Face to face with Tilaka Ranasinghe ( 2005)
In 1982 when Television was introduced to Sri Lanka she was one of the pioneering crew members to be seen on the screen for the first time – reading news. Her escalation to popularity within the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation enabled her to reach further heights in broadcasting through both the Radio and Television media in Sri Lanka. Displaying her latent talents in singing and acting she was identified as a professional singer and a drama artiste within the Corporation and played many a part in Radio Drama and recording light songs and cutting her own CD. Her ambition is to produce tele-drama for the benefit of the younger generation in Si Lanka and she is contemplating at present to focus on many of her own stories written from her teenage school days. Tilaka Ranasinghe was in London recently.
Q. Welcome to London. Is this your first trip to this part of the world?
A. Yes. But I have been to Indonesia before, in 1994 on a Radio and Television Scholarship. This is a special trip for me because I am going to Cambria for my son’s (Sagara Dissasekera) graduation at the North Cambria University. On my way to the University, I thought of breaking journey in London to spend a few days with my friend and former colleague at the SLBC Indra Ramanayake.
Q. You are a well established and a popular broadcaster in the Commercial Service of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. How did you or why did you select broadcasting as a career? .
A Well! When I was a teenager, Radio Ceylon was the only medium available for people in the whole of the country for listening pleasure – listen to news, plays, commercials, songs or any other programme. In such an environment although the listeners did not see the face of the broadcaster, he/she became a popular icon in the minds of the listeners. Naturally broadcasters were treated like film stars or shall I say like today’s cricketers, and the competition too was immense to get into the Radio Ceylon as a result.
Q. So, somehow you have managed to get in there, and not only that but made quite an impact and a successful career as a result, over the years. How did you do it?
A. In 1972 after my ‘ A’ levels, I wanted to become a Librarian and followed a University Diploma course when my brother Douglas Ranasinghe, who was involved at the time with the Radio Ceylon persuaded me to apply for an announcers post. There were several ‘vacancies for Radio Announcers’ at that time. After a series of strenuous interviews and tough auditions I was selected as a ‘Relief Announcer’.
Q. There is a vast difference between a Librarian and a Broadcaster, and how did you balance the two and take a firm decision on broadcasting.
A I was educated at Kurunegala Maliyadeva Balika and from my childhood, literature and music were my two pet subjects. While in school I took part in oriental and western musical shows and managed to get a distinction in Sinhala literature. So I suppose there was a mixture of inborn talent (smiling) in those areas. Also I guess I was persuaded by my brother Douglas a lot and I owe it to him.
Q. When did you join the Radio Ceylon?
A. In 1972.
Q. When were you made an established member of staff at the Radio Ceylon?
A. From 1972 to 1979 I was on probation, as a Relief Announcer’. But during that period I acquired a lot of experience having had the opportunity to present a variety of programmes from Housewife lineups, ‘your choice’, children’s programmes ( Lama Ranga Pitiya); added to that participation in commercial jingles also played a major role. Therefore, not only I gained experience during this period of probation, I must admit, but also it gave me a lot of confidence that I needed to talk to a microphone while visualizing millions of listeners out there in the country listening to what I was saying.
Q. How do you view your achievement in broadcasting having worked all your life, so to speak, other than satisfying yourself?
A. As I said before, I was a keen student in literature in school and ended up with a distinction in my ‘A’ level in Sinhala. During that period I had written a few short stories. When I became an established broadcaster I was able to get those stories produced for the radio and drama and broadcast under “ ‘The Short Story’ (Keti Kathawa)“ programme.
Q. How many short stories did you write as a schoolgirl?
A I had written about ten, but I can remember only 3-4 off the cuff.
Q. Can you name them?
A. Paata Paata Ballon bola(Multi-coloured balloons); Punchi Ekek Mam (I am a small brat), Pera Gaha (Gova tree) and Sunil and Sunimal
Q. Were any of your stories broadcast through the most popular - Radio Rangamadala at the time ?
A. Yes, I had that special privilege too, being a senior broadcaster.
Q. What are your other achievements inside this ‘home-away- from home Institution’ – The SLBC?
A. Whenever there was an opportunity I thought I could fit in, I did not let it go. I was determined to take up the challenge once and face the ‘music’ as it were. So when the SLBC wanted to appoint singers and drama artistes I too put up my name forward and lo and behold, I must admit, that luck was on my side at every occasion, the result being I was officially recognized as a Radio Broadcaster, Drama Artiste and a SLBC ‘staff’ singer as well.
