Rukmani Devi an enchanted life of a Star

biography_img1 Rukmani Devi
biography_img2 Rukmani Devi on the cover of the "Film fare" Magazine.

The queen of Sinhala Cinema and the first and the only Sri Lankan actor to grace the "Film fare" magazine cover. Rukmani Devi lived the life of a fairytale which most of the Bollywood starts live and we as viewers imagine and dream of today. She was also the first person to be featured in the "My likes and Dislikes" column in the same magazine, which we would only dream of achieving today. We always look at the present day Indian stars and admiring them, but we should not forget that we also had film actors who lived a luxurious life those days similar to most of the Indian stars today. We read and admire these stars and make them part of our lives because their lives are exactly like a film. They live a reel life off screen and Rukmani Devi was and will always remain as the most glamorous and most talked about Sri Lankan actor, whose life was actually like a film but it was indeed her real life.

biography_img3 From left Helen Nilanthi, Rukmani, Father, Florence's daughter Kanchana, Mother, Florence. Freddy and Sarojini are standing behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Rukmani Devi was born as Daisy Rasammah Daniels in Ramboda, Nuwara Eliya to a lower middle class family on the 15th of January 1923. She was the second child in a family of six which included an elder sister Mabel, and a brother named Fredrick (Freddy) and three younger sisters, namely Florence, Helen and Sarojini. She loved singing from a very young age and would always stand by the grammar phone and used to sing the songs played on it.

It is no doubt that she showed the signs of becoming a great singer from a very early age. She sang her first ever song "Siri Buddha gaya vihare" with Rupasinghe Master when she was only 13 years old. This was the stepping stone of a very prosperous singing career. A career which paved the way for her to become, the first Sri Lankan actress to grace the silver screen and also ultimately become an overnight star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rukmani Devi about the incident in her own words...

"The song was recorded at a place in Boralla. My fear increased more after we went there. There were many other singers who have come to record their songs as well. I was the only one who was new to that place amongst them. Everyone else was popular singers those days. I was overwhelmed to get an opportunity to sing a song along with them but at the same time I felt afraid as well. Anyhow I sang the song "Siri Buddha gaya Vihare" song with Rupasinghe Master. After I finished singing the song everyone who ignored me for so long came up to me and gave me their best wishes. I also noticed that people are looking at me and I felt over whelmed."

Before her singing career was launched her name "Daisy Rasammah Daniels was changed to Rukmani Devi as we know of her today. This harmonious and most appropriate name was given to her by Jayantha Weerasekara and Michael Sannas Liyanage. Because of her melodious and enchanting voice Rukmani had the opportunity to join a theatre group called "Minerva" through her friend Mr. Stanley Mallawarachchi. He was also a member of the group. She first joined as a singer to sing songs in between scenes while they switch to the next set up. (Heavy production design was used in the stage plays and hence a lot of time was needed to change from one to another). In the olden days only males used to act in plays and all the female roles were also done by males. Minerva theatre Group's first production was not a huge success but with the success of their second production "Awatharaya", Mr. B.A.W. Jayamanna wrote a new play called "Kadawunu Poronduwa" (Broken Promise) which was staged with females assaying the lead roles for the first time. Rukmani was chosen to play the lead role Ranjini which she reenacted again for the silver screen. Rukmani honestly admits that her life was full of surprises and that she cannot remember half of them. But yet after becoming such a prominent figure she was so humble enough to quickly state that each and everyone's lives are full of surprises so how can my life be different from anyone else.

"Everyone's life is a new story that it is difficult to find someone who will tell you that his life story couldn't be published as a novel. If we try to write about someone's story it will be difficult to find a tale which is uninteresting and boring. I am also a person like that."

Rukami Devi even though carried a larger than life persona she always tried to relate herself with the common man, which made her fans adore her even more and also try to resemble her. She urged her fans and made the ordinary people realize that anyone can become a Rukmani Devi if they really want to and these actions in turn made her more popular which lead to a lager fan base.

Falling in love is a common thing for everyone, it can happen anywhere at any time to anybody and Rukmani was no different from anyone of us. While working with the Minerva theater group she fell in love with Eddie Jayamanna and both of them got married on the 18th of February 1943 at the Walingampitiya Church.

biography_img4 Eddie and Rukmani on their Wedding Day

Rukmani Devi on her marriage to Eddie Jayamanna in her own words...

