In 1956, on a historical day Rekawa was being filmed in Hiriyala in the Kurunegala district. The scene was about some patients waiting in a queue to see the doctor. The director, Lester James Peries, felt that the crowd was not enough to fill the queue and thought of asking a dark-skinned technical assistant to the camera crew to join the queue.
The young dark-skinned lad who joined the queue that day ended up as the doyen of the Local Silver Screen. He was none other than the quintessential actor Gamini Fonseka. His 81st birth anniversary falls this week.
This is an excerpt of an interview our sister newspaper Rivira had with his daughter and alternate medical doctor Thanuja Fonseka Abeynayake:
Q: Let us begin from your childhood. Did you think that your father would become the Doyen of the Sinhala Cinema?
A: Yes. I was the second daughter of that great personality. By the time I was born, my father was at the peak of his cinema career. My home was a busy place at that time. It was often crowded with film artistes. That gave us a feeling that my father was an important person.
Q: Was your freedom hindered as a daughter of a famous person?
A: No gainsaying, certainly yes. Even we couldn’t walk around the home freely. When my father was at the peak of popularity, I often observed that his fans peeping over the parapet wall of our ancestral home in Mount Lavinia to catch a glimpse of their film idol. When my father had free time he never disappointed his fans. He opened the gates and had a friendly chat with them if opportunity permitted. To be honest, due to my father’s vast number of fans the freedom of our life was restricted.
Q: When your father was at the zenith of his popularity had he the time to spend with you?
A: He saw to it that he spent time with us too. When he was at home he was our second mom. My mother dearly loved my father. She herself attended to his needs even cooking his meals and never let any other domestic assistants do it though we had scores of them.
Even long after my father’s death my mother mourned and offered alms and conducted religious rites in his name. She personally prepared alms. That was her immense devotion to him.
Q: Your mother is Dorothy Margret Valensia referred to as Tina. Was she a great fan of your father?
A: She never missed any film he acted. She took all in the family to see those films. We all too became fans of my father due to my mother’s influence.
Q: Where did you have your education?
A: We, three girls had our education at Holy Family Convent and my brother Damith attended S Tomas’ College Mount Lavinia.
Q: Didn’t he encourage you to act in the college stage dramas?
A: We did drama work at school on a small scale but we were not encouraged by my father to go beyond that.
Q: Did Damith enter the cinema world due your father’s insistence?
A: No. He began acting on Sunil T’s request in the film Chandi Rajina. On the first day of the shooting Sunil T invited my father to shoot Damith’s scene. Sunil T observed tears in my father’s eyes seeing his son’s debut.
Q: Has Gamini acted at home before you?
A: No. He was much devoted to his profession. He studied the script at home and digested it well beforehand. He didn’t act without preparation.
When it was a song scene he would bring the recording of the song and listen to it many times repeatedly. We also learned those songs by heart due to frequent hearing.
He had a light life at home. He mimicked us at home to amuse us but did not do any real acting at home.
Q: Did he want to see you as a doctor?
A: Actually yes. From my young days my father thought that I was suited for this profession. “If I fall sick and you only give me a glass of water from your hands, I know I will get well,” was something my father always told me. Wherever my father travelled he always had a habit of bringing me a book or a magazine on science or about medicine.
Q: How did you begin your journey to become a doctor of alternate medicine?
A: Immediately after leaving school at the young age of seventeen I married. The loving husband who married me, Ananda Abeynayake, was six years elder to me. However, even though I married I did not want to stop my educational activities.
The person who helped me in this pursuit was Dr. Wimal de Alwis who I consider my mentor. During that time he was a doctor of alternate medicine in the Sports Ministry. From him I learnt about injuries sustained by athletes and about sports medicine.
Q: After that?
A: Alternate medicine consists of the traditional medical knowledge spread all over the world. I went on journeys around the world in search of that knowledge. From my travels I studied the traditional medical knowledge from countries like, Poland, England, Thailand, India and Denmark. I also studied at the Open University in Sri Lanka. For over 10 years I was abroad and I received education in acupuncture, massage therapy, Panchakarma, and nerve stimulation. I also had experience in teaching those as subjects.
Q: Were you able to bring about a radical change in the traditional Sri Lankan mindset about this?
A: Yes. In Sri Lanka, massage was identified as a dirty business. A few people like me wanted to change that mindset. We studied nerves stimulation extensively and gave a medical science value enhancement to the word massage. This situation is now changed quite a lot in Sri Lanka. Today many people are very interested about alternate medicine treatment methods. That is a victory for all of us.
Q: Did Gamini Fonseka believe in alternate medicine?
A: There is a story not known to many in your question. Those days, in our house there were a large number of native medicine journals belonging to my grandmother. Even my great grandfather was a person who studied native medicine extensively.
Therefore, my father knew about these medicines and in short, many people who were living in that area used to consult him before going to a hospital. He used to treat people with herbs prepared by him.
Q: Do you remember any people who were cured after being treated by Gamini Fonseka?
A: There are many instances I can remember. During the insurgency in 1971, people were scared to walk on the roads. During that time a child who was just four years old had fallen while playing. Because of the fall his tongue was split in two and one part was just hanging out. People carried him to our house because they were unable to go to the hospital. My father went around the garden selected some medicinal herbs, crushed them in a mortar and uttered some stanzas (mantras) and placed the herbs on the child’s tongue. He was cured.
Q: Were there medicinal herbs in your home garden?
A: Yes. My grandmother, my mother and father had planted many medicinal plants. When I started practising alternate medicine I was able to locate all my medicinal herb requirements from our herbal garden.
Q: And you cured hundreds of people through alternate medicine?
A: Yes, I am practising the treatment for over 20 years now. My knowledge is a compendium of nerve therapy, acupuncture and Ayurveda.
Q: Are you reluctant to talk about the people you have cured?
A: How can I talk about so many? Now I am faced with the situation of being unable to even go abroad because I cannot abandon these patients. How can I leave my long standing patients when they cry and tell me “don’t leave us”.
Q: Have you lost your freedom due to your job?
A: Now I see only a limited number of patients. Earlier I had a clinic on all seven days non-stop. Then I realized that this caused me a lot of fatigue. When I become tired, I can’t give the best to my patients. That is why I have limited my consultations to the mornings in the five days of the week and use Saturday and Sunday to prepare medicine.
Q: Are you happy about curing a particular person?
A: No, anybody cured gives me happiness.
Q: What type of patients do you concentrate on most?
A: Lots of people have come with fractures, back pains, knee pains and paralysis.
I have also cured children who had been born with birth defects. Sometimes I have been able to help infants who are immobile in bed with certain therapies. When a child like that is born to a family the parents don’t know what to do. In some cases even though a hundred percent cure has not been possible I have brought them to acceptable levels.
Q: This room is full of awards and certificates you have received in relation to your treatments and practices?
A: Yes. I have received many awards. In 2012, I received a special award. The World International Alternate Medicine Congress awarded me a special Merit Award. That was a very valuable recognition of my services.
Q : What do you say of being the daughter of the Cinema king of Sri Lanka?
A: I cannot describe the happiness I feel when I think of it. But, I am humbled in that recognition.
Q: What can you say about the observances to mark Gamini Fonseka’s 81st birth anniversary?
A: We are planning to go to the “Abimansala” Ranaviru Sevana that looks after disabled soldiers and give donations and gifts. After that we will entertain them with songs from the films my father acted in a “Paduru Party” we have organized for them.
By Savithri Vithanage
Pics Chamila Karunaratne