Actress turned politician Geetha Kumarasinghe grabbed media attention a few weeks ago when she spoke out strongly in support of President Gotabaya Rajapksa. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP) Galle district MP who enjoyed much popularity as a successful actress for many years had been appointed State minister of Culture and Performing Arts by the President on April 18th. Geetha Kumarasinghe addressed Parliament for the first time in her state minister capacity on April 21st.
The newly appointed state minister lashed out at the “Gota Go Home”protests demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Specifically targeting the alleged blocking of roads and railway tracks by protesters , she queried whether this was not “Terrorism”? According to meda reports Geetha Kumarasinghe spoke thus “ Who closed the railway and other main roads? What is expected of these? Isn’t this terrorism? Do innocent people do this? I say in this House today, stop saying Gota Go Home immediately. When his time comes he will leave. Then let’s go for a poll!”
Geetha’s name and speech came up a few days ago when I was conversing with two Sri Laankan youngsters in their early twenties who were actively involved in the protests. We were discussing several aspects concerning the “Gota Go Home” agitation including Geetha’s speech.. While talking about Geetha’s parliamentary outburst, I realised that both the youthful activists regarded her as a politician alone. Her acting antecedents were not well known to them. On the other hand, I still view Geetha as an actress and not as a politician.
The youngsters wanted to know more about Geetha’s acting career and I obliged them. I recounted the past when the dazzling Geetha Kumrasinghe sizzled on the Sinhala silver screen. I told them about her films and how she was a box office draw iin those days. At one point I mentioned that in her heyday Geetha Kumarasinghe had been compared to Brigitte Bardot.I was startled when the response was “Who was Brigitte Bardot? I realised then – in the words of Andrew Marvell – that I could hear “time’s winged chariot hurrying near”.
It is against this backdrop therefore that this column focuses on yesteryear actress and current state minister Geetha Kumarasinghe. Devoting the first article in each month to a film, film personality or film related topic is a practice being followed by this column. I have written about Geetha Kumrasighe in the past when she was first elected MP and also when she forfeited her MP post on account of being a dual citizen. I shall be drawing from those writings in this “filmy” article about Geetha.
Kumara Vidugalage Dona Geetha Samanmalee Kumarasinghe known as Geetha Kumarasinghe was born on 5 July 1955 in Badulla. Her father Wijepala Kumarasinghe was from Hamburugala in Bentara. Her mother Udulawathi Siriwardena was from Kotmale. Though Geetha, the eldest, was born in Badulla, she and her seven younger siblings (five Girls and two boys) grew up in southern Bentara. Her father was a journalist and mother a housewife. Journalist Wijepala Kumarasinghe worked as the Deputy Editor of the journal “Sinhala Bauddhaya “(Sinhala Buddhist) for many years.
The children had a strict upbringing and were not even permitted to see movies during childhood. Geetha had her primary schooling at Ananda College, Elpitiya and secondary education at Holy Family Convent,Kalutara. Apart from playing netball for the school team, Geetha excelled at extra- curricular activities such as singing, dancing and drama. When Mahagama Sekera’s play “Chora Pabbatha” was staged , her performance as “Kundalakeshi” earned much praise for Geetha.
Young Geetha’s interest in films was sparked off by an interesting childhood experience. As a kid she spent her holidays once with her aunt (father’s sister)Aruna Wickramapala in Colombo. The Wickramapalas were close friends of the famous Film Director Lester James Peries. It was at their mansion in Kollupitiya that many scenes of Lester’s move ‘Ran Salu’ were filmed. Geetha got a chance to see a film being shot at first-hand then. She was infatuated by the leading lady Punya Heendeniya. Geetha used to imitate Punya in front of a mirror. She also took home several slides of scenes in the film and would look at them lovingly over and over again without the knowledge of her parents.
Geetha’s tryst with her glamorous destiny and fame came in the form of a beauty competition. The “Davasa” newspaper organised an “Avuruddhu Rupa Sundari’ beauty competition at Bentota in 1973. Geetha then in her teens wanted to compete. The mother was amenable but her father refused to give permission. Well-known cartoonist and journalist Amita Abeysekera who wrote the popular humour column ‘This is my Island’ in The Island newspaper in later years was a family friend. Geetha appealed to Amita who somehow persuaded Wijepala to allow his daughter to enter the beauty contest. Over 100 dainty damsels participated but Geetha was crowned as the fairest of them all.
