As an imaginative and gifted individual who has grasped a multitude of faculties in the versatile world of art, Irudini Umali Thilakaratne not only exercises proficiency in acting but also dancing, singing, languages and Psychology. Entering the world of acting at the tender age of 14, Umali came to the silver screen and to face a film camera for the first time through the movie Rosa Wasanthaya. From that very moment onwards, she has travelled a long way in order to dedicate herself towards searching for the meaning of art and realizing the ultimate motive of developing her capabilities in abundance. Throughout her journey she has not only succeeded in exhibiting sheer brilliance through various achievements in several standpoints in her life, such as playing the heroine in the Japanese movie Final Judgment, winning the National State Award 2010 as the Best Supporting Actress in the Drama Arungal for the role Chandralatha and also SIGNIS Salutations 2010, Merit Award for the Creative Auxiliary Contribution for the Drama Poojasanaya for her role Sandali. However, despite all her accomplishments she has maintained herself as an individual who dearly adores her family and established herself in a disposition of modest temperaments with a friendly and affable character, not only in the field of art but also personally as well.
- Hello Umali! How are you these days? You just returned from your trip to Australia. Can you tell me a little about that experience?
I’m fine, thank you! Australia was new to me although I have experiences travelling abroad. We went to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and finally to Melbourne. We were featuring in Channa’s dance troupe. Saranga and I sang and did some performances as well as some compeering. It was approaching the winter season so we thought it would be quite cold but the Sri Lankans over there warmly greeted us so we certainly felt welcomed. It was a really good experience because we had the chance to interact with so many people who had their hearts beating to the Sri Lankan rhythm. The reason for me to state that was because the way the audience cheered for us and welcomed was a riveting experience. So, it felt good to meet the people who loved us and loved our culture.
- You are a multi-talented person, as an actress, dancer and singer. How do you describe yourself as a person as well as an artist?
In my personal life I am quite calm. I like being free and liberated. I like my own space but at the same time I like to mingle with people as well. So, it’s like this, when I’m just as I am and not trying to create something with what I have, using my voice or my body as an instrument to perform, that is where I accumulate all that sufficient elements and details to perform when it comes to the actual performance in front of a camera or a mike. Let’s keep it simple like that!
What I personally believe is that, you can be a better artist if you are able to culminate yourself as a better person. I think if you really get to know yourself well enough, there is more that you can actually give and offer.
- So, what are you working on these days?
Today, I just got back from Dambulla after shooting for Heena Hoyana Samanaullu which is a movie directed by Rohan Perera. He is an upcoming Director and the experience itself was very lovely because I had a wonderful time working with a bunch of children for three and half days.
I’m also working on a few songs and some other projects which will be coming up in the future.
- Can you talk about your family? Are there any recent developments or updates?
Before I got married I was with my parents and maternal grandparents. So I’m quite close to my grandparents as well. However, my grandfather is not with us anymore.
I have a younger brother who gave his oath as a lawyer. When it comes to my father, he is a person with a lot of courage. He has his own business and he is quite patriotic and determined. My mother is someone who is full of dedication towards her own family and has made a lot of sacrifices. So, whatever I have achieved in life so far was mostly because of their support and encouragement.
Now that I am married I have other special and endearing people in my life such as my husband, Saranga Disasekara and his mother.
Saranga is a popular actor, singer and announcer and his mother is a well known personality too. All of these people have taught me how important it is to have a family .I feel absolutely blessed to have them!
- Can you talk about your roots, how your school life was? And when did your develop an interest and passion towards acting, music and dancing?
I went to 2 schools. From Grade 1-4 I was at President’s College and from Grade 5 to my advanced levels I was at Musaeus College. Even when I was at President’s, I had the chance to do a few dancing items. However most of the things I’ve gained in life, when it comes to my performances were through Musaeus College, from my dancing teacher Visha De Silva. She is a quite a giving individual who could see the talents in all the kids and knew exactly how to use them. Each one of us got equal opportunities to sing, act and dance for school and also inter-school events. Through this we also got a chance to represent Sri Lanka in drama and dancing. So we travelled to India, Malaysia, Japan and Korea through my schooling years.
During these years I also went to Nanda Malini for singing classes.
When talking about dancing, I think I gathered a lot discipline which one could gain through practice. That’s where I learnt how to express myself and to control my body movements. Therefore, I believe school provided me with a strong base to open my wings and fly out.
