by Thilak S. Fernando

He is small and short and has a mischievous look about him. He does not have to open his mouth but one glance at his eyes and his cheeky smile makes you laugh. Whether it is a born talent or acting experience, it blends perfectly with the characters he has been slotted into as a comedian. However, his refractive ideas appear to be that he could do better in a multitude of serious roles not only as a villain all the time. Today on Sri Lankan television, he has become very popular with his comedy role as an office peon in Nonawaruni Mahatwaruni continuing series. His comic releases have put him on top of the commercial world too and no one can avoid watching television in Sri Lanka these days without seeing Rodney Warnakula jumping up and down with his jokes and pranks. He has been a dramatic artiste for twenty years, yet a few appearances on the '.box' have helped him to surpass twenty years of fame on stage. His other talent is singing and he has been wise, in a world of eternal competition of singers, to choose a rare section such as theatre songs and cut a CD and an audiocassette already. Rodney has two ambitions, one to diversify his acting career with more serious roles and two, to go hammer and tongs with his singing career and to be recognised as a singer at the end of the day. Although I had seen him on Sri Lankan TV I met him for the first time in London recently and should I say that he convinced me , the moment I set my eyes on him, as a born comedian ?

Q. Pardon my ignorance about your background because the little I know about you is from what I have seen you on the Sri Lankan Television, especially from the Nonawaruni Mahatwaruni comedy series and many commercials. It took me by surprise to see you here with Janaka Kumbukage in London !

A. (Laughter) I don't blame you Tilak, because you have been here for so long. Am I correct? Well! I came to London this time with Sriyantha Mendis and his team to take part in his Padada Asapuwa, stage drama in London.

Q. Have you been involved in the Performing Arts in Sri Lanka for a long time?

A. Yes of course. I have been a drama artiste for the past twenty years!

Q. How did you get involved with Drama and Arts in Sri Lanka?

A. I first appeared in a drama called Th?ravi, which was produced by Lucian Bulathsinhale, towards the end of 1980

Q. In how many more stage dramas have you appeared since Th?ravi?

A. A variety of stage dramas, about 25-30 so far.

Q. Have you appeared mostly on the stage dramas or tele dramas

A. Majority of my performances have been on the stage and only in a limited number of tele dramas.

Q What prompted you to appear on Television?

A. Most of my television work is centred on TV commercials. Apart from that, I present various programmes.

Q. You have another talent, haven't you? Singing!

A. Yes, It came about in a surprising way because in most of my career on stage I have had to sing as well in every stage drama I took part in.

Q. Have you not concentrated on the signing aspect separately, apart from singing with the characters you have been playing on the stage?

A. What I have done recently is that I have selected a few of the songs which I have done on stage drama and pressed a CD, last year. (2000)

Q. What was it called?

A. Ha.. Ha… LAndé (Hi Hi Girl!) And it contains only songs from stage dramas.

Q. Was it only a CD ?

A. No, both CD and an Audio Cassette as well.

Q. What made you release a cassette out of your drama songs and not with originals?

A. Well ! I believe that it's the best gift I can give to those drama enthusiasts who enjoy stage drama. The other reason is that the variety in songs on either CD or audiocassette today is quite vast, but very rarely one finds drama songs on CD or on audiocassette.

Q. As you said before, you have been mainly in the field of stage drama for a considerable number of years, and how long have you been on the TV comedy series Nonavaruni Mahathwaruni?

A. It's done by Sirasa establishment and I have been there from the very inception of the series.

Q. To my mind, you successfully make the viewers laugh and give additional life to the series although all the others artistes in the series are equally doing a good job of making the show a hilarious one.

A. What happened was that when I came to the theatre at the beginning I did a small comedy role as Chuun Chang in Th?ravi stage play. Ever since, I have been chosen, for the past 20 years, for comedy characters. This is another distinctive feature in Sri Lanka among the drama and cinema producers and directors. They look at an artiste's previous performance and slot the actor into a character similar to the one he had performed earlier. Therefore, the trend continues and the person becomes slotted into chosen characters by the producers and directors, for the rest of his acting career.

