Samanthee Deshapriya, a multi-talented artiste

nurse.jpg (16583 bytes)by Malinda Seneviratne
Samanthee Deshapriya has been described as someone who does strange things, i.e. amuthu veda karana Samanthee. Perhaps the more appropriate descriptive is "extraordinary", not because she does things which others haven’t done, but that she takes on projects in fields where she has more or less trained herself.

Samanthee herself finds it difficult to name any particular field as her "profession". It can’t be easy since she does many things. At the same time, it is also true that she is not a dabbler, that she has not spread herself thin. She is not the run-of-the-mill "Jack of all trades and master of none". She just doesn’t fit the bill, because this young woman puts her heart and soul into whatever she does and does it well.

She came into the limelight, so to speak, with her first tele-film, Bhagyawanthi. It was shown on ITN in March 2001 and was well received. Samanthee herself had written the script, composed the music (she had done the singing as well!) and directed the film. She was encouraged by the response and has completed her second tele-film, "gardenia mala" a film made for the Internation Day for the Blind. The film will appear shortly on ITN and since it is a short 45 minute story, a synopsis might very well ruin it for the viewer.

"It is a story which came on the internet. A friend passed it on to me and I thought it would be nice to make a film based on it," Samanthee explained.

She admitted that it is very difficult to make a tele-film. "You have to exercise a lot of economy and make sure that its artistic quality is not compromised." Samanthee is planning to do a series of tele-films. In fact she has written twelve scripts.

Not strangely, Samanthee did not fall into the film-making scene out of the blue. Born in Minuwangoda, she was the eldest in a family of three children, and grew up in a household that encouraged the children to be creative.

"Thaththa drew pictures all over the floor. He wrote poetry about us children. Our mother was a teacher. She gave us books. She would borrow books from the library for us. Those stories had lessons and she preferred us to learn from them, as opposed to admonishments. When we were small we used to organise concerts at home. I even had exhibitions at home, which were ‘opened’ by Amma."

From her small days Samanthee had excelled in literature and had won first place in a poetry-writing contest three years in a row. By the time she was done with school, Samanthee had already come out with a book of poems, "Ma yanu obamai" (I am but you), Despite Samanthee’s obvious fascination with the arts, her mother had set her sights on her eldest child becoming a doctor. Samanthee believes that this has not been a "waste" for the sciences teach a particular kind of discipline and infuses logical reasoning into what one does.

After her A/Ls, Samanthee went on to complete an external degree from the Peradeniya Science Faculty. Actually she had been one of seven students who were awarded scholarships to study medicine in Russia.

According to Samanthee it was the scenic beauty in and around Peradeniya that persuaded her to take up photography. Interestingly her first photographic exhibition was held at the Peellawatte Junior School in Negombo. This had been the first school that she had attended, but this was not the only reason why she decided to hold her exhibition there. "Exhibitions are never held in villages. This is why I chose to do it in this small school." Nisala Seya (Still images) had as its theme "nature and man". By 1999, Samanthee had held five exhibitions. Being a poet, her photographs were often accompanied by short verses.

Samanthee currently teaches Japanese. She had got interested in learning the language after her sister started going for Japanese classes. She believes that learning Japanese instilled in her a certain discipline and calmness. "I have a great feeling, a closeness, to Japanese culture." She is also a dress designer. In addition to all this, she also produces advertisements for television.

After a while she decided she had had enough of photography. "Actually someone wrote a comment about one of my exhibitions, and suggested that I should take up film. When I was doing my first tele-film, my knowledge and experience with the still camera was very useful. I had a fairly good understanding of frames."

Samanthee is a woman who oozes self-confidence. She is not dependent on anyone and is quite an entrepreneur, funding her own films. What is more remarkable and indeed praiseworthy, however, is that she also has the time to take on random projects on the spur of the moment.

"Recently I was asked to do a ten minute play by a group called ‘Aparajitha’, which is an association people who have suffered spinal injuries. It was quite a challenge to work with this group and very different from anything that I have done before. Actually it made me want to experiment with stage drama."

We will probably never know what Samanthee will do next. In the midst of all this work, she is also planning to put out a CD sometime in the middle of next year. There is no rule that someone ought to do this or that. Sometimes it takes years for a person to decide what he or she really wants to do. If what she is doing now is nothing more than "experimentation" and an exercise in "discovery", we should be happy, for with more focus wonderful things must spring from the deep springs from which her creativity flow.