One of the judges Ronald Fernando felt that Geetha should act in films. He was a friend of matinee idol Gamini Fonseka. He told Gamini about the Bentota beauty queen and suggested that she be given a chance to act in films. Gamini agreed to meet Geetha. Fonseka too was impressed by Geetha and arranged for a screen test at the cinemas studio in Hendala. Wijepala Kumarasinghe objected strongly. Again Amita Abeysekera came to the rescue. Reluctantly Geetha’s father consented.
Word got around in movie circles that a Sinhala version of Brigitte Bardot had been discovered at a beauty pageant in Bentota. The French actress known by her iinitials “B.B.” was looked upon in the sixties and seventies as a sex symbol due to the roles she played on screen.
Filmmakers began flocking southwards to the Kumarasinghe household in Bentara. Even without a single film of hers being released Geetha had offers for 21 films. Apart from the movie offers, there was a marriage offer too. An expatriate engineer based in the UK wanted to marry Geetha and fly off with her into the British sunset. Though her parents wanted their eldest daughter to accept the offer, Geetha declined. She wanted to pursue a career in films.
A Star was Born
Her first film contract was signed for K.A.W. Perera’s ‘Wasana’. Though Wasana was Geetha’s first film, it was not fated to be her screen debut. Geetha Kumarasinghe’s first film to be released in theatres was Neil Rupasinghe’s ‘Lassana Kella’. It was released on 20 June 1975. A few months later in September came K.Venkat’s ‘Damayanthi’. March 1976 saw ‘Wasana’ hitting the screen. Then followed Manik Sandrasagara’s ‘Kolomba Sanniya’. A star was born!
Geetha took the Sinhala film world by storm. A remarkable facet of Geetha’s vivacious personality was her readiness to interact closely with her male co-stars on screen. She was not prepared to play the coy maiden, if and when , a scene warranted close encounters of the physical kind.
This was indeed a refreshing boon to directors. Film fans of all ethnicities invaded cinemas in large numbers to see this bombshell of scintillating beauty acting in sensual scenes. Movies featuring Geetha Kumarasinghe seldom bombed at the box office. Incidentally Playboy magazine once offered her a huge amount of money to pose topless for its cover. Geetha turned down the lucrative offer.
It was around this time that Vijaya Kumaratunga was making his mark in movies. Geetha’s first film that was released as her third was ‘Wasana’ in which she acted opposite him. Vijaya was often paired with Geetha and together the duo proved to be a winning combination. Vijaya-Geetha starrers like ‘Anjana,’ ‘Jayasikuru,’ ‘Jaya Apitai’ and ‘Raja Wedakarayo’ were critically-acclaimed commercial successes.
The first film which effectively showcased Geetha’s thespian skills was Titus Thotawatte’s ‘Maruwa Samage Wase’. In this the male lead role was played by Vijaya. Another film in which Geetha made her mark was Tissa Abeysekara’s ‘Karumakkarayo,’ which too starred Vijaya. Geetha in a media interview has opined that the turning point in her life was Sunil Ariyaratne’s ‘Siribo Ayya’ in which she acted with Joe Abeywickrema.
Geetha however could never be stereotyped as a bimbo playing eye-candy roles alone. She began acting in weighty roles that demonstrated her acting abilities from the beginning of her film career and continued to do so over the years. Films such as ‘Pembara Madhu,’ ‘Podi malli,’ ‘Siribo Ayya,’ ‘Sathara Diganthaya,’ ‘Karumakkarayo,’ ‘Mahagedara,’ ‘Anuragaye Ananthaya,’ ‘Palama Yata,’ ‘Rajya Sevaya Pinisai,’ ‘Loku Duwa’ and ‘Ran Diya Dahara’ testify to her acting prowess. Who can forget the characters Dulcie in ‘Pembara Madhu,’ Dotty in ‘Palama Yata,’ Punna in ‘Lokuduwa’ and Amali in ‘Ran Diya Dahara’?
Acting in roles of oppressed women fighting against the overwhelming odds of life is a Geetha Kumarasinghe hallmark. She has won the National Award for Best Supporting Actress twice and National Award for Best Actress thrice. Geetha also obtained the prestigious Sarasaviya award for Best Actress four times and the Most Popular Actress award once. Geetha also got the Swarna Sanka award for Best Actress twice.
Acted in Over 80 Films.