It was also during my school years that I was selected for a film, Rosa Wasanthaya. It was my first acting experience in front of a camera when I was in Grade 10 and getting ready for a school concert. We were practicing when the Director and the main staff of the film came in search of young girl to play a part in the movie. That was the very start from where I started getting other offers in the artistic arena.
My parents of course didn’t allow me to do everything that I wished because they wanted me to concentrate on my studies first, which I am now glad of.
In addition, I also got a chance of playing a part in an international production which was released worldwide as the character of Maggie in the Italian production Mother Theresa of Kolkata. Later on I got more opportunities.
Instead of simply categorizing dancing, singing and acting into artistic forms, I want to state that my passion towards the whole art of performance and expressing myself in a creative manner started taking root and developing from my school years onwards.
- As you said, you took your very first step as an artist at the age of 14, through the movie Rosa Wasanthaya. From that point onwards what do you think about your development so far?
Becoming an actress wasn’t my main goal back then. I was primarily interested in Psychology and wanted to become a Psychiatrist one day. I did Bio Science for my advanced levels and because I was too busy at school my father guided me towards shifting from Local A/Ls classes to London A/L ones. With that result I got entrance to a Medical Faculty in India. I planned to go there but things just didn’t end up like that!
Right after my A/Ls I was sent for Japan to study for one year and as soon as I came back to Sri Lanka I was called for a teledrama, which was my very first teledrama and directed by Mr. Udayakantha Warnasuriya who also directed the first movie I was casted in. So it was when I was shooting for this drama, that I got the message that I had to go to India for my studies. Although I went there I had to come back to complete the shooting for the drama.
It was during that time that my father took me to Master Premasiri Khemadasa just to get a song composed. However he insisted that I should follow his one year program on performing arts.
So I thought , well it’s just one year so let’s give it the chance and see because I can always postpone my higher studies. However it did affect in the developing of my primary ambition because Master started his opera Agni and I was casted there as well. I thought it was a chance I will not get again because Master was such a unique person and I was able to learn so much from him. So, that’s what stopped me from pursuing my higher studies on Medicine.
At present, I have reached a point in my life that I haven’t really imagined before. Although I had the passion to express myself thorough creative outlets like dancing or singing, I only wanted to perform when I needed to as I have quite a shy personality though I do like to make friends and acquaintances.
I also have to mention that, meeting Saranga was a turning point because I always wanted to support my partner in life. Even back then I saw him as a person who can go a long way in this field. I wanted to support him and be there for him, at all times.
So yes, that is how I ended up in my journey of being an artist that is of course if anyone can call me an artist! J
I believe my self-development lies on the fact that I like observing things, delving into the inner structure of anything and not only considering the superficial and external appearance. If I have improved throughout the years, it is because I always had that quality in me.
I have to say that it wasn’t easy because it doesn’t come to you only through observing because you always had to practice your art, find faults within yourself and thereby constantly making efforts to improve. You also have to seek whatever the strengths you have and whatever qualities which would aid you in order to distinguish yourself as a unique personality. Therefore, for an artist it’s a must to practice your art.
I didn’t have the urge to become popular and although I got opportunities I did not have many clues about this whole field. I always thought the skills and knowledge I have is not enough and if I let myself be simply satisfied with it, I must not be doing justice to the versatile act of being an artist, a performer or an actress.
That is why I decided to leave Sri Lanka and go to Japan for my higher studies and followed a 4 years degree program under the Cinema Department of Nihon University. I choose acting as my main but along with acting came singing and dancing as well which were part of the program.
When you go overseas there is a huge competition and you have to prove your skills to show your colours through auditioning in order to grab the chance, whereby in Sri Lanka auditioning is rather a novel concept. So I did these auditions and got the chance to be casted as the main in a Japanese movie (Final Judgment) and also a regular role in a Japanese TV series (Sokow o Nantoka – Can you please do something!). I also got the chance to be in a Hollywood production. It was only 2-3 days but I it was a chance for me, like a workshop in a way.
Furthermore, all the supportive and encouraging advices that I get from senior artists and anyone who basically shares something with me were fruitful in developing myself as well.
I also have to talk about my fans here as they can be very encouraging and helpful in motivating me, particularly when it comes to the fans who look into a creation with more value, and can give constructive criticism. I honestly do not think I’m a very popular person for the fans to actually go gaga over me! However, the few fans that I have are quite encouraging and loving.
- Can you talk about some memorable experiences as your character Rin in the Japanese movie Final Judgment?
