Monday, July 04, 2005 / DM
It is 18 years since the demise of Sri Lanka’s most popular singer H.R.Jothipala, yet his new song albums are launched weekly even today.
Hettiarachchige Reginald Jothipala was the most prolific playback singer in the Sinhala cinema and many believe that its golden era in the seventies was also due to the exceptional voice of Jothi who rendered his voice to all classes of actors ranging from Eddie Jayamanne, Ananda Jayaratne, Gamini Fonseka, Vijay Kumaratunga, Sanath Gnathilaka, Ravindra Randeniya and several others of young generation stars like Damith Fonseka, Lal Weerasinghe and other newcomers.
The old boy of St. Lawrence College, Maradana and St. John’s College, Dematagoda was in the habit of patronizing tea kiosks in the area to listen to songs since his family did not have a radio.
He made his debut as a playback singer in Cyril P. Abeyratne’s Surathalee singing .Siriyame Sara’ in 1956, but prior to that he had sung for the late Sirisena Wimalaweera’s ‘Podi Putha’. This song was mysteriously slashed from the film when it was released. According to records, Jothi was selected for the film by music director B.S.Perera but it had been rejected by the Indian film composer who had said that Jothi did not possess a screen voice.
Jothi once said that he was on the brink of taking his life when he went with his friends to watch Podi Putha and later found that his song was not included. Later after Surathalee producer Jabir A. Cader wanted to hear one of his songs to consider him for the film, poor Jothi was again clueless since he did not possess enough money to cut a record. It was veteran musician Stanley Omar who came to his rescue and helped him out at this stage. A few months ago, Stanley Master told us that cost him Rs. 35 – which was big money then. This paved Jothi the way to sing ‘Siriyame Sara’ which is popular even today. He sang the popular number under T.R.Papa at Wahini Studio in India.
Jothi was fortunate to have worked with almost all reputed directors in the country. In the early stages of his melodious career, Jothi clinched the rare opportunity of working with prolific film maker Dr. Lester James Peries’ ‘Sandeshaya’ in which he sang the evergreen number ‘Puruthugeesikara’, which was set to tune by music maestro the late Sunil Santha and lyrics penned by veteran wordsmith Arisen Ahubudu.
He was the undisputed choice in films that were made in the late sixties and through the seventies, the period during which he also grew as an actor. Though Jothi was criticized for singing to the tunes of popular Hindi songs – which he did competently – he also sang under the batons of Pandit W.D. Amaradewa, P.V. Nandasiri, Premasiri Kehmadasa and Sarath Dassanayake.
He sang in hundreds of films including popular hits like Kasthuri Suwanda, Thushara, Sweeep Ticket, Hitha Honda Minihek, Kawuda Raja, Hondata Hondai, Wasana, Sangeetha and others. The award-winning singer also played some memorable roles in films including Ethulweema Thahanam, Sulalitha Sobani, Sujeewa, Sukiri Kella, Abirahasa, Bonikka, Shanthi and his own production Sumithuro.
In the music scene, no musical show was complete without Jothi in the seventies and eighties. Though glory was forced upon him, he was always the humble man who preferred to have his feet firmly placed on the ground.
1936-born Jothi passed away in the first week of July in 1987 and his void is yet to be filled in the movie scene.
Having heard Jothi’s rhythmic voice, India’s most reputed plyback singer once commented that Sri Lanka was too small for Jothi and that he should have been born in a country like India.
Indeed Jothi was too big for Lanka and that is why his memories are everlasting.