"I think the story of my marriage to Eddie and the story of the Sinhala Cinema cannot be separated from one another. My view on this matter might not be of great importance. But if I forget that I am Rukmani Devi and try to look at it from a different angle, what we see is that if we both didn't meet and got married the Sinhala film history would have been written in a different way. If Eddie-Rukmani had not been married, the first Sinhala film may not be "Kadawunu Poronduwa". May be we would not be film stars too. I think if I say that our destinies were written according to the needs of the Sinhala Cinema. I honestly believe that proclamation will not be an over estimation or miss- interpretation of the truth."

 

 

biography_img5 "Kadawunu Poronduwa" Film poster

"Kadawunu Poronduwa" was an instant hit and Rukmani Devi became the dream girl of everyone's hearts. She become a super-star over night and remained as the queen of Sinhala Cinema for over two decades.

Rukmani Devi on her life as a Film Star.

"Those days it was very common to have all kinds of guests at home, from morning till night. This usually happens almost every day whenever we stay in Sri Lanka. Amongst these visitors there are friends, relatives, people who have come asking for jobs, people who have come for charity, youngsters who are interested in joining films, people who love me and who adore me."

She truly admits that if you are an actor, becoming a star is easy but to handle what the stardom brings is not everyone's cup of tea.

"To be a successful actress the first rule you should adhere to is not to get mislead by the fame and exposure that comes with it. This quality should be a must in a film actress. It is the most difficult rule also to follow after becoming a film actor."

Rukmani Devi started her acting career on theatre at a very tender age. She was chosen for the role Sita in the stage play "Ramayana" by Walter Abeysinghe, when she was only 12 years old. After "Ramayana" she was offered many other lead roles and was one of the most sought after actresses on stage even before she made her film debut. After joining films she again returned to theatre after a 13 year lapse from stage for B.A.W.Jayamanna's "Mal yahanawa" in 1960. When she returned again to theatre she was considered as an actor who has mastered two different styles of acting and was able to portray more realistic and profound roles with much ease and profection. She portrayed "Mandri Devi" in the stage production "Wessanthara" and also portrayed the role of "Kumari Uduwela" in the stage play "Wes Muhunu" by the most famous theatre personal Dhamma Jagoda.

Dhamma Jagoda about Rukmani Devi..

"Rukmani Devi is no doubt the most preeminent actress who could portray a realistic role in our era. I understood about her talents while producing my stage play "Wes Muhunu". She had a very sensitive and distinct voice which could reveal the changes of human emotions with ease. Rukmani was the only actress whom I could be fully satisfied as a director. Irangani Serasinghe was the only other actress who was equally talented as Rukmani Devi. May be because of her knowledge about music, she was ahead of Irangani in her voice modulation." (Desathiya-15th November 1978)

Parallel to her acting career she started her singing career at the age of 13 singing "Siri Buddhagaya Vihare". After her first song became popular she was asked to sing for HMV records many a times. She also got an opportunity to sing in a program every month at the Radio Ceylon, The national radio station of Sri Lanka. Her popular songs on HMV records included "Sapa ne sansare", "Tee pan dina dina", "Pun sanda paya", "Wea bhawaye Anithye" along with "Siri Buddhagaya vihare"

biography_img6 Rukmani Devi with Stanley Perera in the film "Kele Handa"

"Kele Handa" was one of the turning points of her film career and "Kele Handa" was recorded as the first novel which was made into a film in the history of Sinhala Cinema. Rukmani Devi won the best actress award at the "Deepashika" awards ceremony conducted by the "Lankadeepa" news paper for her portray as Malini in "Kele Handa" in 1956. She herself states that it is one of her most cherished roles and that character went through different stages of life and that she had to put in a great effort to depict that role on screen.

"All the characters that I depicted on screen had very similar sad scenes. As the main heroin I was made to cry and sing in almost all the films I did. According to my belief "Umathu Wishwasaya" was the best out of the roles which I have portrayed so far on the screen. I had to portray the mother and the daughter both in this film simultaneously and I feel that I had the opportunity to test my acting capabilities to a certain extent in this film. The next character which I cherished most is "Malini" in the film "Kele Handa". Malini was also a complex and a difficult character to portray on screen."

biography_img7 Rukmani Devi at "The Deepashika Film Awards" with B. A.W. Jayamanna, who won the Best Actor award and Mr. Sirisena Wimalaweera, who won the award for the best film.

