Golden Star( Gehaniya) of the Sinhala cinema Swarna Mallawarachchi reminisced after five decades -by Sunil Thenabadu

Golden Star( Gehaniya) of the Sinhala cinema Swarna Mallawarachchi reminisced after five decades -by Sunil Thenabadu

Golden Star( Gehaniya) of the Sinhala cinema Swarna Mallawarachchi reminisced after five decades -by Sunil Thenabadu


Sunil ThenabaduCharisma , hard work, dedication and commitment are  those real surface qualities with charm expressive that would make a fabulous actress like Swarna Mallawarachchi. This is because performing on camera, requires a certain amount of expressive energy .Swarna is an  individual with high-octanes of energy she has the ability to translate that energy on-screen. Swarna possess natural charisma which has benefited her in successful performing endeavors. 

Swarna Mallawarachchi born on 1st August 1948 in Kosgas Handiya, Grandpass is perhaps the most popular actress ever produced in the Sri Lankan cinema since it’s inception often popularly known as the “Golden star of Sinhalese cinema” also as “Gehaniya of the Sinhala cinema’. Swarna began her acting career whilst still a schoolgirl,Vijayaba Maha Vidyalaya Grandpass, before she was barely seventeen years old starring in the year 1966 in the blockbuster film ‘Sath Samudara’ directed by Siri Gunasinghe. She has had no intention to act but was interested in meeting her favorite author Siri Gunasinghe who had written the script.Swarna had seen an advertisement  in the Dinamina newspaper calling for a novice female actress for a role in a new film “Sath Samudura”.Swarna had posted her details with one photo of four photos she has had in her possession then along with an application.She had visited Siri Gunasinghe  when called for a formal interview. When she met Siri Gunasinghe she had said she only wanted to talk to him as he was her popular author. Swarna has had the intention to be a vocalist, but later she had realized she could not sing that well had given up that idea. Swarna had known AD Ranjith Kumara intimately, the former editor of Sarasaviya well, with whom she had been called. There had been four hundred girls who were interviewed, later photographed with make ups when only two were selected, the other girl had not turned up. After her portrayal of Soma’s role in ‘Sath Samudura’ in year 1967, her photograph had appeared in the ‘Visithura’ newspaper which Sugathapala Senerath Yapa had seen when searching for a girl with such features.Thereafter she was introduced to cameraman Sumitta Amerasinghe the cameraman of ‘Thummanhandiya’ who had recommended to Mahagamasekera who had seen her while shooting in ‘Sath Samudara’.During this period Swarna was not tall not that pretty either but possessed  good features with a pleasing smile .Swarna with her acquaintance with AD Ranjit Kumara had got known to his brother Ranjith Lal then to his father David Silva who had been overwhelmed in her acting in Sath Samudra.Swarna had known Sathischandra Edirisinghe having met him several times when she visited Lionel Wendt as a keen stage play enthusiast. This is how she was selected to ‘Matara ‘ film.Having met Dharmasena Pathiraja also at the Lionel Wendt, Swarna had been picked unanimously for the ‘Ahasgawwa’ film.After portraying important and inspiring roles  in the above films she was an automatic choice for ‘Nimwallala’ in successive years. Swarna had attributed that she was picked for all these roles from contacts she has had developed with many reputed film personalities. It was in this era that Swarna  had left our shores for six long years. During this era one to go in search of greener pastures to the United Kingdom was very inaccessible, only doctors, to those to study further, the rich could only go to UK.As she got this unique opportunity she had grabbed the opening. While in UK she was adamant to study, to learn to type on a key board to become a secretary. She had lived working in UK for four years when she decided to move to Sydney Australia in year 1972 for more greener pastures.She had obtained a work permit for her visit to Sydney.While in UK she had not got the opportunity to triumph as a model an area she was competent and fluent while in Sri Lanka too. In Sydney a she had met a professional in the modeling field sheer quirk  through which was able to earn a living in addition to her ability to perform secretarial work.During that era communication was via letters only as there were no ‘sms’s, e mails , mobile phones.The only person who had communicated  with her while she was away was actor Joe Abeywickrema.He had asked Swarna if she could portray a role in a new film, forwarding to her the details of the role etc.Swarna had agreed had returned to Sri Lanka on four weeks holiday, taken part in this film ‘Sinhabahu’ directed by Dayananda Pathiraja produced by M/s Premadasa Jewelers. 

After two years in Australia Swarna returned to Sri Lanka.Swarna left Sri Lankan cinema  over six years in the 1970s to work in UK and Sydney. When she returned after a six-year absence there had been an influx of new actresses who had made a mark. Hence to get a main actress role it was simply difficult as many had established in the field. Swarna very wisely had accepted supporting roles from directors, during this period she was successful in obtaining the Best supporting Actress’ award uninterruptedly for the roles portrayed during these years showing her immense prowess in acting. Initially Swarna had accepted as there was no alternative to portray a black character in film ‘Hansa Vilak”.In those days once an actress portrays a black character she gets labelled as such a one, but it did not happen to Swarna as she was competent enough to portray main roles.Swarna also accepted another supporting role in the film ‘Anjana’ directed by Yasapalitha Nanayakkra which was a character not familiar much to by Swarna nevertheless became a box office film. 

While a schoolgirl Swarna was terribly interested in joining the Soviet friendship society along with Malini Fonseka as she wanted to go to Russia. With this planted in mind in a Colombo municipal election, Swarna, along with other communist leaders such as Peter Kehnemann and K. P. de Silva, fielded Abeysena, a candidate from his party in the Northern Grandpass division, canvassed for him though she did not become a member. To date she had never belonged to any political party though many had from time to time invited her to many stages. She is very contented now for not following any political party. In school times, she collaborated with her friend Kanthi Kalyani Atugoda for the handwritten school magazine “Pipena Kumudu”. Through this magazine, she showcased her abilities as a script writer.  

Swarna loves to read mostly English novels though her English knowledge had been at very low ebb in her early life. She has read many books, still reads books of authors  like Tolstoi,Marks, Lenin, Dostaevsky etc, as her intention is always to enhance her English knowledge. During her tenure initially she had been very fortunate to mix up and move with acclaimed personalities like Siri Gunasinghe,DB Nihalsinghe,Vasantha Obeysekera,Mahagamasekera,Pandit Amaradewa ,Cyril Wickramage,Edmund Wijesinghe, Somadasa Elvitigala,Mike Wilson, Manik Sandrasagara etc. 

During a career that spanned over 40 years, Swarna has won the ‘Best Actress Award’ 26 times, viz Presidential, OCIC, Sarasaviya, Swarna Sanka,Hiru golden film, Sumathi awards, most by a Sri Lankan actress in the annals of the cinematic history, a record to remain etched forever that is unlikely to be surpassed n the present or the eras to come. 

 In year 1983, she played the main role ‘Ranmali’ in the thriller drama film ‘Dadayama’ directed by Vasantha Obeysekera. After receiving positive reviews by the critics, she was awarded the Best Actress award at Sarasaviya Awards for the role. This film and her many other films have been shown in many foreign countries particularly in film festivals. Looking back at her past she had added she has nothing to regret.She had faced to all situations with success. This was uttered when she was felicitated for serving the Sri Lankan film industry for fifty years in year 2017.To felicitate  Swarna an Asian film festival was held in France where she received a lifetime award from them. Her films have been telecast in many SAF countries. In the France visual International film festival out of ten films shown in seven of them Swarna had portrayed roles to name a few ‘Sath Samudura’, ‘Dadayama’, ‘Hansa Vilak’, ‘Sagara Jalaya’etc. She had been named in many film Jury’s  in overseas cities like Culcutta, Kerala.Swarna  had added she is a successful single mother  , a successful actress/ woman. She believes in God above as she is rescued always with God’s blessings as she never does harm to anyone.She was privileged to portray a role of daughter of legendary Ruckmani Devi in the film “Nimwalalla” the opportunity had got from Ranjit Lal’s father. 

In the year 2002 tragedy struck her having been diagnosed to have brain tumor. She had suddenly fallen ill with blood draining from her nose. She has had immediate brain surgery had recovered within a short time.   

