Titled ‘Irangani ….. as told to kumardesilva’, is a vivid autobiography of the life of this legendary and much-loved stage, screen and television actress.
It takes readers from her carefree childhood days sailing down the Gurugoda Oya on paaruwas and the peace and quiet of Moodugomuwa, off Ruwanwella … from the Christmases and the Vesaks of her early years at the Mideeniya Walauwwa … from her school days at St. Bridget’s Convent where she remembers “wearing a hat with a veil to school”, and later Bishop’s College and its animated hostel life where the girls “used to eat anything and everything at midnight feasts” … to her dare-devil escapades at University when her sister Kamini and she “rode bicycles when good Sinhala girls were not supposed ride’.
The book also takes readers to her foray onto the stage first at University and then at the Lionel Wendt Theatre … through her two marriages, to Prof. S.B. Dissanayake and then to Winston Serasinghe … to life in Bristol and London … to her two sons Ravi and Ranjith … to ‘Ruk Rekaganno’, her the voluntary service organisation which takes the message of conservation to grass roots Sri Lanka … to the big screen and her portfolio of death-defying experiences … to the little screen where she doesn’t quite enjoy “acting to somebody’s (off-camera) hand” … and now to a premature semi-retirement at Epitamulla in Pitakotte.
“I consider it a singular honour that Mrs. Serasinghe consented to my playing the role of ghost writer in this project”, says well-known media personality Kumar de Silva, Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters. “As ghost writer, I also find myself landed in a strange dilemma in that this book is both mine and also not mine. There’s a very fine line that divides these two situations which I constantly kept crossing, in what I now consider both a richly fulfilling and totally humbling experience. In retrospect, the both of us had our unforgettable moments these past two years, collaborating on this story, which I modestly hope, will soon end up as a collector’s item.”
“When Kumar offered me the opportunity to be the publisher of Mrs. Serasinghe’s biography, I knew instantly that I had been offered the chance to publish a literary gem that will be greatly appreciated by many Sri Lankans. It is certain to be one of those books which will find a permanent space in the bookshelf of every house it finds its way to. Perhaps this will become one of those books that will be handed down to the next generation as a cherished possession by booklovers”, says the publisher Ranjith Samaranayake.
Despite more than well over half a century’s fame and unbroken popularity with generations of Sri Lankans, Irangani Serasinghe is still the “village girl” at heart as she seamlessly combines charm and simplicity with sheer graciousness and absolute dignity.
“The village was an extremely quiet place. Now it is an entirely different story, sadly, with the sound of traffic and people. … Right through my life and even to this day, silence became, and still is, a very important part of my life …… I have looked for this kind of peace and silence all my life. Unfortunately I cannot find it anywhere today”, she says in her autobiography.
Mrs Serasinghe first hit the stage 55 years ago in 1948 in the Prof. Cuthbert Amarasinghe’s production of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray in 1948. “That was my first play. We were asked to come and read at the auditions. I happily ended up doing the lead role,” she recalls.
Coincidentally, this year, 2013, is significant in that the Lionel Wendt Theatre celebrates its 60th anniversary. Irangani Serasinghe records thus in her story ….. “At that time all the plays were shown at the King George’s Hall at the University of Colombo. The opening of the Lionel Wendt Theatre in December 1953 was quite an event. At the King George’s Hall we had to get the lights fixed on but here we had a proper theatre with proper lights and sound. Everything was geared for proper performances. We had brand new dressing rooms and toilets too. We opened the theatre with Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths. I played Nastya. Colombo did not have much entertainment at that time and we used to attract a really good crowd.”