Memorable Mano | Daily News


Memorable Mano


He used to look at the pieces of furniture, ranged against the fourth wall, with an inventive enthusiasm. He was a soft giant. His theatrical splendour whizzed around the stage, above and beyond. He had the opportunity to dine good and proper with giants on the stage: Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Dayananda Gunawardena, Sugathapala de Silva, Gunasena Galappatti and Henry Jayasena.

And now, he has joined their assembly in eternity.

Jayalath Manoratne is a rare species in Sri Lankan theatre. He is among the handful of actors who have actually submitted a thesis and earned a doctorate – rather than being conferred an honorary one. Dr Jayalath Manoratne’s PhD was on the performance art aspects of theatre in the 1970s. The thesis is now available as a published work.

Mano, as he is fondly known in the performance scene, entered the theatre at his school Poramadulla Central College, when Sunil Sriyananda chose the lad for his Aspa Gudung. The play was among the shortlisted eight at the annual inter-school drama competition and the performance earned Mano a merit award. He entered the University of Peradeniya and grew up in the company of Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra, the legend of Maname and Sinhabahu fame.

That was a period brimming with eloquent surprises for Jayalath Manoratne, still an undergraduate. The professor was impressed with his voice when he sang Amaradeva’s Vasanthaye Mal. He was offered a major role in Pemato Jayati Soko. Manoratne could play miscellaneous roles in Maname and Sinhabahu. The 1970s were around the corner.

Even with feet firmly set on other media – the small and the silver screens – Manoratne was covetously in demand throughout the 60s and 70s on the stage. He was not just a theatre performer. He was one of the few who have studied theatre and performance – from folk to stylized mode - academically.

When he brings Tala Mala Pipila on stage, the audience comes to terms with the effects of the generation gap. The traditional musician’s son gets carried away by the waves of modern trend and becomes a victim. Guru Tharuwa is about our fate when literature is wiped out of the schools. Sudu Redi Horu is an attempt to introduce the age-old Sandesha poetry mode into the stage play. Lokaya Tani Yayak is Mano’s take on Mahagamasekara and his poetry. Andarela takes us to the 19th Century Sri Lanka.

Handa Nihanda is a tale of two generations: old and young. The older generation feels betrayed, while it is a necessity for the younger generation. Both generations need to survive. It is through Mano’s eyes that we get to see that the elder generation has fewer needs to survive. How so? Simple. That generation did not have much to spend on. So they could easily uphold their principles. Manoratne makes a genuine effort to elaborate the generation gap, with a sense of humour. The traditional master and co perform a break dance for one. And there is this superstar type programmes. The young girls infuse the age-old classic Silumina Seya Bandimi in rap music.

Handa Nihanda is Manoratne’s empathic interpretation of this commercialization. He explains how the traditional musicians had to face evolution whether they liked it or not. During the Gramophone era, the traditional maestro had enough time and space to uphold their principles and virtues. And Manoratne does not lose his temper with this commercialism factor.

Although he is not sympathetic either, those in the audience won’t feel any grudges against the businessman. At least the businessman is not like the one he created in Guru Taruwa. As an artiste who belongs to the old school, Manoratne has ample reasons to lament this evolution. But he won’t let his emotions pervade the play.

The stage response keeps on fluctuating from time to time.

“They are now hassle-free. They are not scared to step out of the threshold. More audience for the stage means the bankruptcy of the tele industry. The people are disappointed at teledramas. That’s why they reach for the stage,” Manoratne expressed his satisfaction with this writer sometime back.

Bringing out a stage production – though people are ready to be in the audience halls – is nevertheless a tough job. Manoratne knew the difficulties.

Finding a good script is so much harder than gathering a good cast. Manoratne never criticised the translated scripts despite himself being a thespian of original works. The translated works bring us to the world-renowned works, he said. But he added that we should have our identity too.

Manoratne clinched many awards ranging from OCIC, Presidential, Sarasavi and the State Literary and Drama awards. He was the best actor back to back in 1991 and 1992 for his performance in Socrates and Dvitva.

Before finally being confined to bed, Mano had been extensively travelling throughout the country. Many artistes think their job is done once a work of art is completed. It was not so for the stage artiste in the calibre of Manoratne. He kept on fine-tuning his theatrical works.

That discipline kept him alive even in the sickbed. Though physically challenged during the last stages of his life, Mano never let go of the good old memories. He would share such memories as best as he could amid the physical difficulties.

He loathed the politicians. He upheld the classical tradition. He stood for what he thought just. He was happily settled down with the likes of Mahagama Sekara, Ibsen, Socrates, Kalidasa, Brecht and Shakespeare.

Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.

William Shakespeare could not have been truer when he penned these thoughts for Julius Caesar.

Because that epitomises the Jalayath Manoratne saga.

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