Rukmani Devi was voted as the most popular actress in a "Readers Contest" conducted by the "Dinamina" News paper receiving the majority of 16,221 votes in 1955. She was also awarded the "Sarasaviya 'Rana Thisara'- Life Time Achievement Award" at the "Sarasaviya Film Awards Ceremony held in 1979 and she was the first artist to be honored by this award.

Rukmani Devi's other famous films includes "Das con", La dalu","Diwayogaya", "Siriyalatha", "Samiya Birindage Deviyaya", Ihatha Aathmaya", "Deviyani Oba Kohida", "Ahasin Polowata"etc.

Rukmani Devi became a character actor from the film "Abuddhasa Kale" and portrayed matured characters in films thereafter and in her illustrious career spanning of 4 decades she has done around 98 films until her death.

Rukmani Devi's character in "Ihatha Aathmaya" directed by K. A. W. Perera was a very challenging and a complex one. Rukmani portrayed the character called Emily who gets married to a much older man than her. She leaves her husband and son to satisfy her desires and later regrets and repents about it. She become insane because of her guilt and grief and accidently gets hit by a vehicle driven by her own son. She has been very grateful to the director K. A. W. Perera for giving her this role which was very complex, matured and much ahead of its time.

Rukmani Devi won the most popular singer award at the "Sarasaviya" Film Awards held in 1966 but she was not alive to receive the award, when she was won the best female playback singer in 1979.

"Ahasin Polowata" was the last film in which she sang a song and that was the only film which she did together with Dr. Lester James Peries. "Ahasin Polowata" won the "Agnet Award" at the 3rd International Cairo Film Festival in 1978. Rukmani Devi won the best female playback singer award at the Presidential Award ceremony held in 1979 for the song "Doi Doiya putha Doi doi" in the film "Ahasin Polowata". Rukmani Devi was not alive to receive the award at the function and Eddie Jayamanna received the award on her behalf.

Her other memorable film songs include "Mawila Penewi Roope" (Kele Handa), "Adarayai Karunawai" (Daiwayogaya), "Olu Male sudo sudo" (Peralena Iranama) "Anna Sudo" (Kele handa) and many more.

Rukmani Devi was a prolific singer and would always try to learn the new techniques and styles of singing. This was the very reason that she became a famous singer and even though she started off singing classical devotional songs with Rupasinghe Master she later sang songs with new comers like H. R. Jothipala, Neville Fernando, C.T.Fernando, Milton Mallawarachchi and Victor Rathnayake. She has also sung songs in different languages including Spanish.

Rukmani Devi was always admired as a humble and a very modest artist not just among her fans but in the film fraternity as well. She was at all times willing to give a helping hand to any new comer when in need. She was enduring enough to tolerate newbie repeated mistakes. There was an incident which made everyone else on the sets very impatient where as she passed it all off with a smile on her face.

biography_img8 With late Mrs. Nargis Dutt and Meena Shore

This incident took place during the shooting of the film "Magul Poruwa" , the last film directed by Mr. B.A.W. Jayamanna. He was not well during the shoot. This was how the incident was seen by a journalist.

"The camera and the lights were all set to shoot the scene and Rukmani Devi walked in pushing the trolley with the tea pot for the third time. B.A.W. Jayamanna explained the scene for the third time to the two actors who was sitting on the sofa. B.A.W. Jayamanna who was not feeling well during the shoot scolded the new comer, don't whisper say your lines clearly and loud. You all say that you can act very well and come to act but you can't say a single word properly, did you count how many times she had to push that tea trolley. "

The new actor was embarrassed and he looked around helplessly. "The problem is Alo Aiya (Mr. B.A.W. Jayamanna) that even though we are experienced, when we come in front of the camera sometimes we also feel nervous and it takes time to overcome that feeling. Everyone else on the set smiled at this statement and B.A.W. Jayamanna became silent. Rukmani Devi smiled at the new comer and took a bit of sugar from the bowl on the trolley tasted it and smiled."

