Enlivening memories of Wedi Raju | Daily News

Enlivening memories of Wedi Raju

Prof Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s Maname stage drama is respected here and abroad as a masterpiece. Maname having been crafted associating the ‘Nadagam’ genre is rich with elements of folk theatre traditions.

There are many stories associating making of Maname and its original cast.

Edmund Wijesinghe is a name that lingers in the minds of theatregoers with much adore. By portraying the manly Weddah Chieftain aka Wedi Raju in the original production of Maname, he took the audience by storm. He could steal the show every time it was staged.

Edmund Wijesinghe’s stature…echoing voice…manly expressions…awkward stances and bottled-up violence on stage harnessing a unique presentation style made the audiences perceive him as a real Weddah brought instantly to the Maname stage to claim rights to princess Maname.

Trelicia Abeykoon played princess Maname. Ben Sirimanne who portrayed prince Maname in contrast had a very soothing and rhythmic performing and singing style that highlighted Wedi Raju’s character.

Many theatregoers flocked to see Maname with the motive of seeing a better version of a real Weddah on stage who was the anti-hero of the story.

The Wedi Raju’s thundering yelling on stage when he confronts Maname Kumaru could make the viewers shiver. The tenor of Edmund Wijesinghe’s voice could make the walls of Lionel Wendt theatre vibrate.

A special mentioning should be made of late Charles Gunasinghe Gurunnanse who made the music scores in Maname using the drum called ‘maddalaya’. The sound of maddalaya harmonizing with Edmund’s voice added more credibility to The Wedi Raju’s personality.

Blooming Romance

Maname script itself made Wedi Raju a rough lover who falls for Maname Kumari for her sensual beauty. The romance within him bursts out instantly and he desperately tries to express his feelings towards the woman the best possible way he could.

Raja isuru netha… natha mini kirulu
Etha meme hima gira …dennemi siyalu
Rakuseku se maa… gatha gorahedi we
Wilasa ese muda….sitha noma dedi we

In the climaxing scene Vedi Raju confronts Maname Kumaru showing the stature of a real leader and showcasing his grandeur to both Maname Kumaru and his bride as the real King of the forests.

Me arane… himagira sita derane…
Maage sarane…wae maage sarane…
Nethahoth weya marane…
Mulu Dambadiwatama… thopa maha raja wuwa
Maage vijithaya meya… mama wemi aga raja..!

However, on realizing Maname Kumari’s deceiving act towards her Prince and thus her dishonesty, Vedi Raju instantly rejects the princess. Here he shows he is a real man touching upon the Yin Yan factors that describe muscularity and femininity.

Amana gathi ethi meweni anganun…
Maweniyan hata kumana saranada..?

Princess Maname’s affection towards the Wedi Raju in a way could be seen as a woman’s hidden sexual desires to enjoy rough and carnal pleasures from a beast-like man. Also on realizing her safety in the woods was at stake she would have taken that position. This notion was however criticized by scholars saying it is a rude comment levelled at sexism.

Finding Edmond

When Prof Sarachchandra did auditions for the characters of Maname what he had in mind about Wedi Raju was a man with raw masculine outlook and a singing voice that had depth. However consequent to not finding a suitable individual for the character he was on the verge of abandoning the project.

Ben Sirimanne and Trelicia Abeykoon had been already selected at the time to play Prince and princess Maname.

It is at this time Hemamali Gunasinghe (Who too played princess Maname and was later married to Siri Gunasinghe) and Arthur Silva had identified Edmund Wijesinghe as a potential candidate to play Wedi Raju. The latter had been rendering his voice as a singer at the carnival held at Bogambara grounds parallel to Kandy Peraheha.

Having presented him to Prof Sarachchandra the very next day, Wijesinghe had been selected to play Wedi Raju subsequently to an auditioning. The rest is history.

When Wijesinghe bid adieu to the character in later years Dhamma Jagoda and Nissanka Diddeniya did Wedi Raju and the baton was subsequently passed on to the new generations.

Theatregoers still flock to see Maname at any venue it is being shown.

Edmund Wijesinghe apart from playing Wedi Raju in Maname, did the Rajaguru’s character in the same play. In Prof Sarachchandra’s play ‘Kada Walalu’ he was Seriwanija while Dr Sarath Amunugama was Kachchaputa.

Edmund Wijesinghe did certain characters in cinema as well. The character he played in Sath Samudura (Cyril Wickramage’s elder brother) being one. He was bestowed with a special Sarasavi award in 1968 for this character.

Wijesinghe married the graceful lady called Indrani Peiris who sang in the Maname chorus. The couple used to roam in their Peugeot 203 car with their daughter Sharmila and two sons in Edmund’s glory days. Edmund’s brother-in-law was late Herbert Ranjit Peiris who made the film Ek Tem Ge. Late cinema personality Ebert Wijesinghe was Edmund’s younger brother.

There is a subtle similarity between Wedi Raju in Maname and Gorin Mudalali in Welikathara cinema. In both scenarios the anti-hero’s character almost surpassed the hero’s performance to entice audiences. And the reason for the conflict in both setups is a beautiful woman.

The teacher turned thespian Edmund Wijesinghe’s role in the Sri Lankan Art sphere has to be preserved for posterity.