Adieu Sydney Chandrasekara
By Priyangwada Perea
Sydney Chandrasekara’s father was a friend of former President R. Premadasa. When young Sydney was in need of a job, his father spoke to his President-friend. President Premadasa sent him in a car to Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) both of which are on the same road. President Premadasa told Sydney to walk into the building of his choice and get a job in that institution. As luck would have it, Sydney opened the doors of SLRC. Call it fate or condemn it as political favouritism but the outcome was heaven-sent and Sydney’s addition to the SLRC made a lot of positive differences in country’s field of teledrama. However, he did not join Rupavahini as a director of teledramas.
Attorney at Law and the President of Tele Makers’ Guild Douglas Siriwardana met Sydney at SLRC at the time when Siriwaradana’s teledrama Sivumansala was being aired on Rupavahini. Sydney was just a novice to the field at the time but SLRC asked him to direct a teledrama and Sydney went to Siriwardana and asked him to write a script. It was his fellow lawyer who was with him that said, “How about the case you are working on right now? That would make a great script.” Siriwardana was practising in courts and no doubt that particular case had stayed in his mind. Nidikumba Mal was inspired by that true story.
Sydney was thrilled. Siriwardana would write, type it in the afternoon at office and Sydney would come in the evening to collect the type-written part, read, make changes and come the next day to collect the next part. Sydney loved it. Nidikumba Mal was special in many ways. Ninety per cent of it was shot inside SLRC. That was the first ever studio production of a teledrama at that time. Sydney had a good eye, a good taste and a keen sense of critical thinking. He did everything beautifully.
There started a journey where he made a name for himself as one of the most talented, loved teledrama directors in the country. His work, started from teledramas such as Nidikumba Mal, Kumarayaneni, and A-9 Mei Paaren Enna but unknown to many he was a lyricist as well. It is no wonder that most people question whether his expertise was taken full use of. Sydney was very dedicated, devoted and also a humble person. He was always open for discussion, where the actors were decided.
He was approachable. He had great confidence in his ability. He knew what he was doing. He knew his strengths and made use of it. He had a great reading of his spectator and because of this, he ended up capturing them. He was a good friend, someone who withstood time. His demise hurts the friends and is far more hurtful to know that they cannot pay proper last respects in this condition. Sydney departs as his friends in the industry lament how Sydney could never show his prowess in a film.
Sidney also got Clarance Wijewardane to sing a song for this teledrama. Aetha Epita Hima Kanden the ever popular song came in Sydney’s Nidikumba Mal. He possessed an innate ability to cater to his audience. He was a great fan of Hindi movies. He watched and studied them. His teledramas were so successful that Nidikumba Mal still holds a record for its earnings for SLRC - limited number of episodes, maximum spectator response and attraction.
The theme song of his much loved teledrama A-9 was also written by him. He was also the concept creator for Live at 8 in Swarnavahini.
Sydney met Palitha Silva around 1992 when Sydney came to Lionel Wendt to take some shots for a programme he was producing. Palitha was rehearsing a play. Seeing Palitha, he was interested in taking Palitha for the lead in his directorial debut. Palitha was a well known star by then. He told Sydney to come up with a good script and he’d be a part of it.
In spite of having no clue about Sydney’s abilities, he thought where a good script is at work, they can get it going. Later, they met at Sudarshi Hall and the script Sidney brought was Nidikumba Mal. From the moment he took the first glance at the script Palitha knew this would be a hit. Sydney already had Nilmini Tennakoon in mind. She too was at the peak of her popularity. Palitha realised Sydney was great. He attributed Sydney’s skills on team work and passion, to the ruggerite Sydney who captained the team of Ananda College.
Their combination of artists and technical staff were excellent. Having worked with Clarence in Suseema, Palitha and Sydney met Clarence. Seeing Clarence’s eagerness to do a song for Master Amaradeva, resulted in the theme song of the teledrama being created. Clarence also gave them the song, Aetha Epita Hima Kanden for the teledrama. Rupavahini could not pay Sydney much and Palitha did not mind the amount he got.
Sydney knew the meaning of teamwork. He wanted to add a new flare to teledramas. At a time when teledramas based on lives of ordinary people and youthful dreams were rare. Acting as Rohan in that teledrama, Palitha won the hearts of many.
Nilmini had made the small screen her kingdom. She was chosen to portray an entirely different role from what she became popular for. Young Nilmini worked with Sydney in Nidikumba Mal and in 1992 alongside Palitha. She went on to win the award for the Most Popular Actress that year. Later she acted in Kumarayaneni and Piyambana Ashvaya of Sidney’s. Working with Sidney, what Nilmini saw was a director who wanted the actor to be natural.
One had to be ready with the dialogues, be at the right spot on time. It was the sheer professionalism which moulded young actors that she wished the younger generation got the exposure to. Working in this teledrama which was shot in a studio, they had to shoot a long scenes at one go. Sydney was also the one to introduce the layered haircut through Nilmini and to include songs in teledramas.
Ending a brief yet a fruitful journey, the great director/lyricist concludes his physical journey. But Sydney’s name will shine for long.