 

biography_img9 Eddie and Rukmani with the Indian Actor late Mr. Dev Anand, Kalpana kartik and Music Director S. K. Oja

Each and every one of us thinks and feels that a life of a film actor will be like a fairytale. But only a few know that it takes a lot of hard work, determination and team work of many others, in front of the camera as well as behind the camera to make a film a success. The shooting schedules as well film shoots can be very hectic and dangerous at times and that people do take severe risks to bring live performances on to the silver screen. Rukmani Devi herself has mentioned a couple of mishaps that she had to face while shooting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rukmani Devi about a narrow escape while shooting.

"Something which was very precarious happened while we were shooting out door for the film "Dosthara" in Nuwara Eliya. In this scene me and the lead actor Mr. Herbert. M. Seneviranthna was travelling in a car. Herbert was driving the car and the road which we had to travel had many curves. We were coming in the car on the cliff while the camera was capturing the shot from below. Suddenly near a narrow bend our car came face to face with another vehicle. Both vehicles didn't use horns to warn each other. There was a deep steep slope on the left side and suddenly Herbert turned the vehicle to the left to avoid crashing onto the other vehicle. It was a miracle that the vehicle managed to stop just above the cliff as we were coming a bit faster than the normal speed. I can still remember the deep steep slope below us and whenever I remember this incident it brings shivering to my spine."

Herbert M. Senevirathna also mentioned about this incident in an article on his memories of Rukmani Devi which was published on "Sarasawiya" in 1978.

"Rukmani was so frightened that she couldn't speak for some time and once the vehicle stopped she thanked god and then laughed and told me that she will never die from an accident and this incident is a proof for it."

But it is indeed very tragic that she had to die from a road accident in 1978 which she was so convinced that it will never happen to her. Rukmani Devi was planning to celebrate her 40 year singing career by having a solo musical performance called "Swarna Gee" on the 29th of October 1978. The show was supposed to be held at the ladies collage Auditorium in Colombo. She sang in a musical show held in Matara, Uyanwaththa stadium on the previous day (28th October) and was coming to Colombo. She dropped her husband Eddie Jayamanna at their residence Hendala, Palliyayawatta and has left to meet her parents in Negombo. The van which she was travelling crashed on to a bowser belonging to the Lanka petroleum cooperation in front of the Church in Thudalla, Ja ela, around 6.30 am on the 28th of October. It was reported that she died on the spot along with the person who was driving the van and another person sustained minor injuries. "Swarna Gee" was intended to be a comeback show and was also considered to be as a remembrance of her illustrious career as an artist which never happened. I feel that most of the famous and admired artist's even youth icons, especially the ones who have won millions of hearts had faced similar sudden tragic endings as of hers.

Rukmani Devi was a star who shined brighter than ever before; she suddenly vanished from the world (from our lives). But it is very emotional and touching to know how she truly felt about life.

"The man who comes in to this world alone leaves this world alone. My destiny is also the same. When I leave this world I will not take this fame, stardom or anything else with me. The only thing which helps me in the end is the faith and trust that I had in god and the true prayer which I made to the all mighty."

Rukmani Devi was not just an artist or a star but was also a human being who possessed very rare qualities. She won millions of hearts not only by her ethnic beauty and her enchanting voice but from these qualities which possessed as a great human being. She will always remain in people's hearts as one of the most glamorous yet humble star to grace Sinhala Cinema forever.



 Researched and Compiled by Mihiri Anandika Kumarasinghe.

 

All the above paragraphs written in bold Italics are taken from the book "Yugayaka Swarna Geethaya -2" by A. D. Ranjith Kumara, who has published the articles written by Karunasena Jayalath on the day to day life of Rukmani Devi as part of a column called "Mage Jeevitha Viththi" to the news paper "Irida Lankadeepa" in 1955.

"Sinhala Cinema Wanshaya" by Mr. Arthur U. Amarasena printed and published in 1988.

Also based on the information provided by the Chairperson Mr. Hendry Priyashantha Mendis and one the Petrons Mr. Senaka Jayatilake of "Rukmani Devi Semarum Padanama".

The links to the documentary done by the Government Film Unit of Sri Lanka on the life of Rukmani Devi.

The link to a rare interview of Rukmani Devi done by the Radio Ceylon

This website was initiated, launched and maintained by the "Rukmani Devi Semarum Padanama" Co -Treasurer Ms. Janitha Neelika Perera.