Midweek Review

As I Like It
Three Thamilian artistes in the news
by K. S. Sivakumaran

Three artistes from the Lankan Thamil community were in the news recently. They are, "Sithi" Amarasingham, Satsorupavathy Nathan and Anthony Jeeva, who all deserve to be noticed.

"Sithi" Amarasingham

The State has given for the second time a trophy and fifty thousand rupees to a senior artiste born in the Thamil community. Hitherto only Sinhala artistes had the privilege of receiving these awards. JVP Minister Vijitha Herath had to bow down to pressure applied by the only four Thamil-speaking members of the Drama Panel of the Arts Council who demanded that a Thamilian or an Islamite should also be considered for this prestigious award. Accordingly an artiste, writer and publisher from Thirukoanamalai received these awards at the National Drama Festival Awards night.

Although it was called "National", the awards for the winners at the Thamil Drama Festival were not honoured. We are told that the awards for such people would be given away on a later date. The awardee was "Sithi" Amarasingham, born in Thirukoanamalai.

He carries the title "Kala Booshana".

For the last 50 years Amarasingham has been in the forefront of literary and artistic activities in the Thirukoanamalai district. Theatre was his forte. He was an actor, director, producer, makeup artiste and choreographer. He has acted in many plays including a few in Sinhala. He excelled in "comic roles", as they call them, and studied Carnatic music and could sing well. For the past 45 years he has been performing "Villu Paatu" with his group. I must confess that I am unable to describe in exact terms in English what this kind of musical performance is. In Colombo those who had witnessed Soakkallo Shanmugam’s performance in the same instrument and chorus singing would know what it sounds like. The other exponents in this kind of musical rendition were the late Ladis Veeramani from Colombo and Master Sivalingam in Mattakalappu and a few others.

Amarasingham has acted in a locally produced Thamil film, "Thentralum Puyalum" (The Breeze and the Storm). He has his own publications interest called "Ilakkiya Choalai" that had published 13 books by writers of the district. He also conducts theatre workshops in the Thirukoanamalai district. He had himself participated in theatre workshops conducted by Vasantha Bandara, Jayalal Rohana, A. T. Ponnuthurai and Jeyashankar.

Satsorupavathy Naathan

A senior broadcaster in this country who is still going strong is Satsorupavathy Naathan. She had been reading the Thamil news bulletins for SLBC for the past 40 years. She joined then Radio Ceylon as a relief Thamil announcer in 1965 and began her career primarily as a newscaster in March 15 that year. A graduate from the University of Chennai, Miss Naathan is also a fine debater and excellent speaker in Thamil. She became a Grade I announcer (only the second to hold this post even today) in 1969 and 10 years later she was upgraded as a Grade I newsreader. For three years from 1990, she had been a controller of spoken word in the English service of the SLBC.

This was a remarkable phase in her career. She was also in charge of the non-formal education service of the SLBC. Having retired, she works as a part-time Thamil news editor for SLBC and continues to read Thamil news bulletins.

For the first time in 1992 the International Unda Awards were given to broadcasters in Lanka. Miss Naathan was among the recipients. Other notable announcers and presenters were the indomitable Jimmy Bharucha and the late K. Pararajasingham. She also received several other awards for her contribution in the field of broadcasting. She is also a presenter of shop talk programmes and a conductor of interviews for Rupavahini, Eye Channel and ITN. Indefatigable, she is a valuable resource person.

When the SLBC completed 70 years of broadcasting in the country, the listeners selected her as the most popular Thamil newscaster and she received a Presidential Award. MTS, an international organization awarded her the life long recognition for best news reading. The Lankan Thamil Media Forum gave her a national award for best news reading. Miss Naathan is a well established spinster and her contributions to the arts and literature in this country is appreciated by many. She is also one of the vice presidents of the Colombo Thamil Sangam. I had the pleasure of working with her when I had a stint at the SLBC several decades ago.

Anthony Jeeva

A self-made literary figure, Anthony Jeeva hails from Kirillapone although he is based in Mahanuwara and is engaged in a hive of activity in Malayaham (the hill country). Last year he reached 60. Fluent in Thamil and Sinhala, he is well known in Sinhala theatre circles. The late Dayananda Gunawardena was his mentor in theatrical exercises. Though bereft of academic titles, he is an avid reader and writer. His dedicated concern for the upliftment of literary and artistic activity in Malayaham is genuine. He has direct contact with writers, artists, poets and painters and those of importance in the cine field in Thamil Nadu in India. He has served as a bridge between these countries in promoting Lankan Thamil literature in India. In fact, he has just returned from Chennai after reading a paper on hill country Thamil literature at a seminar organised by the University of Chennai. This is indeed a great honour for a non-academic Lankan Thamilian. Earlier he had participated in a theatre workshop in Chennai.

As a youngster, Anthony Jeeva was inspired by the personality of the late A. N. Kandasamy, an intellectual with left leanings. He inherited progressive thinking and began his career as a literary and dramatic persona. He is not only a writer of stories and plays, but also a fine speaker. His literary columns in the newspapers and his articles in magazine are testimony for his broadmindedness and lively enthusiasm for quality writing and performances. In the 1960s he edited short lived little magazines and presently edits Kolunthu, and Kuntrin Kutal—journals from the hill country. He was also a co-editor of Sengoal—a journal published by the National Christian Commission. Anthony Jeeva has obtained a Diploma in Journalism from the Open University in Colombo. He worked as a trade unionist in his youth and cultivated personal contacts with left wing giants like Drs. N. M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva and the like. The well known pioneer of hill country writers like the late C. V. Velupillai and the late K. Ganesh blessed him with their advice and inspired him to think in serious terms. Perhaps one of Anthony Jeeva’s major contributions is rediscovering the role of the late S. Natesa Iyer in Lankan politics. Because of his persuasion, Saaral Nadan did research on Natesa Iyer and brought out significant books. Anthony Jeeva functioned as secretary to the forum he established to promote cultural activities in Malayaham. He had published 25 books covering the entire scene in the hill country. He was also instrumental in organising seminars, workshops, training etc. for the cultural and social awareness of the youth especially of the hill country. He wrote a booklet in English titled the hill country in Lankan Thamil Literature. One of his books in Thamil is Eelathil Thamil Nadagam Thamil (Drama in Sri Lanka). His talks in various universities and institutions in India have been collected into a book titled Malayahamum Thamil Ilakkiyamum (The hill country and literature). He has published anthologies, short stories and poems written by young Malayalam writers. His contribution to children’s literature is his short novel called Thitunthiya Asokan (The Reformed Asokan)

One of his plays is Akkini Pookkal (Fire Flowers) staged successfully in Colombo. He has directed 14 plays. His play Veenai Althathu (The Veena Cried) was banned as it exposed the crimes of politicians. His plays Laical (The Waves) and Airfare Aardvark received state awards at the drama festivals. He is also a pioneer in street drama in Thamil inspired by his training in India under Baadal Sarcar. His street dramas include Velicham (The Light) and Sathan Vetham Oathukirathu (The Devil is Quoting the Bible).

Anthony Jeeva also toured European countries in 2003 and his interviews to the media in Thamil in those countries are regarded as very significant in popularising Lankan Tamil literature and the arts.

Anthony Jeeva is a dedicated, sincere, outspoken, broadminded and socially conscious writer, dramatist, columnist, playwright and unassuming thinker and activist. His contributions to the Lankan Thamil cultural scene, particularly of the hill country region are very significant.

The name Anthony Jeeva should not be confused with the name of Dominc Jeeva, another towering figure in the local Thamil literary scene.

E-mail: sivakumaranks@yahoo.com


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