Q. Are you trying to say that you would like to do a variety of characters rather than bogged down as a comedian only, and you lack the opportunity to demonstrate your latent and skills in other areas of acting as well?

A. Yes, quite so. The fact remains that from day one, I have been slotted into the category of a comedian and that trend has continued. Its not only me, but ask any artiste for that matter, and the answer you will get will be a standard one, i.e.- any one, if given the opportunity, will like to act in different roles, different characters to demonstrate their skills. For an actor it would be a learning process all of the time to widen his skills and experience.

Q. Are you not happy about your present situation then?

A. I can't say I am not happy also completely. After all, everyone likes to have a laugh, am I not correct? Therefore, by making people laugh you hit a chord with the viewers and become popular at least as a comedian. When you go around on streets and public transport etc., people recognise you and talk to you and it gives a certain amount of moral boosting to any artiste. So I can't say I am not happy altogether but it could be different.

Q. Still in my mind, I am not convinced that you are totally contended having to continue with the comedy roles for the rest of your career. Am I correct?

A. Well, if I can put it this way, any actor will be completely happy only when he has been able to perform in a variety of characters. That would be every artiste's dream in his or her acting career. More variety makes the actor confident and experienced. More the merrier if I can put in a jovial jargon.

Q. What character are you going to play tonight's drama in London, Padada Asapuwa?

A. Here, I have to act the role of the narrator?

Q. What is the basis of the story behind this play?

A. It's a political drama, but Sriantha Mendis is not making a mockery of the prevailing politics in Sri Lanka.He projects it in a constructive and decent manner to amplify the present political scenario of the country. The characters in the play consist of a professor, a medical student, a prostitute, a political leader, and a padaya

Q. What is the meaning of the word Padada Asapuwa?

A. Padaya means a man who operates from the 'underworld' and Asapuwa means abode of peace.

Q. Does it mean to convey the meaning that Sri Lanka today is an abode of peace except where representatives from the underworld have entered this 'residence of peace'? Meaning subtly that politics in the country are run by a kind of mafia?

A. That is the present climate of our political situation in our country. What Paadada Asapuwa does is to analyse some aspects of our present day politics in our country, highlight, and amplify those areas in a mild form.

Q. Have you performed this drama in Sri Lanka already?

A Certainly yes. We have been performing all over the country and I must tell you that the audiences have very well received it. We have taken a break of two months and it is during this interval that Sriantha Mendis has been able to slot it into an European tour.

Q. When you look at your team, it consists of a group of very popular artistes who are very much in demand in Sri Lanka. How did all of you manage to come out of the country at the same time, because it must disrupt other producers and directors' work which you all have committed to, and signed contracts with already?

A. Yes, we must go back as soon as possible. As you said, there are several producers of films, stage play and tele drama directors, advertising companies etc., who have assigned us work and they have patiently put on hold their work because of our tour.

Q. How did you feel when you landed in London?

A. When we arrived in Paris, we felt the difference as it was cold and it reminded us that we were not in Sri Lanka any more, but these days the London weather is warm and wonderful and I get the feeling that I am in some part of Sri Lanka actually. Can't you see I am wearing just a T-shirt like in Sri Lanka? Its wonderful, same climate as in Sri Lanka now.

Q, Have you any appeal or comment to the Sri Lankan expatriate community living in the UK who will read this column?

A. I am sure there are so many Sri Lankan Associations and organisations in the UK and we expect that those organisations will afford our community here the opportunity of enjoying Sri Lanka drama in this manner in the future too.

Q. What is your future plans or what is there in the pipeline for you in the immediate future?

A. As I told you earlier, through drama I have emerged as a singer and become popular as a stage drama singer. Given a choice, I prefer to sing rather than to act. There are a few teledramas for me in the queue. Nari Bena drama, which became very popular in 1960, is going to be shown once again in the near future and I am going to play the role of Nariya (Fox) in this. However, my main concentration will be on the singing and hope to diversify my singing career and to produce more CDs in a variety of songs and singing styles.

Q Can we then expect to see you as a more popular singer in the future than an actor?

A. (Laughter) I think I might end up as a Singer, that's my gut feeling.

Q. Good luck to you Rodney

A. Thank you very much Tilak.