In a film career spanning more than three decades Geetha has acted in over 80 films. Most of them are Sinhala movies. Yet she has also acted in non-Sinhala movies made by Indian, Pakistani, Japanese and French filmmakers. As far as I know Geetha has acted in two Tamil films.
One film was ‘Rathathin Rathamae’ (Blood of my blood) produced by Sri Lankan Tamil hotelier “Brighton” Ariyaratnam and directed by Joe Dev Anand. The film was shot entirely in Sri Lanka but featured some Tamil Nadu actors like Jaishanker, Radhika, Sivachandran and Asokan.
Geetha played the sister of hero Jaishanker. She is seduced iin the film by the playboy villain who turns her into a drug addict. Ultimately she commits suicide. Geetha appeared in a semi-nude scene in the film that proved to be a powerful magnet for attracting huge audiences in those days. “Rathathin Rathamae” was a box office success. It is the only Sri Lankan Tamil film to have run for more thnn a 100 days at a stretch in a theatre(105 days at Kingsley). Geetha got a best supporting actress award.The film was later dubbed into Sinhala as “Yukthiyata Chandiya” and reportedly ran well.
‘Moahanap Punnahai’ (Enchanting smile).
The other film was ‘Moahanap Punnahai’ (enchanting smile). This was directed by veteran filmmaker, C. V. Sridhar. Many scenes in the film were shot in Sri Lanka. When Director Sridhar arrived in Sri Lanka to scout for potential locations, he happened to see a Sinhala magazine hanging in a news stand. The director was enchanted by the ‘cover girl,’ who was Geetha. He made inquiries and soon signed a contract with her.
Geetha acted opposite the doyen of Tamil actors Sivaji Ganesan in the film. She played a true-to-life role in the film as a damsel from southern Sri Lanka. Geetha’s introductory sequence was a sizzler. She bathes in a mountain stream with a picturesque waterfall in the background. A haunting song for which M.S. Viswanathan composed the melody is picturised on Geetha who frolics seductively in the water. The opening lines of the song sung by S. Janaki were ‘Thennilangai Mangai – Vennilavin Thangai’ (Maiden from South Lanka – Sister of the Silvery Moon). The description fitted Geetha well.
An interesting experience in Tamil Nadu brought home to me the impact made by Geetha through that song. Many years after its original release, I once saw ‘Moahanap Punnahai’ in a Chennai theatre screening old films. When the ‘Maiden from South Lanka’ song sequence came on screen, the enraptured audience erupted in applause, cheers, cat calls and wolf whistles. When the movie was over, I overheard bits of conversation from the people praising the “Sri Lankan Ponnu Geetha” (Sri Lankan woman Geetha). This was at a time when anti-Sri Lanka feelings were running high in the state.
‘Moahanap Punnahai’ was first released in 1981 and became a smashing success in Tamil Nadu. Geetha was inundated with offers from Tamil movie producers but unfortunately she could not accept them because she was about to get married. She later told a Tamil journalist, “I like to act in Tamil films because I love Tamil culture. The Tamils too like me,” and explained that her reason to refuse the offers was due to her marriage.
Producer of Films
Geetha Kumarasinghe also blossomed into a producer of popular films of great quality. Some of the films produced by her were ‘Palama Yata,’ ‘Salambak Handai,’ ‘Loku Duwa,’ ‘Anuragaye Ananthaya,’ ‘Wasuli’ and ‘Geetha’. She won two Best Film awards at the Sarasaviya festival in her capacity as producer for ‘Palama Yata’ and ‘Loku Duwa’. In later years Geetha also became a successful business entrepreneur, running several garment factories.
Geetha Kumarasinghe belonged to a middle class politically conscious family. Despite this background she never engaged in active politics preferring to concentrate on her film career. Her entry into politics was due to Mahinda Rajapaksa who enlisted her services on his behalf in the 2010 presidential election campaign.
Canvassing for Mahinda at the polls was an exhilarating experience for the popular actress. Thereafter she was appointed UPFA Organiser for Bentara-Elpitiya electoral division in Galle District. Geetha contested the 2010 elections on the UPFA ticket from Galle. She lost. In 2014 she contested the Southern Provincial Council poll and was elected as Councillor.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated at the 2015 Presiential election. The new President Mithripala Sirisena became the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader. Geetha Kumarasinghe the SLFP organizer for the Bentara – Elpitiy electoral division remained fiercely loyal to Mahinda. When Parliament elections were held in August 2015 Geetha was nominted as a candidate on the SLFP list for Galle.