She was appointed the UNHRC ambassador for women’s rights in Sri Lanka since 2004.The authorities of the UNHRC had visited Sri Lanka to select an Ambassodor, had selected Swarna among about two hundred aspirant recipients  like famous cricketers as Aravinda de Silva, Marvan Atapattu to name just a few.Each person had to speak in English on the topic “how to win the life”.Swarna had laid emphasis on hindrance to women too.The authorities had been impressed with her rational, intelligence,positive thinking qualities, not focusing on commercial values.Owing to the Tsunami catastrophe Sri Lanka faced during this time emphasis on her role was a bit restricted as the focus was more of the Tsunami victims.  

Swarna’s truly unique role as an actress are evident in more films such as Kadapathaka Chayava , Dharmasiri Bandaranayake’s  Suddhilage Kathawa  and Bava Duka / Bava Karma, Sumithra Peries’ Sagara , Prasanna Vithanage’s Anantha Rathriya etc. 

 In the year 2013 Swarna was diagnosed with breast cancer.He has uttered for a number of years she had observed a  small lump in her breast which she had kept a secret without consulting a doctor.This lump had been enlarging over the years but she had kept silent for many personal reasons.One was if her daughter studying in UK was informed she would immediately come back disrupting her studies.Also Swarna was then working as a media consultant, the money that was earned was sent to daughter for her studies in UK. Anyhow it was in year 2013 she had consulted an oncologist who had blamed her for the delay to have a consultation. After fourteen years daughter Narendra had returned to Sri Lanka after fourteen years leaving all her work in UK to live with mother.All doctors had blamed Swarna for hiding her ailment. Luckily for her the cancer had not spread.After a successful operation performed by surgeon Dr Fred Perera assisted by Consultants Dr Neomal Perera and Mahendra Perera. Swarna had to undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy and as prescribed had to take drugs. Her advice to all concerned after her delayed consultation is to consult a physician immediately and follow medical advice whenever such symptoms emerge.After her recovery she had conducted seminars for ‘cancer saviors’ at the Lanka hospitals along with consultants to make awareness among patients. Swarna’s advice is to consult physicians  accede to their advice also to take a ‘mammogram’ test yearly. 

Swarna’s daughter Narendra was sent to King’s college in UK for higher studies in Finance. Later after completing her degree she had completed a  MPhil at the Cambridge University.After her return to native Sri Lanka after fourteen years she owns a business related to exercising ‘Philat’ owning her own studio.She is a girl brought up with unique qualities is a person rather reserved camera shy.Swarna had said the qualities are all innate not thought , which most of Swarna’s friends have observed. 

It was she and Dharmasiri Bandaranayake duo who had organized Swarna’s fifty year jubilee celebration of the vivacious actress held at the Tharangani hall at the film corporation premises in January 2017.For the silver screens ‘golden girls’ fifty year jubilee celebration the then President Maithripala Sirisena was the chief guest was gifted with the “cinenemawe gehaniya Swarna Mallawarachchi panas wasaraka cinema abhimanaya” book.This grand occasion was graced by Minister of Mass Communication, many film directors ,artistes and distinguished invitees and dignitaries which was a colorful ceremony. It should be emphasized that whenever a best actress was to be elected it was always a one horse race for Swarna who was in the fray for the coveted award. Swarna also was the chief guest at many felicitation ceremonies held for her in other countries like India and France under the theme “A spotlight on an Asian actress”. After a felicitation ceremony a journalist had posed Swarna a question ‘you had portrayed roles that championed the cause of women’s rights which were mostly tailormade for you.’ The answer Swarna had given was ‘it may have been as I had gone through many traumatic phases in  real life’. 


Swarna like many others also was infected by the Covid-19 virus had taken all precautions resting by staying at home had only attended the Gamini Fonseka’s sixteenth commemorative ceremony. In her twilight years she reads a lot gaining more knowledge about everything. She is not a follower of teledramas’ but as a habit watches browsing the internet many films and dramas until late night. She does patchwork, embroidery work enthusiastically, has the habit of donating clothes she designs to be given to the destitute children. She also experience in making dishes. Apart from them she reads a lot as her hobbies. Always to enhance her knowledge. Swarna had been keeping pace with the advancing of technology as it is very useful to all in the modern world. She had said she is able to upload photos and to access the internet equally as a competent youngster. When asked about her coming back to acting she added she has been invited to portray the role of a politician, let’s hope how it goes. 


Sunil Thenabadu

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