The Unsung Action Star of Sinhala Cinema | Daily News
Wilson Karunaratne:

The Unsung Action Star of Sinhala Cinema

Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

– Henry Scott (Death is nothing at all)

Sri Lankan fans of Sinhala cinema were surprised and saddened to hear of the demise of “karu aiya”. Wilson Karunaratne was a stuntman who was mostly cast as a villain in more than 240 films. He was a fighter whose quick movements and piercing gaze captivated many. As a friend pointed out even as Wilson had aged, he never lost that penetrating (at times intimidating) gaze. His trademark beard turned ‘salt and pepper’ as the years went by but he still maintained it.

Hollywood had many gifted stars in the style of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Steven Segal. These were professionally trained men who had spent years learning martial arts. They wielded their rapid kicks, blocks and punches to thrill global audiences. By stark contrast Wilson Karunaratne did not seem to possess any certified martial arts training. However he displayed his own home-grown style of action that set the screen ablaze with action.

Hollywood had its glorious stuntmen, of whom Dar Robinson is remembered as the greatest, he broke 19 world records. He introduced dragline cables to cinema for use in high fall scenes. In 1986 whilst filming the movie Million Dollar Mystery, he rode his bike and fell off a cliff to his death. Once again in contrast to these top paid and acclaimed foreign stuntmen, Wilson Karu took the same risks in the Sinhala film industry but with little reward. Men of his talent and calibre didn’t truly reach their pinnacle, which is rather sad. They were always in supporting roles, in many films.

Self-taught fighter

As I mentioned before it was his fierce gaze that set the mood for a violent and pulsating confrontation. Throughout his acting career, this self-taught fighter had unlimited energy. He was always ready to retake a scene with a positive attitude. I have heard that whilst shooting a film he was always ready to encourage his fellow actors and actresses.

Wilson Karu was born on October 28, 1942. He established himself as the villain of Sinhala Cinema and made his debut appearance in the Hadawath Neththo film directed by Subayar Makeem in 1974. This was the early stages of Sinhala cinema in Sri Lanka and ‘karu aiya’ was fortunate to be cast at the right time.

As his career progressed Wilson starred in the following films, where he showcased his acumen as a fighter and stunt coordinator.

Some of his best movies included Jeewana Ganga, Yakadaya, Selinage Walawuwa, Weera Puran Appu (1978), Kiduru Kumari, Valampuri, Bambara Geethaya, Bicycale, Yali Pipunu Malak, Chandi Pataw, Sasara Chethana, Koti Waligaye, Dinuma, Amme Oba Nissa, Christhu Charithaya (as one of the thieves crucified at Calvary), Wade Barinam Wadak Ne, Ranabime Weeraya, Bajar Eke Chandiya (1998), Muwan Palasse Kadira, Soora Weera Chandiyo, Demodara Palama where he acted with Gamini Fonseka, Edath Chandiya Adath Chandiya, Age Wairaya where he starred as Rocky which is one of his memorable roles, Dadabima, Yakada Pihatu as Gal Somey again one of his awesome performances. He acted as a minister in the film One Shot.

Fight scenes

I remember a single question raised by sociologist Ian C. Jarvie in his consideration of “the relationship between the societies that produce films and the societies created in films. What grabs people’s attention? This question has been central to psychological research for a long time. In action films viewers expect explosive fight scenes, which always involve risk to the stuntmen. Wilson Karu was a dare devil in his own right. He stood above the others in this area as he was fearless and agile loaded with energy like a Gatling gun. He took risks that showed he had nerves of steel. I once had the privilege of meeting him at an event at the BMICH, and once he began talking I realized beneath the stern exterior and dominant gaze was a down to earth and kind human being. The latter days of his life were not a bed of roses. He was subject to a fall which would have caused him much discomfort. Wilson Karunaratne dazzled movie fans with his robust and aggressive action. He will be missed by all in the local film industry. May his soul rest in peace.


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