Galle District MP
Geetha Kumarasinghe was elected to Parliament for the first time in Aug 2015 polling 63,955 votes. Six MPs were elected on the UPFA ticket from the Galle District in the poll. Geetha was the fifth of the six UPFA Galle District MPs. Next to Geetha as the sixth MP was Mohan Priyadarshana de Silva polling 53, 071 preferences. The top four garnering preference votes in the 2015 August UPFA Galle District list of MPs were – Chandima Weerakkodi (114,851), Ramesh Pathirana (105,434), Nishantha Muthuhettigama (75,994) and Manusha Nanayakkara (73,387).
Geetha’s name was duly gazetted as Galle District MP and she took her oaths on 1 September when the new Parliament convened. Soon controversy surrounded her election as Geetha, having married a Swiss national, was at one time a citizen of both Sri Lanka and Switzerland.
Geetha who got married to Chris Fuhrer Ferdinand many years ago has a daughter, Tharika Fiona. Since the 19th Constitutional amendment debarred those having dual citizenship from contesting elections in Sri Lanka , some of her political opponents opined that she was disqualified from being a Member of Parliament. Geetha’s response was that she had renounced her Swiss citizenship prior to being elected MP.
However five voters of the Galle District filed a petition in the Court of Appeal requesting Court to declare Ms.Kumarasinghe ineligible to remain as a Parliamentarian while holding dual citizenship.The Petitioners were W.W.E. Buweneka, J.K. Amarawardhana, A.C. Gunasekera, J.K. Wijesinghe and Prasanna Deepthilal from Galle electoral district.
Writ of Quo Warranto
The Court of Appeal on May 3rd 2017 issued a Writ of Quo Warranto disqualifying Geetha Kumarasinghe from holding office as an MP because she was holding dual citizenship at the time of seeking nomination to enter Parliament. She was a citizen of Switzerland as well as Sri Lanka. The bench comprised Justice Vijith Malalgoda the President of the Court of Appeal and Justice Preethi Padman Surasena.
Subsequently, Geetha Kumarasinghe filed an Appeal in the Supreme Court challenging the Court of Appeal judgment. On May 15 2017 , a divided three-judge-Supreme Court bench granted special leave to appeal with the petition filed by Ms. Kumarasinghe.Chief Justice Priyasath Dep appointed a five-judge bench of the Supreme court to hear the appeal. The bench comprised Chief Justice Priyasath Dep and Justices B.P. Aluvihara, Sisira J. De Abrew, Anil Gooneratne and Nalin Perera The Supreme Court on November 2nd 2017 ruled unanimously that Galle District Parliamentarian Geetha Kumarasinghe was not qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament since she was holding dual citizenship at the time of her election. The country’s apex court upheld a Writ of Quo Warranto issued by the Court of Appeal.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna
Thus Geetha Kumrasinghe ceased to be Member of Parliament for Galle. She was also removed from the post of Bentara – Elpitiya organizer vy the SLFP party hierarchy. The indefatigable Geetha Kumarasinghe joined the newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and campaigned for Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the 2019 Presidential election. Having relinquished her Swiss citizenship , Geetha was fielded as a “Pohottuwa” candidate for Galle district in the August 2020 Parliamentry poll.
The SLPP won seven out of nine seats in the Galle District. Geetha was elected as the seventh MP. The elected MP’s and preference vote breakdown was as follows .Ramesh Pathirana – 205,814;Sampath Athukorala – 128,331;Mohan Priyadarshana Silva – 111,626;Chandima Weerakkody – 84,984;Isuru Dodangoda – 71,266; Shan Wijelal De Silva – 67,793; Geetha Kumarasinghe – 63,357.
Culture and Performing Arts Minister
With the “Gota Go Home”Protests gaining momentum, President Rajapaksa replaced most of his earlier ministers with another set of ministers. Geetha Kumarsinghe was among those who got a State Minister portfolio. Given the volatile political environment it is indeed doubtful whether any ministerial post would prove durable in the long run.Nevertheless Geetha Kumarasinghe is now the State minister of Culture and Performing Arts. The lovely lass from the south who won a beauty contest and broke into films has indeed come a long way.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
This article was published in the “D.B.S.Jeyaraj Column” of the “Daily Mirror”on May 7th 2022. It can be accessed here: