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Back in the early 90s Nalan Mendis’s Doodaruwo marked a turning point in our teledrama industry. And through this series and many other teledramas that were produced in that decade Yashoda Wimaladharma emerged as the ‘girl next door’ whose delicate femininity captured the hearts of viewers’ island wide.

From the small screen to the silver screen, Yashoda has come a long way portraying various types of characters. But her most challenging role played today by her own admission, is still to unfold on the silver screen. This role is the character played for the film – Vaishnavee directed by Sumitra Peries. According to Yashoda, one of the most significant factors about this film is that the script was written by Dr. Lester James Peries. It is therefore the first script written by the master filmmaker as Yashoda explained saying that the Peries’ are eagerly waiting to see it come alive on the big screen.

The movie had been filmed in 2013 and Yashoda had been handpicked to play the lead role which had been quite a complex scenario given the fact that the character must portray three different forms of existence. ‘Vaishnavee’ is the name of a Hindu goddess. She is a deity who inhabits large trees and can perhaps be called an ‘arboreal divinity’ if such a term may be propounded by yours truly. But playing her character as a goddess is only one facet of the tripartite role.

“Soon after I read the script, I immediately went to speak with Dr. Peries about the role. It was so complex! I found the prospect very challenging and had to get sound insight from Dr. Peries since, after all, he wrote the script himself, and I needed to be guided by him to do justice to the story.” Yashoda stated with sincerity, admitting that she has always valued the guidance of persons who have experience above her in the industry.

The story is set in the 1920s and revolves around a young puppet maker who one day rashly fells a tree without performing the required rituals to seek permission from the deities believed to reside in the tree, because he had been agonised to know the woman whom he loved who did not reciprocated his love, had gone away with another man.
From the wood of the felled tree he carves out a beautiful female puppet. And into that figure, the goddess who had resided in the tree, enters and brings the wood figure to life. The story thereafter is about the relationship that builds up between the puppet maker and his creation which becomes a real living human being.

When I asked her about the matter of characterisation of this particular role, Yashoda said it was very complex and had demanded her to be very finely attuned to nuance her expressions to differentiate the three stages of the character – a puppet, a woman, and a goddess. But the three different forms also had to show that they shared a subtle link with each other since it is after all the same soul that runs in all three although composed of different substances.

“This is without a doubt the most difficult role I have got so far.” Remarked Yashoda who said that she actually can become ‘greedy’ when it comes to wanting to play remarkable characters that would allow her to excel in the art of screen acting and explore great depths in characterisation.

“When I select a role I don’t want to be just a pretty girl for the camera.” Yashoda emphasised. “I want to portray characters that have the potential to be deeply explored. It’s about becoming another person. You have to own that character if you want to play it well. So it’s about how well you can discover that character within you to actually become it.” With dreams of one day starting her own school of acting here, where foreign actor trainers and collaborative expertise can be brought in to mould a future generation of actors who can enhance the quality of films produced in Sri Lanka from the aspect of the ‘actor factor’, Yashoda believes that development for acting as an art is very much under resourced here, but must be addressed if we are to seriously think of gaining higher ground internationally for our local films.

As an actress, who is a household name in both teledramas and on the silver screen and also keeps challenging herself to reach higher accomplishments, Yashoda is an artiste who is certainly on a journey to give back to the industry that made her who she is today.

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