Sinhala Edition English Edition
Facebook Official Fanpage Google+ Official Page Official Twitter Account Rss Feed

Gossip Lanka Latest


 Unheard of stories of Lester James Peries who could not speak a word of Sinhala initially ...  but later carries Sinhala culture to the world
Unheard of stories of Lester James Peries who could not speak a word of Sinhala initially ...
but later carries Sinhala culture to the world

Lester was born to a wealthy family in Dehiwala, Colombo. He spent his time in a mansion during his childhood in a land spanning 5 acres. This mansion named 'Sihagiri' had been built by Lester's grandfather Philip Francis who was a businessman. Since those of Lester's ancestry had a special liking for the game of cricket, there was a big cricket ground too in this plot of land. In fact Sihagiri was situated on a beautiful
background by the sea.

Lester's father was Francis. He was a doctor educated in Scotland. Mother was Ann Gertrude Winifred Jayasuriya. She had her education at St. Bridget's Convent and having passed with flying colours, became a housewife all the same. He was the second in Lester Peries' family and there were four sons and daughters including him. Just like Lester's father, the brothers too had their schooling at St. Peter's College. The only sister attended St. Paul's Convent. Lester's father happened to be of the Negombo Kurukulasuriya ancestry. The mother was from Moratuwa. They were heavily inclined towards Catholic religion. Though Lester's father was a doctor of medicine, Lester himself admits that he made no influence to uplift their education as such. He says that it was his mother who encouraged him to pursue his studies and when questioned as to what he would like to be someday, he recalls how he was greeted with a laugh when he responded saying that he wished to be 'pope'.

Lester's father had calculated the time-period when horse-racing would take place and had also been a cricket fanatic. It is learned that he had shown a preference towards the game of cricket than the subject of medicine. It is understood that his desire was to see his children become cricketers some day. Lester had recalled that he was punished only once in his lifetime and that it was because he had been electrocuted one day when trying to attach two wires of the radio. He smilingly says that, that too was just by twisting his ear and being reprimanded. Lester has also remarked that both his mother and father never spoke even a single word in Sinhala even at home or outside either and because Lester's father's mother spoke Sinhala, she had acquired a knowledge of Sinhala words when at home and thus before embarking on the field of cinema he has had to study Sinhala all over.

Though Catholic, Lester's father had taken steps to prepare a horoscope for Lester. The astrologer Clifford Perera of Borella who went through small Lester's horoscope has stated that the owner of the horoscope would some day would turn out to be a cinematographer, Lester recalled at a later date. At that time there had been small Kodac items on sale in Colombo. It was in fact a hand-manipulated projector with the aid of which 8 mm. films could be viewed. Lester cannot remember whether he had asked his father for it. In any case his father had brought a Kodac Cope machine home. Lester had been able to see Charlie Chaplin films for the first time from that projector.

It was he and his younger brother, Ivan who were inclined towards the arts. Lester's interest in fact was drawn to literature, songs and the cinema. On the other hand Lester's younger brother, Ivan's interest developed towards art. Lester had been to Plaza at Wellawatta and Capitol cinema in Panchikawatta in the company of his parents. At home he had listened to his mother playing the piano. A piano had been ordered from England for her. However, playing the piano was a forbidden field for Lester. The reason for this prohibition was that it had been classified as a feminine instrument by his mother. In order to familiarise Lester's hand at the violin which was a masculine instrument, he was sent to the Danish teacher called Richard Wagen. But Lester did not show a liking to the violin as such. He of course had attended the violin class; but had broken strings of the violin without the notice of the teacher. What the teacher did was to replace those strings and continue teaching Lester to play the violin until Lester got through two exams. In the process since this teacher happened to marry the attractive female student in the violin class and thus leave the town, Lester's first lesson in music came to an end as a result.

Lester's next music teacher was one Mrs. Silva who had a tough character. The moment an incorrect note was played, she had the habit of beating Lester's finger-joints with the footruler. Asa result he took it up as a nuisance and left that class too. The renowned Lionel Wendt at that time gave Lester's father some advice: 'Let Lester do what he likes' was the advice. Once the Ordinary Level examination was over, Lester gave up everything and set off to London Times as a correspondent of Times of Ceylon.  While engaged in writing to the Times of Ceylon newspaper, he also compiled articles to London Daily Express, Evening Standard and London Times as well. Thus 8 years passed by. What he thought was to continue in journalism right along.

However he got the opportunity of studying arts in England. After that journey he began to develop an interest in the cinema. For competency in skills displayed, he was awarded that award at Great Britain Amateur Research Film Producers' Festival. Subsequently he created the short film 'Farewell to Childhood' based on a short story written by himself. It was during this time that he had to appear for an interview with Ralph Keene on behalf of the London Times newspaper. After coming to Sri Lanka he was take up an appointment at the Sri Lanka Government Film Unit.

Ralph Keene who arrived in the island then began to write letters over and over again to Lester. Finally he came and having joined the Government Film Unit functioned as a co-director of films such as 'Nelumgama -- Sri Lanka's heritage'. During shooting of 'Nelumgama' what struck Lester's mind was that many things could be done taking the cine-camera out of the studio. He in fact made a thorough study of Sinhala culture and the language. So Lester brushed aside values of high echelons of the upper strata and resolved to make the cinema his career. Lester then came out from Government Film Unit with Willie Blake and Titus Thotawatta with the motive of producing 'Rekhava', challenging the new era of colonialism in 1956 and the political revolution that followed and there emerged another revolution which was unknown upto then in the field of culture. In 1956 he produced the 'Maname' drama. The great writer Martin Wickremasingha wrote 'Viragaya' and Lester James Peries gave birth to the historic 'Rekhava'.

This then portrayed his journey of moving into the village from the studio armed with the cine-camera in the process. Though 'Rekhava' did not attract much of a dialogue as a successful creation in the early stages, as time passed by everybody came to realise that it incidentally was what changed the progress of the cinema in Sri Lanka. Several of his creations actually won acclaim the world over. The award secured over the victory he gained through the film 'Nidhanaya' has never been received by any other film producer in the island.

Lester was someone who did not like interviews. Most people saw his achievements through achievements he made. 'Madol Doowa' gained success because of the strength of Martin Wickremasingha's novel. Baddegama achieved distinction because of Joe's acting, and 'Yuganthaya' achieved that status because of Tissa Abeysekera ... he would say. Lester was not the type of character would boast about himself but instead quote the name of some other person involved in the film concerned. He was someone who never accumulated money from the cinema. In fact till the moment of his death he happened to live in rented houses. The only request he made from whatever government it is was, was to just erect an archive for the cinema.

Gossip Lanka Previous News