinghe, who gave local audiences
such delightful creations as ‘Thoppi Velenda’, ‘Punchi Apata Then Therei’,
Muthu etayaka nidi
Pena katiyaka pa karala
Mage dothata puthu
Some of you little kids may not be familiar with this song, but it
was quite a famous song in the drama ‘Mudu Putthu’ by Gunesena
Galappaththi. This was a drama in which Subasinghe had taken part, early
in her stage career.
She not only acted in the play, but sang her own songs. There, her
acting, melodious voice and rhythm all combined towards an outstanding
performance which delighted her audience.
Her stage career began while she was still a student of Musaeus
College, Colombo. In the University, her abilities were polished by Dr.
Ediriweera Sarachchandra. She proved her ability and talents to the
world by acting the only female character in the drama ‘Raththaran’.
Her stage acting abilities were honed further with a lot of memorable
characters like ‘Diriya Mava’, the Sinhala translation of ‘Mother
Courage’ by Henry Jayasena, ‘Liyathambara’ by Ranjith Dharmakeerthi and
‘Vesmuhunu’ by Dhamma Jagoda among a host of others. She has taken part
in Sinhala films as well; most will not forget the characters she played
in ‘Viragaya’ and ‘Mahagedara’.
As a dramatist for children, she has made a vast contribution for
their benefit. It is not easy to speak to children, but her dramas for
children were focused on providing moral lessons through simple stories.
She has successfully attempted to reach and address children from the
grassroots level. Her productions have been greatly influenced by
veteran Sri Lankan dramatists like Dr. Sarachchandra as well as foreign
masters such as Bertolt Brecht.
She says, “Artistes in any field should be committed to promoting
social justice and conscience. Although the world is changing, good
morals and principles need to be taught to the children.”
She had been striving to develop the talents of children through the
Lanka Children’s and Youth Theatre Organisation (LCYTO), a voluntary
organisation she founded in 1981. According to her, every child should
be happy. Besides food and shelter, theatre and other quality
entertainment play an important role in their lives by teaching them
The famous veteran dramatist for children, Subasinghe says that
adults have a big responsibility when it comes to creating a world which
is suitable for children.
“They have to educate children, so that they would cooperate with
each other in society and get the strength to live because the child
gets everything from his/her atmosphere. When a child is small, he/she
is very nice and receives a lot of special attention and treatment. But,
later, the adults give up on the child due to many reasons.
forget that children do what they see, hear, and observe in society.
Therefore, society has a responsibility in making a good generation of
children without inculcating bad values and morals, and also anger,
hatred and jealousy in them.”
She further says, “The child is not an adult, but he/she has his/her
own mental and physical needs. Therefore, what we give him/her should be
necessary and applicable to him/her. In short, what we give a child
should be digested by him/her. If not, the child’s mental and physical
system will be damaged.”
Her family atmosphere had greatly helped and influenced her to look
at problems with an open mind. Coming from a family of teachers, she
also went on to become a teacher. Not content to settle for that, she
went on to introduce a new look to the theatre. The awards she has won
in many different areas such as acting, directing and production are too
numerous to mention.
In a way, we can describe Somalatha Subasinghe as a radical character
on and off the stage. She practises what she believes in, and this, as
we all know, is not an easy trait to come by.
Punchi Apata Then Therei
Stage dramas with her participation
Opera Wanyosi of Wole Soyinka
The trial of Dedan Kimathi
- Asha Senevirathne
Pix: Priyantha Hettige