Q. It seems to me that the dramatic talents you describe have some kind of ‘hereditary’ effect on you, is that right?
A. (With a broad and shy smile) if you are referring to my brother Douglas Ranasinghe, who is known for his dramatic performances, yes I suppose you can call it that way. Not only that, my son Saranga Dissasekera is also very much inclined towards the cultural aspects. Like his father Narada Dissasekera, Saranga also can sing well. He is currently performing as an announcer attached to the Radio Lama Pitiya programme and participates in Radio drama like the mother and chips in on commercial jingles as well.
Q. How far did you pursue with your singing talents after you became an official Radio Ceylon artiste?
A. As Radio Artistes, you may remember this in your time in Sri Lanka, we were given certain monthly 15 minute live programmes called ‘ Sarala Gee (Light songs). Out of the songs I sang for such programmes a few became popular and I have released a CD incorporating those -my own CD; some of the songs are still popular among the listening audiences and get requested through ‘ your choice’ programmes.
Q. Can you name a song or two?
A. Paaluwa Thanikama Paaveela; Soka Sanka ma sithum, Sudu Piduwak- keti lipiyak, Guwan Thalaye Nissansalaye ( an old song by Narada Dissasekera , re-recorded with new music arrangement); a duet song with Narada, ‘ Chandana Anga Gala, Konde Kada Da la.. (New music) and also a duet with Nimal Gunasekera.
Q. What did you do after being promoted as a Radio Drama Artiste ?
A. Yes I did take part in several Radio Plays as well as in the most popular radio series called “ Radio Rangamadala” .
Q. To what extent did your contribution go in radio drama at the SLBC ?
A. In my very first Radio Play ‘ Kele Mal’ (wild flowers) I was allocated the main character role as Tilaka. It was such a coincidence that I had to play a role bearing my own name as Tilaka, which I suppose to a certain degree confused people. So the unfortunate thing was that some tried to attach the character I did for the drama to my own life! (Smiling). However, I became somewhat popular from Kele Mal drama. Then I took part in several other plays - Meda, Mudali Mankada and Sapu Malee (series) etc.
Q. Anything else of significant importance to your career?
A. Yes, after that too I did appear on several other dramas from time to time. In between my regular broadcasting, I have participated in musical programmes, play back acting for special song videos e.g. Dayaratne Ranatunge’s Roam Petta Karakenawa, Indrani Wijebandara’s Dangakari Mam Madduma Doni etc. and minor roles in Tele Dramas.
Q. Didn’t you concentrate on publishing any of your literal gems?
A. In 1998 I published my first children’s storybook, which I mentioned earlier “ Paata Paata Balloon Bola” . It was sold like hot cakes! Consequently it went into the second edition also. Altogether I have written 10 stories . .
Q. Do you intend writing any more in the future?
A. I don’t know whether I will have any spare time to sit down to writing now, but certainly one of my prime aims is to get at least a couple of those children’s stories turned into tele dramas as this type of programmes for children are very rare these days where a family can sit together and watch in Sri Lanka.
Q. If you were to go back and view your career in radio and broadcasting what would you set a side as prominent ‘ landmarks’ ?
A.. As I said at the beginning of the interview, in 1994 I went on a scholarship to Indonesia in Radio and Television Broadcasting, which concentrated on Women’s Health. That helped me a lot in my Radio as well as Television work at latter stages. Apart from news reading I was chosen to present Rupavahini maiden Vasana Chakkraya , a programme sponsored by the National Lottery.
Q. On Television?
A. In 1982 when Television was introduced to Sri Lanka I was privileged to be part of the first crew to go on television through Rupavahini Channel. I read News and participated in various other programmes as well. Also I presented the very first comedy show on Rupavahini, “ Me Kawruda” ? ( Who’s this?). I have also presented the inaugural children’s ‘Your Choice’ programmes.
In 1991 I hosted an Independent Television programme called ‘ Denty Rasa Pen’ which created a record in Sri Lankan’s TV having continuously run for fourteen years.
In 1996 when the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation received a gift - a FM Digital Studio- under the Japanese friendship movement, SLBC hosted a musical show as a celebration, which was televised live . The programme which was presented in all three languages (Sinhala, Tamil and English) was called Bhava Ranga. That created history because it was the first time Sri Lanka Radio and Television did a joint programmes and live where I too had the opportunity of presenting the show in Sinhala.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. (With a broad smile).. I am not getting young any more, am I ? I am still busy with Radio and Television day-to-day presentations. I am also involved with a commercial programme called ‘ My Lady’ sponsored by a UK company, Vanity Connection. On top of that I host a programme, Kala Lovin, to the Sri Lankan expatriate community in Phillipines through the Philliphine Verita Radio which is broadcast from 6.30 am and 7.30 pm daily. However, my main target for the future is to bring all my children’s stories live on to the Sri Lankan sitting rooms through television in the form of tele-plays .