Rukmani Devi –
Thirty (30) years have lapsed since the startling news on the unendurable demise of the acclaimed the Nightingale Queen of Silver Screen shocked the entire country on October 28, 1978. Every Sri Lankan around the world was emotionally disturbed by this horrifying accident that stilled the colorful life of a legendary jewel worthy of treasure. She was the beauty queen, cynosure of all eyes indisputably the Nightingale Queen of the Silver Screen – Rukmani Devi.
The brimful gratitude disported by the Sri Lankan citizenry paying their highest tribute in commemoration of Death Anniversary of Rukmani.
Rukmani Devi - Nightingale Queen of the Silver Screen
She became popular in the theatrical arena by the name of Rukmani Devi even though her congenital name was Daisy Rasamma Daniels. It has been the common practice in Sri Lanka and India to introduce the artist by a prognostic name depending on talents. It is believed that it was her father who introduced the portentous name Rukmani Devi to this future Singing Queen of the Silver Screen.
Some people are of the view that her music teacher, singer H.W.Rupasinghe master introduced this insightful name by her magnificent performance of many inborn talents. Another disputing argument is that this name was presented by Jayantha Weerasekera and Michael Sannas Liyanage two famous personalities on the stage. Rukmani Vasundara was another unconfirmed name rejected by her father.
Daisy was born on January 15th of 1923 in Ramboda Nuwar Eliya to the parents of Colombo Chetty Christians as the second daughter in a family of six. In response to an article appeared in the Ceylon Observer of January 15, 2006 on her 83rd Birth Anniversary, Mr W.R.Daniels – Manager of Ceylon Observer for many years, a kinsman of Rukmani Devi wrote a letter to Sunday Observer of 5th February 2006 revealing that that she was born to Mr & Mrs Daniels in Inuvil, Jaffna. There was another speculation that she was born in Ratnapura.
Although she was born in Nuwara-Eliya she grew up in Wellawatte, Colombo, studied at St.Mathew’s School and St Clare’s School, Wellawatte. At 8 years of age, she began singing Christmas Carol songs and played a role in popular drama “The Shoemaker’s Wife”. She was just 12 years of age when she remarkably played the main female role of ‘Sita’ in Ramayanaya produced by Walter Abeysinghe in 1935 with prior permission of her father. and also performed in Janakiharanaya, Rohini, “Sirisangabo”, “Mayawathie”, “Romeo Juliet” et al during 1935 to 40’s.
In early 1940s she joined the Minerva Dramatic Club on permanent basis. She played the major role in every drama produced by the Minerva Dramatic Club in the entire country. On introduction of cinematic industry in Sri Lanka she was privileged to feature her skills on the screen in B.A.W.Jayamanne’s Kadawunu Poronduwa, the first Sinhala film ever screened in the island.
On account of her tight schedule of contract with film industry, she was compelled to leave the stage in the latter part of 1940s and 1960s.
She returned to the stage again in 1960 acting in the leading female role in Malyahanawa produced and directed by B.A.W.Jayamanne. Since then she continued to perform in Vessantara in 1961 followed by Othello, Ves Muhunu, Angulimala and Allapu Kamaraya. Accredited with ineffable versatility, her performance in ‘He comes from Jaffna’ a drama produced in English dialogue for the benefit of English speaking audience had gained credentials of high reputation.
In the latter part of 1946, competition in screening the first film was so intense between Ceylon Theaters Limited and A.V.Nayagam Industries since they both controlled the distribution of films.
A.V.Nayagam braving storms against his effort with his influence signed the contract with Minerva Dramatic Group and “Kadawunu Poronduwa” the first film was screened on January 21, 1947 making history of film industry in Sri Lanka. Rukmani Devi the most talented artist in her debut on the silver screen captured the hearts of young and old in the spellbound audience by her indomitable brilliancy in playback singing, acting and dancing performance.
During the period 1947 to1978 she demonstrated her skills in 98 films. Most importantly, she played the major role of Queen of Love in all the films from Kadawunu Poronduwa to Magul Poruwa subsequently with passage of time she turned into elderly characters by the emergence of new generation.
At the outset, she was bonded with responsibility for performance only in films produced by Minerva Dramatic Group. But later her popularity glorified in absolute demand that she was offered to play the heroine role of Malini in the famous novel Kelahanda written by W.A.Silva produced and directed by B.A.W..Jayamanne. Blessed with abundance of humility she performed the major female role in ‘Doctor’ a film produced by Cinemas Limited. She was the only actress who made a record-breaking achievement in playback singing behind her own character in all these films.
Sengawunu Pilithura, a Sinhala film produced and directed by B.A.W.Jayamanne was a resounding success. B.A.W’s intent was to film the same story of Sengawunu Pilithura in Tamil dialogue for the entertainment of the Tamil speaking audience as revealed by D.V.Seneviratne, the professional script writer.
