Bonsoir Diaries - a thrill to read | Daily News

Bonsoir Diaries - a thrill to read

Sumithra and Dr Lester James Peries

Kumar de Silva is a household name. He first appealed to audiences with his mild mannered characteristics coupled with a sense of humor. The Bonsoir front man as he may be called, Kumar now looks back at those 'fields of golden red'' (to quote Sting).

Kumar didn't speak much at the launch of the Bonsoir diaries. And truth be told, he doesn't really need to. His days in front of the lenses have catapulted him to fame. Instead others spoke and for once Kumar was in the shoes of the audience.

"We are gathered here today at the launch of the latest book written by Kumar De Silva - The Bonsoir diaries, one of the twelve main events in the frame work of the second French film festival which takes place in Colombo since the 18th of June until the 14th of July. During my first year spent in Sri Lanka, wherever I went to an official function or to a party in Colombo or even to the Bandaranaike International Airport, I always met somebody, who, upon recognizing my blue, white and red 'nationality', comes directly to me and speaks with great affection about the Bonsoir television program. Whoever the officer on duty at the airport, whoever the renowned actress at the party, whoever the civil servant at the official function, they all talk with the same emotion about this famous program which reached cult status on Sri Lankan television. The Bonsoir diaries is a delightful collection of 50 unpretentious essays, which transforms the book into a testimony of the 'belle epoque' of Bonsoir," said Michel Treutenaere, Counselor for Cooperation and Cultural Affairs, French Embassy in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Kumar de Silva

Bonsoir is an effort to showcase France in all of the dimensions of science and technology, sports, politics and culture depicted through numerous anecdotes and short stories. "This book is a multidimensional approach to French culture and various cultural aspects of France."

The article would not be complete without mentioning the publisher of Bonsoir Diaries, who held hands with Kumar and saw the entire article through. And that man is the Publisher of the Bonsoir Diaries Ranjith Samaranayake.

"This is an evening which was anticipated for a long time. Just as much as Kumar is going to treasure the memory of this book launch as the author of the Bonsoir diaries, I too will treasure the memory of it, as its publisher. It is not everyday that a publisher would come across a manuscript which is certain to become a book; that will become the talk of the town. I knew that for certain when the project of the Bonsoir diaries came my way. I say that this book will become the talk of the town because I have seen how much the book has to offer, taking the readers along a thrilling path o`f memory."

Q: How old was the Bonsoir program?

Exactly 25 years old. It ran from July 1985 to Dec 2010. I was part of its first fifteen years, generally referred to as Bonsoir's glorious era, la belle epoch, as the French say.

Q: How did you end up being its presenter? As in what lead you down that path?

My Sunday Observer journalist friend Rajitha Weerakoon once told me that the French Embassy was looking for a co-host for the few months old Bonsoir programme. The candidate had to be a graduate, have a diploma in French and have journalism experience - all of which I had. With a couple of snags in between and a bit of Sri Lankan backstabbing (yes of course), well karma had it that I landed with the job.

Q: What qualifications did you have under your belt at that time?

Reading a section from the book
Kumar congratulated

A: All three of the above. I had worked for one full year at the 'Daily News' just after A-Ls and prior to University admission. In the meantime I got my diploma in the French language from the Alliance Francaise. And I had just got my degree in English Honors and French from the University of Kelaniya.

Q: What really made you want to do Bonsoir? What does it mean to you?

A: I think it was my love for France and the French language which propelled me on.

Q: Who were you fellow presenters? How was it working with them? Any poignant memories related to Bonsoir?

My original co-host and co-producer was Yasmin Rajapakse. She is just as much a Francophone and Francophile as I am, and this is what led to the initial success of Bonsoir. The both of us didn't have to go through translators and translations. We went to the source. It was also our love for France and her multi-dimensional variety that drove the programme to the heights it reached. On the technical side there was Chintananda Abeysekera, son of the legendary Chitrananda Abeysekera. He complemented us perfectly. A few years later were Krishantha Dayananda and Sulani Indraguptha who became a household hit with the Bonsoir Sinhala programme. Ah the memories are numerous ...that's also one of the reasons why I wrote the book.

Q: Yes, what made you write this book ?

Two reasons. One is because I wanted to share our story with our thousands of former fans all over Sri Lanka.

And secondly and more importantly because not too long ago I discovered to my horror that the Bonsoir archives do not exist, to reasons beyond my comprehension. When word went around, a lot of people kept asking me to write the Bonsoir Story. Hence 'The Bonsoir Diaries' which I hope will in some way come close to a written archive.

Q: When do you think it will be time to hang up your boots as Bonsoir presenter ?

I hung them up in 2000, that's 13 years ago. In fact the original team quit around that time. Bonsoir then continued under various different people and finally died in December 2010. It now remains a beautiful memory.

Q: Plans for the future ?

Oh lots of things. I'll never stop working as long as the adrenalin flows. In October this year the Alliance Francaise de Kotte a Colombo (Coniston Place) will present 'Nostalgie03' my third annual exhibition of black and white photographs on France at the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery.

The theme this year is 'The Eiffel Tower - unplugged'. I've also already begun work on 'Sumitra', on the life and times of Sri Lanka's celebrated film maker Sumitra Peries. This completes my trilogy with 'Lester' and 'Irangani'.