A love story conceived on stage……….

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The stage was set, the characters cast, the dialogues and the songs were well rehearsed. In the midst of this hullabaloo, a romance budded quite unaware of even the protagonists of the story, a romance that is to blossom into 26 years of conjugal bliss accompanied by two little cherubs who are soon to grow into beautiful young women in their own right. Theirs was a love that was conceived upon the stage and theirs is a love that had withstood the many tests of time. Of the glittering careers of Sriyantha Mendis and Kusum Renu much has been spoken about. But how much does the world know of the dazzling story behind the unique union of this dynamic duo?

Sriyantha and Kusum first laid eyes on each other during rehearsals of “Deyyange punchi akkaraya” directed by Sriyantha’s brother which consequently converted the two total strangers into great friends. However, it was Simon Nawagattegama’s stage play “Pandukabhaya” that provided the stage for the impending love story. In this legendary tale of romance between Deegagamini and Unmada Chitra, Sriyantha was to play Deegagamini while Kusum was cast as his lover, Unmada Chitra. Tender dialogues and romantic songs that bedecked the play served their purpose in this real life love story as well and slowly but surely, the two fell in love with each other. The wooing took place onstage, feelings ebbed and flowed and finally overflowed with a hearty declaration of love on Sriyantha’s part to which Kusum gladly succumbed. Few years later, convinced that they had each found their life partners in one another, they sealed the pact in marriage vows on 25th October 1986. 26 years and two grown children later, Deegagamini and Unmada Chitra of the stage are still serenading one another with love songs and romance as a modern day Deegagamini and Unmada Chitra in real life!

True love knows no obstacles. It flows over the hindrances demolishing the walls that are built in its path. Sriyantha comes from Ragama while Kusum is a city girl born and bred in Rajagiriya. Sriyantha is a Catholic, Kusum a Buddhist. In the Sri Lankan context, two individuals coming from two completely different backgrounds, specially two different religions are bound to encounter many hardships and encumbrances when trying to start a life of their own. But their love was strong, pure and enduring enough to overthrow any sort of barricade that life hailed at them. When love is strong, other things do not matter, Sriyantha says. They took their vows of eternally binding love at the All Saints Church in Borella, followed by the reception and traditional Poruwa ceremony at the Grand Orientale Hotel thus demonstrating their respect for each other’s views and beliefs. To this day, their home remains a multi religious space. Their children having thus grown up in a harmonious space where religions merge in perfect harmony with one another, have had all the freedom in the world to choose a religion of their choice. “All religions preach kindness and compassion, all religions preach about goodness. We have taught our children the good from the bad from a very young age and taught them to respect all religions. Our house has a shrine for the Lord Buddha and a place of worship for Jesus Christ. It also carries a Sai shrine. We also have a holy Koran and we read that too” said Sriyantha commenting on the fascinating religious diversity that the household holds.

Their eldest daughter Nipuni Preksha born within the first year of their marriage is now married and is living in the UK. The presence of artistic genes in their children’s blood is apparent as she is a fashion and apparel designer, channeling her creativity towards the apparel industry.

The life of an actor is a very busy one. In order to dedicate oneself to the art, he or she has to sometimes forgo certain things, even make certain sacrifices. Stage Dramas take them away from their family for entire weekends while various other tasks take up the precious time that they would have rather liked to spend with their family. Yet Sriyantha and Kusum have always balanced it out well. Even during the busiest of times Sriyantha and Kusum try their best to arrange their schedules in such a way that allows them plenty of family time as well as quality time with one another. This must indeed be the well guarded secret of their happy and contended life.

In any relationship, understanding between the partners is the key. Sriyantha believes that the fact that they work in the same field enables an understanding between them that would otherwise not be possible. They spend time with each other whenever they could and even during shootings and stage drama rehearsals, it is a common sight to see the two of them huddled in a corner chatting like a pair of teenage lovers. When they are not within earshot of one another, technology helps. Communicating via phone is also very common for the two of them in keeping that spark alive.

Kusum and Sriyantha share everything including the household work. As there is no domestic help in their household, everything is done by their own two hands. Sharing housework thus lends them an intimacy that a married couple should essentially possess. Sriyantha is by nature, a nature lover. He takes pride in the charming little roof garden that  he has planted and tends to with his own two hands. He likes to take a morning stroll in the roof garden he says. For him, the morning air is exhilarating and thus communicating with nature refreshes the entire day. “I think an artist must be one with nature” he says. “One should bond with nature in order to live a healthy and happy life.”

In the ample tours that they do around the world, they always make sure that they tour together. Sriyantha is relieved that his wife always tours with him. According to him, it makes the tours easier and more organized as Kusum is always there to help out. So far every one of their tours have been successful he says, it really is a joy to get to know new people, make new friends. For him, being a dramatist is a joy, he believes that if they were ordinary people they would not get the chance to travel the world and meet so many people. “It’s amazing to know that people who know us, know our work live all over the world. Their interest and enthusiasm is what had supported us throughout the years and we are eternally grateful for that” he says.

The day is not long when you may get to meet Sriyantha and Kusum in person, talk to them and share their views. When you do, do make it a point to inquire about the secret of their conjugal bliss. We are sure they will only be too happy to share.

By Jayani C. Senanayake


Jayani Chathurika Senanayake is a writer and a poet based in Sri Lanka. The winner of numerous local and international poetry competitions, her debut poetry collection “Scattered” is now available in all leading bookstores receiving excellent reviews and enthusiastic feedback. She is an honors graduate of the University of Kelaniya and is also the youngest member of the English Writers Cooperative of Sri Lanka

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