In fruition of his ambition, Kusumalatha the leading character played by Rukmani Devi the first Sri Lankan artist to appear on Tamil screen was produced and directed by B.A.W. in 1952. Kathiruppean Unnakaga (I am waiting for you) in 1977 and Nan Ungal Tholan (I am your friend) in 1978 were the other two Tamil films of her talented career. She was a gifted artist capable of expression of dialogue in fluent Sinhala, Tamil and English languages.
Records indicate that the two films Siriyalatha and Mathabhedaya were joint productions of B.A.W. Jayamanne, Eddie Jayamanne and Rukmani Devi with box office collection.
At the time of the initial stages of the beginning of cinema in India and Sri Lanka it was the practice for the main actress to perform playback singing behind her own character on the screen. Noorjehan and Suraiya predominantly influenced the Indian screen while Rukmani Devi resembled in Sri Lanka. A reservoir of inborn talents not only dominated the queen of love on the silver screen particularly from Kadawunu Poronduwa to Pipena Kumudu throughout but also excelled as the only symbolic playback singer representing her own acting performance. Gala kandeni mathuwena, Moranawa preme hade, Anna sudo, Mewila penevi, Aadara nadiya gala, Vasanawantha kala labaa and Manahara geetha gayala together with much more songs will reverberate in our memories from generation to generation.
This incontrovertible beauty queen won the Presidential Film Award for the Best Playback Singer in 1979 for her brilliant performance of the lullaby song Doi Doi Doi Doiya Putha singing behind her own elderly role played in Ahasin Polowata directed by the great Dr Lester James Peiris. She played an elderly character in Chin Chin Nona also singing with Milton Perera and M.S.Fernando.
The popular Hindi film Devatha, the main female role played by Indian film star Anjali Devi, was dubbed into Sinhala as Pathiwatha (Chastity). She was honored with five songs in Pathiwatha and continued playback singing in Hadawath Neththo, Kadawunu Poronduwa (new cast) and Rahas Dupatha. It was her inspirational contribution to film industry by her fascinating performance on the screen in about 30 films and playback singing that she was crowned as the invincible Singing Queen of the Silver Screen.
Rukmani Devi at the height of her achievement in popularity wrote her autobiography Mage Viththi (My Life Story) in 1956 with a full coverage of information gathered from various newspaper articles appeared from time to time.
It is believed that our popular film star/playback singer maintained a cordial friendship with her contemporaries world acclaimed Indian film stars Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, Ashok Kumar, Nargis, and the Nightingale of India Lata Mangeshkar and many others.
It was a pristine glory for Rukmani Devi to have her photograph on the front page of the world recognized Indian Film Fare Magazine. She was the only Sri Lankan artiste to be honored by this international magazine. She was also featured in “ My Likes and Dislikes” column in Film Fare Magazine in 1958.
In a gallop poll conducted by Dinamina newspaper in 1955 she was elected the Most Popular Actress with a record majority of 13,000 votes over the first runner up. The Best Actress Award for her role Malini in the famous film Kela Handa was awarded to her at the Deepasika Film Festival in 1956. Accolades were flying one after the other for her outstanding contribution to the film industry. In 1966 Janatha Sammana was presented for the most popular Female Playback Singer at the Sarasaviya Film Festival.
She was felicitated with Deeparani Special Award at the Deepasika Film Festival in 1972 in recognition of her skilled character on the stage and the screen. In 1996 she was posthumously awarded with Sarasavi Sammana on her immeasurable contribution made in her capacity as the Silver Screen Idol of the era.
She was married to Eddie Jayamanne the renowned comedian of the Sinhala screen. The narration of their clandestine love marriage would be a highly desirable story for a film to attract a spellbound audience.
The issue of a commemorative stamp by the government, a distinctive tribute paid to the rare and precious greatness of a person, is the truest manifestation of highest regard to this immortal heroine of the silver screen. The memorial statue erected at Kanuwana intersection, Ja-Ela where the fatal accident occurred is the best example of a noble act of gratefulness by the nation demonstrated in deed when the good is relegated into the limbo of forgotten things in modern society. On behalf of the nation Rukmani Devi Museum and Rukmani Devi Mawatha in Negombo were opened with highest respect to this immaculate artist.
Words cannot express the high respect of the people moved by the example of her mighty ocean of humanity. She was a colossal image affluent with empathic generosity. The true sense of dignity was portrayed by her kindness in gifting a Morris Minor car to her driver Denzil out of the excellent pay received in recognition of her exhilarating performance of the main female character Malini in Kela Handa film.
Her fragrance of excellent qualities will remain etched in lasting memories of the entire Sri Lankan nation. Rukmani Devi was a proud daughter of Mother Lanka. She is immortal.
-Asian Tribune -