Has there been a phenomenal impact of film stars on the Sri Lankan political scene?
It’s more a matter to wonder as we’ve seen a few of them in the Parliament Chamber over the past quarter century. Their presence must be assessed from a social and political perspective.
Since independence, we had a few actors in that Chamber but they were not professional actors. The first professional actor to be elected to Parliament was the doyen of the Sinhala silver screen Gamini Fonseka. However, Gamini’s colleague Vijaya Kumaranatunga contested elections much before him but his entry was thwarted by the then UNP led by J.R. Jayewardene who labelled Vijaya as a Naxalite and remanded him.
I believe the influence of the then Jayewardene Government in power made Vijaya lose the Mahara electorate where UNP’s Kamalawarna Jayakody won by a slender majority.
Gamini set the trend for actors and actresses to contest elections. Having being elected to Parliament, Gamini was confined to the Deputy Speaker’s chair. Though his field was Art and Cinema, as the Deputy Speaker he was not able to contribute his knowledge to uplift the film industry. Later he was made the Governor of the North-East Province. In that capacity too he could not contribute to the film industry he most loved. Hence, the fact remains that Gamini Fonseka being the legend in the film industry had an unsuccessful career as a politician. But his contributions within the Chamber on social issues were outstanding though the government he represented looked ignorant.
Then we saw the entry of Ravindra Randeniya. Ravindra, like Gamini and Tony Ranasinghe is a well read man who could have made a fine contribution towards the progress of the film industry. He spoke well in Parliament having studied the Standing Orders of Parliament. Like Gamini he had a good command of both Sinhala and English. Ravindra was analytical in his contributions in the House. All what he proposed to build the film industry fell on deaf ears. He was only a backbencher in Parliament and he knew if Gamini couldn’t achieve anything as the Deputy Speaker for the film industry, his proposals will only be confined to the Hansard.
Political party Leaders attract popular film stars only to win elections. Our actors and actresses are yet to realize that fact. When elections come, political party leaders market these popular actors and actresses. These actors and actresses contribute in a grand manner for those leaders to win elections. After elections are won, they are never given the right place to contribute and perform. If governments are interested in building a strong film industry, these experienced actors and actresses elected to Parliament in the past should have been used for that purpose. With many actors and actresses choosing politics over the past quarter century, the film industry now stands on the verge of collapse. Truly, the film stars are there but a film industry is not there for them.
After Ravindra’s exit, we saw the entry of Jeevan Kumaranatunga, a ‘soft’ politician in the chamber. Jeevan continued in the House for over a decade but was given different subjects to administer. The film industry did not gain anything from his entry. He was not a forceful character in politics. Jeevan always played a low profile upholding dignity and decorum in parliament. Like his predecessors Jeevan also wasted his time in politics and the film industry continued to suffer. His cousin Ranjan Ramanayake continues in Parliament holding Deputy and State Minister portfolios .He too is not given the subject of films as it happened to all others.
We then saw the ‘Queen of the Sinhala Cinema’ Malini Fonseka entering the House through the National List with the young actress Upeksha Swarnamali better known as ‘Paba’. They both lacked political knowledge. Upeksha made many blunders during TV interviews as she was totally blind with regard to the controversial 13th, 17th and the 18th amendments to the constitution. Malini did not make any outstanding contribution during her tenure as a parliamentarian and the cinema lost her valuable services for over five years. They only made history by sleeping one night inside the Chamber of the People’s Legislature. We now have the glamorous Geetha Kumarasinghe sitting in the opposition. She is at the mercy of the government if she truly wants to help her film industry.
It must be recorded that after President J.R. Jayewardene successive Presidents have failed on many occasions to identify the correct person for the right job when allocating ministries. With regard to actors and actresses in politics, political party leaders have used them as ‘market products’ to win elections. That’s the true tragedy and comedy of film stars in politics. In reality, our actors and actresses have not been successful in politics.