- The Film Idol Who Created History
It was a time there were no Television Facilities in Sri- Lanka. In 1950s I was a Grade 6 girl when I saw a film for the 1st time in my life. The film was “Umathu Visvasaya”(The Fanatic Faith) in which the Sinhala Film Idol Rukmani Devi, stole the show, with her unbeatable performance. It happens to be the 1st film of Clarice de Silva, another popular star of the bygone days.
After a few weeks, we were strolling in the Negombo beech, when I noted a smaller figure of the massive picture, seen on the screen standing by a car. When I informed the others about this, we all realized that it was Rukmani Devi, the most popular actress at that time. We did not hesitate to gather around her as usual of silly schoolgirls. She was very pleasant towards us, and spoke in a delicate voice.
In the evenings, when we played in the spacious garden of the house named Priya Vimana, adjoining the boarding, we enjoyed the sight of Rukmani and Eddie, passing by in their open car, with some friends, sitting high on top of the rear seat. We used to wave at her and she too waves in return.
It was at this time, we decided to visit her one evening. We walked into their house, named “Jaya-Ruk”, which was not far from us. The pretty slim figure in a saree, spared her time to be talking to us, without considering that we were only school girls. She gathered her memories and said “Oh! Yes, I remember some girls from Priya Vimana waving at us” She treated us with a tin of cream crackers and cheese, which we enjoyed as much as her conversation. After spending about half an hour with her, we bade her “Good Bye” and were on the road, when Eddie Jayamanna peeped through the front window, and said “Ah me oyagollo yanawada? Mama denui katha karanna ave” (Are you all leaving? Only now I came to talk to you.) We spoke a few words with him and turned back. While we were walking we saw them passing in the car waving at us.
There was a school friend of ours, related to Eddie and Rukmani, who used to visit them often. I would put in her own words how she related an incident that occurred when she visited them once.
“It was an afternoon when I visited Daisy Akka’s. I walked through the house with no one to be seen. I went as far as the bathroom the door of which was not fully closed. I happen to push open the door. Oh! The Ivory gold beautiful naked figure was right in front of me. In excitement she covered herself with her long hair, which was knee length. I felt so shy, and said “Sorry” while closing the door. I turned back and ran home nonstop”
Rukmani Devi created history by going to act at a time when women in Ceylon did not go on stage. The female roles in drama were done by males at that time. She paved way for a series of film stars who are shining in the silver screen now.
I remember her writing in an autobiography, how she would spend her old age in a small house, at the top of a hill. Alas! She never grew old! She ended her life at a time mostly unexpected by all the film fans of Sri Lanka. She was so faithful a daughter who was heading towards Negombo, to get the blessings of the parents, for a show of their own, to be held in Galle the following day. She could never reach them! She met with the fatal accident on Colombo Katunayake road.
Though this happened over two decades ago, I can still remember how she went on her last journey to Heaven, amidst a large gathering, moaning desperately, while trying to get a glimpse of the dead body of the so popular star.