Well, it was the first time I had to shoot in such a cold weather and probably the first time I did a main role in a movie. Even in Sri Lanka I’ve done a prominent character in the movie Nino Life but even there I appeared in that in the middle of the film unlike in the Final Judgment where I was there throughout. So, I felt more responsible.
The very fact I was shooting in another country without anyone to assist me personally was a whole other experience. The script, directing and everything else were in Japanese. Although I have studied Japanese it was my first time in getting involved with the language to that extent.
Language was certainly the challenge for me because things could be different when we express them in a foreign language. Moreover, Japanese people have different ways in expressing themselves. As a result, with this role I had to work on different areas. I had the responsibility on being able to convey accordingly and make the audience feel closer to me through my character and expressions.
We as Sri Lankans are very expressive in acting and facial expressions but it is not the same when it comes to acting in Japan. So, I constantly had to keep a balance between those two styles. What’s more, Japanese people are highly punctual and that was quite a challenge as well.
In addition, there is something quite special in Japan that they do. Usually when there is a movie out, there is a specific day where the audience will get to meet the actual artist. The artists will watch the movie premier with the audience and greet them after the show. That was my first experience in seeing such a large audience in a theater hall. The applause I got there was probably the largest or the most welcoming applause I got as I entered the stage. It was an experience I will never forget in my life.
- Can you share some unforgettable experiences you’ve had in your career so far?
The most memorable experience was meeting my life partner, Saranga in the year 2007 for the Sanda Watha Seya drama. He was introduced to be verbally by the producer initially and on the very first day of meeting I didn’t have any clue that this relationship can actually develop and I would end up being his wife! It was my first time acting as a lover so I was a bit nervous too. He was supportive and almost everything that happened during that production is still in my memory.
Another experience that I won’t forget is how I fell off a bike in the production of Poojasanaya. I acted as the role Sandali and there was a scene which I actually fall. As you know even in a written scene, we don’t act it out because there are techniques that you can use to show this to the viewers. But what happened to me was that I actually fell into the gutter. I was screaming but I wasn’t really injured. However, it was quite truly an unforgettable experience !
Also during my first teledrama, Senehase Geethaya, there were three girls in the family in which I was the middle one. In this drama there was a scene where our car stops in the middle of the road and we have to push it. People were passing by in busses, other vehicles and were hooting and making fun of us! lol It was a fun experience though, no hard feelings at all ! J
With the character Rin in Final Judgment there are a number of places Rin falls into tears. She is a girl who has gone through a bad experience in life and has even seen her own parents being hit and killed. She comes in as a spy in the first place. At one point when she has to make a tough decision, she suddenly recalls of her younger days of the trauma that she always had to deal with. When they were shooting this particular scene I was there in the studio and could actually see it happening in the monitors. I really empathized with Rin and cried. With that particular experience, I did not have to use any glycerin as I was crying non-stop, because I felt as if that has really happened to me. Well, after all that I ended up with a headache!
I also have to mention about the movie Niño Live which was directed by Thisara Imbulana and yet to be released. There was a particular scene which was challenging to me because I was thinking what other people would think of it, whether it would harm the image that I portray or the dignity of my parents, and questions like that. So, I had a sense of hesitation to go through with it. However after I did the scene I felt it was simply acting. That’s when I realized when it comes to acting it’s not us and it is a different role that we are portraying. If you’re up to acting you should be able to take all the constructive criticism that comes your way. Therefore, I learnt that it shouldn’t really matter to you what people may think of YOU. As actors, what should matter to us is the extent as to which we can act in order to convince people to believe upon our act. J Therefore, what should come across is that the viewers are made to think of that character itself and not our true self.
- One final question Umali, can you share your near future aspirations and plans with us?
I believe in life we play diverse roles. With my parents I am a daughter and with my husband, a wife. Likewise I play different roles in this society as well. So, I wish to play the role of a mother in the future, not very soon though! I wish to balance everything I do. Sometimes I choose to act or to sing and sometimes I have to help my family business or look into my studies and try to continue them. Most importantly, I constantly have to excel as an artist to express myself better.
As a career, at the end of accumulating all the knowledge and experience I want to be able to give it out to people. So either I might choose to lecture at a proper institute or start my own practice to share my knowledge with children and anyone who is interested. Therefore, all these things are in the future to come. At the present I wish to keep myself focused on what I have to do today, so that I will not have any regrets tomorrow.
By – Nelani De Costa
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