Dr. Gamini K. Haththotuwegama
‘Of whom shall we speak? For everyday they die among us, those who were doing us some good’- W. H. Auden
Dr. Gamini Kalyanadarsha Haththotuwegama was a renowned academic and a literary critic who made a profound contribution to the upliftment of the teaching of the English language and Literature and Fine Arts in the university system, to the development of drama and theatre in Sri Lanka, and to the enrichment of the art of criticism of film and drama.
Dr. Haththotuwegama was born on 29th November, 1938, in Galle, and received his early education at Richmond College, Galle. He entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, in 1956, and majored in English. Having obtained a Honours Degree, he began his professional life as an English teacher and the teacher-in-charge of drama at Richmond College, his Alma Mater. In 1965 he joined the Vidyalankara University of Ceylon, Kelaniya, as a lecturer in English. After serving the Universities of Kelaniya and Peradeniya for more than four decades he retired from the university service in 2005. As a university teacher, his contribution to the intellectual advancement of his students in the Departments of English and Fine Arts has been of a high order. Besides, he maintained a very close rapport with the students so that one may say that he helped create and sustain a new culture of relations with university students without compromising values.
The academic and scholarly contribution of Dr. Haththotuwegama was not confined only to the university sphere. He was a unique and formidable factor in the field of Sri Lankan drama. He was a gifted actor on the stage, an able producer of plays, and a translator, or better still, a ‘transcreator’ of literary works. His talent in music and singing was apparent in his creations.
He translated Shakespeare’s Hamlet into Sinhala in collaboration with Lakshman Fernando and E. A. G. Fonseka. This is regarded as the best Sinhala translation ever of a Shakespearean play.
The first mime show in Sri Lanka was produced and staged by Dr. Haththotuwegama at the Vidyalankara University in 1968. Moreover, he has left a lasting impression in the history of Sri Lankan drama as the pioneer of street theatre in this country. He started this new form of theatre in Sri Lanka in 1974. The street theatre group, under his leadership, has not only made a profound impact on the field of drama in this country, but has also been acclaimed as a distinguished, non-formal, alternative theatre group in South Asia.
By holding street drama shows without any charge, for the benefit of various groups of people both in the cities the villages, and by conducting theatre workshops for them, Dr. Haththotuwegama has rendered an immense service as a pioneer educator in theatre production, and theatre performance as well.
His commitment to drama was not confined to local Sri Lankan theatre. His services were obtained by foreign countries, too. From 1980 onwards, he delivered lectures, took part in theatre workshops and confabs and held theatre performances in quite a number of foreign countries, such as India, Australia, Norway, Germany, the Philippines and Thailand.
His contribution to the field of mass communication, too, is immense. Through his academic discourses and discussions, and through critical reviews of dramas, films, and books, he had rendered an immeasurable service to broaden popular awareness. From among his many writings, his two essays, ‘Unresolved Contradictions, Paradoxical Discourses and Alternative Strategies in the Post-Colonial Sinhala Theatre’ and ‘50 Years of Sinhala Cinema: Sacred Cows to Buffaloes: Reverse, Alternatives’ need to be highlighted as remarkable and outstanding in this regard. They present serious, critical, well-researched and comprehensive discourses on Sinhala theatre and cinema in post-colonial Sri Lanka.
Dr. Haththotuwegama was a prominent figure in the field of film criticism. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Film Critics and Journalists Association - the first attempt in that direction in Sri Lanka - and became its founder president. This Association held international film festivals which included highly acclaimed foreign films with a view to exposing the public to the latest trends in world cinema. The awards conferred on film artists by the Association were considered highly prestigious, and Dr. Haththotuwegama introduced the film citation tradition to this country.
In recognition and appreciation of his unique contribution to the development of the tradition of alternative theatre he was honoured with a State Award at the State Drama Festival, sponsored by the Sri Lanka Arts Council. In addition, Dr. Haththotuwagama was awarded the Kalakeerthi Sammanaya by the Government of Sri Lanka in 2005. Moreover, at the National Drama Festival, in 2007, he was honoured for his special contribution as a teacher, critic, dramatist, actor, director both in Sinhala as well as in English. In appreciation of the excellent service performed by him as an erudite scholar, as a university academic and a teacher who imparted knowledge to thousands of students, as a translator and ‘transcreator’, as a dramatist and as a media person, the University of Kelaniya too conferred an honourary degree of Doctor of Philosophy on him.
His demise has taken place at a time when the dearth of men of his calibre is becoming increasingly felt in the sphere of arts and cultural activities in Sri Lanka.
Let me conclude this appreciation with the following words of Shelly:
Death cannot part us - we must meet again.
Professor Padmasiri Kulasekera
University of Kelaniya.