(A tribute to Titus Thotawatte)
When Steve Jobs of Apple died a few weeks ago there was an over-pouring of grief. The newspapers were full of the man, his work, his vision and his humanity. A young friend of mine was perturbed by the fact that Sri Lanka had, going by the amount of coverage, lamented the passing of this man but seemed to have been less upset by the death around the same time of veteran actor Joe Abeywickrema. ‘I am worried about my generation,’ she said.
Around the same time I attended the ‘Sinhala Day’ celebrations of Ladies College, Colombo. The students had put together a programme showcasing the evolution of Sinhala songs using the history of the Sinhala cinema, with children re-playing well known cinematic moments, to the accompaniment of song, music and relevant clips. It was a school-version of the popular year-end production by popular and accomplished artists, ‘Ridee Reyak’ (A Night of Silver). Some performances were very well executed, some not. Overall, it was a satisfying experience.
Towards the end of the programme, the children put together a mix of Joe Abeywickrema’s most memorable performances on the silver screen by way of tribute to the great man. It moved me to tears. My friend’s generation is not ill-informed and is not unappreciative.
That day, at Ladies College, among the popular songs the melodies of which I found myself humming softly was ‘Kawruda kawruda dan lokko!’ The girls had come up with a neat skit to give life or let’s say renewed life to a perennial favourite among children. That song from arguably the most successful Sinhala children’s film, Handaya, was part of my growing up. It is part of my children’s growing up too. I remember remembering Titus Thotawatte. I remember smiling and being grateful.
Titus, who was part of the team that made the first film to have a truly Lankan identity, Lester James Peries’ ‘Rekava’, produced many films since his first, Chandiya (1965), but he will be remembered most of all for giving us Handaya. In a cinematic milieu that seemed not to notice children or one where children were nothing more than add-ons and indeed where films with the tag ‘for children’ are mostly the exploration of adult themes using child actors, Titus showed that things can be done differently and in ways that are meaningful for children.
Renton De Alwis wrote a note of remembrance that captures must of what I am sure many would feel: Ty Mama (Titus Thotawatte) is no more…The father of Sri Lankan cartoon art for TV and creator of Dr. Honda Hitha. I shall always remember ‘Bai kiyala bai kiyala baa’…May you find eternal peace. Bye Bye Ty Mama.
He was not Steve Jobs. He was not Joe Abeywickrema. He need not have been. He was Titus Thotawatte. He told some stories. He played some songs. We listened. We clapped. We sang along. Our children still do. He turned us all into children and when we forget and slip into ‘adulthood’, all it takes is a melody and lines from a song to arrest that decline.
He made innocence possible. More importantly he made it a worthwhile proposition. There is an adult within me that is sad right now. There is a child within who cannot stop smiling. That’s what he gave and that’s a lot to give the world.
Posted by Malinda Seneviratne
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