Hiran Abeysekara, the young Sri Lankan actor known for his roles in Lion in the Tent, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the stage adaptation of Life of Pi, was recently brought under the limelight as he won the Laurence Olivier award for Best Actor for his role as Pi Patel in the stage adaptation of Life of Pi. The last words of his speech made at the award ceremony, “Mama Umbalata Adareyi Macahang,” which he sincerely dedicated to fellow Sri Lankans battling through tough times- stuck in the hearts of many us and grabbed even more attention than the award. He proved his love by returning to Sri Lanka just after the award ceremony and met press, other artists and theatre-lovers at Walpola Rahula Institute, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte, during his short stay.
The meeting with Hiran was quite a disappointment for me. It was nothing like the grand press conference I had imagined it to be! The best actor of the British Theatre was wearing nothing fancy, but a sarong and a plain black tank top and treated everyone with a warm welcoming smile. There were mats to accommodate everyone in the serene outdoors of the Walpola Rahula Institute. Altogether, the conference exhuded a friendly warm vibe, making it look more like a friendly chit-chat.
Hiran, answering the questions, traced back to his school days when he first got into the field of drama and theatre. He mentioned how he first wanted to become a doctor and therefore selected the science stream for A/Ls but failed at the first shy. However, he started preparing himself for the second shy immediately and it is during that period of time that the Tsunami catastrophe occurred. One of his close friends as well had gone missing after the Tsunami and after a long search Hiran and his other friends found out that their friend’s whole family had got caught to the Tsunami. This tragedy made Hiran realise the uncertainty of life. “So I decided that if life is too short and I could be dead at any moment, I wanted to die while doing something I love,” he said. Thus he gave up science and started studying drama and theatre.
“While studying at the Playhouse for Children and Youth, I auditioned for a British Council production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus and got selected to play the lead role in the drama,” he shared. It enabled Hiran to audition for drama schools in the UK which paved his way to migrate to London and become a renowned actor.
The most significant thing I noticed about Hiran was his simplicity and humbleness. Kaushalya Fernando, an actress, a colleague of Hiran, also added how he had won other international awards too but had kept quiet because he did not want to cut a figure in society. “He has only two sarongs and doesn’t even wear slippers. He is that simple,” she shared.
Hiran was questioned if he was happy with the recognition received from the Government which was almost none. “It is totally okay because I don’t expect those things. I would prefer to go home straight and take some rest than going through all celebrations after a long flight,” he replied playfully. Nonetheless he admitted that arts in Sri Lanka do not have the right place in society yet.
A man with a vision
Hiran talked about the condition of Sri Lankan arts and theatre. “One main dichotomy I notice between Sri Lankan and British artists is that the British are given more freedom to produce works of arts; even economically. The artists are well recognised and funded by the Government so that they can fully engage in their works. So they produce better pieces of art.”
Moreover Hiran revealed to us his future plans to uplift and improve Sri Lankan theatre. “I hope to build a model village for drama and theatre studies where there will be numerous studios for rehearsing and practicing. It will provide a ground for both local and foreign dramatists and actors to interact and share knowledge and skills.”
Making the change happen
“I got to know about the protests and everything happening in Sri Lanka through my friends and news. So I couldn’t just stay there without supporting my fellow Sri Lankans. That’s why I went to the protest at Galle Face straight after going home,” he stated.
Also, he passionately shared his opinion about the ongoing protest. “I felt a real belongingness in the protests; it was magic. I noticed there a model of society I have always wanted Sri Lanka to be. I have never heard about a demonstration in the world other than this where protesters have established a library and read books. Everyone seemed so bound with each other. There was love. I was thrilled to see that people had freedom to kiss in public. In my opinion this is the change what we need; it is not merely political change but it carries a greater social and attitudinal change.”
“As Ven. Galkande Dhammananda Thera also told me, we Sri Lankans are like an expecting mother near her delivery. The labour is hard to bear. But if we hold on a bit more, we will be able give birth to a beautiful society. So let’s get together and make the change happen!” he further added.
By Induwara Athapattu