Renowned artiste Dharmapriya Dias talks us through his acting career which is dotted with many accolades, including the award for the Best Actor for his role in Hyena at the State Drama Award in 2003
Award winning actor Dharmapriya Dias believes that a fine comedy play is not merely an act which makes people laugh at low grade jokes and impersonation of famous personalities or speaking dirty.
“I don’t understand why people should laugh at mistakes made when speaking a foreign language or insults made on another human being. Saadaya Marai - Salli Hamarai doesn’t fall under this category. This is an attempt to create meaningful humor without using profanity or laughing at the expense of one’s culture,” Dias told The Nation while speaking about his latest stage play direction Saadaya Marai Salli Hamarai adapted from the farce Funny Money written by the British Playwright Ray Cooney.
Dharmapriya is known in the field for his commitment for acting. According to him he has been committed to acting from school days at Piliyandala Madya Maha Vidyala. “I was curious about acting since I was very young. I always wondered how children got to play different roles in Vesak Dramas played near Kesbewa Wewa. I wanted to know why I couldn’t play a role,” he recalled how he enjoyed theater as a child.
Young Dharmapriya was confused why the king from the Vesak play rode a bicycle to work. “The person who wore jewelry and shimmering costumes on Vesak day, went to work wearing office attire. This puzzled me,” he said that it was under his school drama master Premkumar Karunarathne that he learnt the ABC in drama. Their work including Muthu Etaye Geethaya which won many accolades in school drama competitions.
Dharmapriya’s firsts contribution to popular theater was in Bandula Vithanage’s Romaya Gini Gani. “Working with this drama crew was like a practical workshop for me. I learnt much about popular theater,” he reminisced. With this debut drama, he received the opportunity to work with veteran dramatists the likes of KB Herath, Jayalath Manoratne, Rajitha Dissanayaka, Neil Alas, Pujitha de Mel, Sarath Kothalawala, Chamika Hathlawaththa and Thumindu Dodamtenna.
He specifically mentioned the roles he played in S Karunaratne's Hyena, Rajitha Dissanayake’s Apasu Harenna Be, Mata Wedi Thiyanne Nadda, Thumindu Dodamtenna’s Arundathi and Thilak Nandana Hettiarachchi’s Guti Kamata Niyamithayi as the roles he mostly enjoyed playing. His critically acclaimed role in Athula Pathirana’s Dolahak is also noteworthy.
Dharmapriya has won many awards including Best Actor - State Drama Award for his performance in Hyena directed by Chamika Hathlawaththa in 2003, Best Set Designer for Ruwan Malik Peiries’ Dasa Mallige Bangalawa (Dasa Malli’s Bungalow) in 2004, Best Choreography in his production Gehenu Lamai Weda Arambathi and Youth Drama Festival’s Assistant Actor for Lanka Ishan Kankanamge’s Sanda Sewanella in 1997. Saadaya Marai Salli Hamarai is his second stage direction while Gehenu Lamai Weda Arambathi marked his debut.
His talent for acting is not limited to the stage. He said that he still enjoys his work as a radio and television voice artiste. He began working with radio and television during the early stages of his career. He considers the opportunities he received while working with teledrama directors Nalan Mendis, Sudath Rohana and DG Somapala as blessings. “Experiences gained on stage helped me immensely in adapting to teledramas and cinema,” he explained. “Having to act in Wimalarathna Adhikari’s Ingammaruwa was an extraordinary experience in the teledrama field,” he said remembering how teledramas employed radical themes, couple of years ago.
Dharmapriya was regarded as the Best Actor for his first lead in the internationally acclaimed movie Machang by Oscar nominated producer Ubarto Passilini. Dharmapriya played minor roles in Vijitha Gunaratne’s Wala Patala and two other films Bora Diya Pokuna and Nahi Werena Werani, which have been awaiting release for past several years. He mentioned that Machang was a turning point in his personal life as well as his acting career. “I used to be double the body size I am now, I had no control over eating. I didn’t give body image much importance,” he recalled how he almost missed the role in Machang. “They told me that although I am suitable for the role, they can’t give it to me since my body image doesn’t match the character. They challenged me to lose weight that if I did they would give me the role.” Not only did Dharmapriya accept the challenge and succeeded, he wound up creating one of the most celebrated roles in the recent film history. Playing his maiden major role in this internationally acclaimed movie, Dharmapriya received the opportunity to travel to many countries. He also pointed out that physical and mental well-being is essential to becoming a successful actor. “This is rare in the Sri Lankan setting,” he said.
He further said that the experiences he acquired travelling across the world made him question the situation of contemporary Sri Lankan cinema. “I observed that in many other countries acting is a respected as well as a well paid profession,” he pointed out that most Sri Lankan actors are engaged in the field part-time as artistes while doing a fulltime job in a completely different field. “I’ve heard that there was a time in Sri Lanka when such value was attached to the profession. Too bad I never got a chance to witness it,” he lamented.
Speaking further about theater productions, Dharmapriya said that there has always been a stable audience for stage plays unlike cinema and teledrama. “Audience for stage plays has been considerably stable during both good and bad times. People came to watch plays even during the period of the armed conflict. There were fluctuations, but the dramatists were able to maintain the quality of the plays.” He said that the dramatists have attempted to give the maximum to the field using the limited resources they have. “Unfortunately, facilities in theaters have deteriorated. None of the responsible parties have looked into this. This is a very sad situation,” he emphasized.