Living the dream
BY Milan Lu
Ceylon Today Features
Michelle Dilhara lives a very busy and vibrant life. At just 21 years of age, she is a student, a teacher, a former karate champion and an actress. She is the actress behind three different characters in the teledramas she is currently working on. Michelle speaks to Ceylon Today about her life and what keeps her going, especially as a young actress in Sri Lanka.
Growing up, Michelle's dad wanted her to learn karate and become a champion one day. "I started watching movies because of my father. He used to show me Jackie Chan's, Bruce Lee's, Van Dam's films, and especially Karate Kid. He took me to a well-known karate master in Raddolugama (Rohan P. Udayakumara) for practices. I won a gold medal in the Hayashi Ha International Karate Championship."
However after her father went overseas, she says she focused more on meditation and her school studies at Newstead Girls' College. But at home, she let her inner childhood dream shine. "I used to imitate famous characters in movies and famous politician's speeches only in front on my mother and sisters. I also used to imitate toothpaste commercial characters in front of my washroom mirror in the mornings when I was young."
Michelle completed her G.C.E. Advanced Level in the Arts Stream where she studied English Literature, Japanese Language and Information Technology. Additionally she also completed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5 and N4. Currently she studies a diploma course in psychology at the Lanka Institute of Psychologies, a higher national diploma course in computing, as well as a Presenting and News Reading course at the Sri Lanka Media Training Institute. In her free time she enjoys singing, dancing, swimming, karate, tennis, and playing the guitar.
After her A/Levels she was able to work towards fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming an actress. "After my A/Levels I joined veteran actress Anoja Weerasinghe's course where I learnt that the key to creating a perfect act does not lie in the action, but rather the reaction of those who are affected by it. For example, if you talk about Mr. Bean, you automatically smile, and in the Indian film Billu Barber, the Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan appears only toward the end of the story for few minutes. But he manages to bring tears into our eyes within a very short period of time. That is acting. It's always the reaction and not the action" she said.
"My second teacher was Damayanthi Fonseka, who is also a veteran actress and a teacher. Her teachings were about the elements of semiotics of acting: a study of person's gestures, facial expressions, micro expressions, rhythm, and voice modulations according to the scene and so on."
Using everything that she has learnt, Michelle took part in her first audition and was casted. "My first audition was for the mobile drama Sihina Kasi, directed by Suranga Lakmal Senevirathna, who also directed Anawartha and the famous teledrama Colomba Api Awa." Sihina Kasi is a joint production by Susila Productions and Sirasa TV. It is Sri Lanka's first Mobile Drama.
"It was my first experience in front of a camera, a real set, a real director, and a real script, for the first time in my life. It was a very challenging drama because it was originally designed to change the perspective view of the audience from TV drama to Mobile drama. It is the first Mobile Drama of its kind and a revolutionary step for both the Sri Lankan teledrama industry and Sri Lankan audience. I play the main role of a girl named Dhara."
"The turning point of my life was when I started my TV career with Salsapuna, one of the most rated teledramas in the 8.30 TV belt, produced by Sandya Mendis and directed by Nalan Mendis, the legends who directed Doo Daruwo and Nadayo. I played the role of Preethiwa. The character Preethiwa was designed by Sandya Mendis. It reflects the characteristics of a young girl of a wealthy family, who decides to leave her luxurious life aside and live a simple life of a journalist's character called "podi paththarakari". The character Preethiwa runs with adjusting her lifestyle as an ordinary girl who fights against injustice."
Michelle went on to explain how she felt working with Nalan Mendis. "It is a very rare opportunity to work with a person whom I studied the most. His strategy of building characters is an analysis of the human factors involved in their culture. His way of conceptualizing mind and the mental states that are implicit in ordinary everyday attributions are extraordinary. Doo Daruwo is a fine example of it."
So far she has taken part in TNL's Dialog Ridma Rathriya, Colombo TV's Hathares Tv programme, TV Derana's Lanka Soy Game Show as well as in Sirasa TV's Angara Ingara and Rata Wate Yana Gaman.
Michelle is currently working on two different teledramas apart from Sihina Kasi. She plays the main role of Emy in the drama by the same name produced by Plus One Productions as well as the role of Urmila in Thuththiri produced by U.A. Palliyaguru and directed by the International Award winning director Sanjaya Nirmal.
for a cause
Apart from acting, Michelle is also passionate about making a change in society. "I started my teaching career in ICC Campus. Then I taught English as a volunteer in a children's home in Negombo. Teaching in a children's home is not an easy process. You need to learn psychology and practically implement it."
With regards to this experience, she explained the complexities behind teaching at a children's home. "Some children's parents have passed away, some are separated from their families because they are poor, disabled or from an ethnic minority. When a child loses a parent, the child not only misses their physical presence but also many psychological factors that they were given when they were alive, such as love, care and protection. These children have gone through a very painful experience such as parental conflict, mistrust, insecurity, trauma from separation from their loved ones and their emotional breakdown of being rejected or abused. So before being a teacher to them we have to consider these social issues. Usually a woman has many forms: mother, sister, friend or teacher. When you live in a society, usually we use only one form at a time. But here you need to combine all roles and form a new character. You learn a lot of life lessons if you teach in a children's home.
for the future
When asked about why she chose to act and why she loves it she said she loved the profession because it gives her the energy she needs to continue living. "I think my life force is filled with acting. I don't want to die, I want to become immortal. My acting career gave me everything that I wished for. Before I met Sandya Mendis, I was invisible to the society and I was ignored, but not anymore. I don't want to die like a normal person. I think my soul should be remembered even after I die."
"I have been in this career for only one year. My career gave me the opportunity to meet powerful and humble people like P.K. Balachandran and Buddadhasa Galapatty, who appreciated my social work and gave me the strength to expand my capacity even more. I always think differently and implement differently. Even my parents think that I might be insane or I might be living in another dimension. I have failed many times, but now I see that my friends and the society think that my path is correct."
Veteran journalist Buddadasa Galapatty impacted her life when he included Michelle's attempts to bring the children from the childrens home to Cinnamon Grand Colomb, in his book E Dawasa Sondurumaya. P.K. Balachandran, a senior journalists and a writer, had expressed his view about her concepts in newsin.asia as well. "This gave me hope to take more risks and do whatever I feel is right. I don't want to become popular, I want to be recognized. Like Steve Maraboli once said, 'It's my life, my story, my book.' I don't want to swim with the flow. I believe in the saying that only dead fish go with the flow."
"My biggest challenge is becoming a recognized person. My generation's artists face many challenges like recognition, credibility and coverage. It is very hard to become popular, or to be a powerful brand these days. In the 80's there were only one TV channel and one radio channel. So all the audiences were only focused on those channels. But now the audience is separated to more than 12 TV channels and 15 - 20 radio channels. Therefore nowadays you have to appear in at least 10 - 15 teledramas in order to be a recognized person. So it takes more than four to five years to get that recognition in this era. I also wish we had an acting school or an Acting University in Sri Lanka. Then it will be easier for the new generation to get a deep knowledge on this vast subject of acting. As a result there will be even more qualified artists in the industry who can reach the International audience as well."
For any budding actress or actor, Michelle says that "becoming an actor takes time, passion, sweat and most of all perseverance. Actually entering the acting field is not that impossible. But you have to work hard for it. Figure things out first, make an acting plan, do a lot of research on the subject, take acting classes, get the experience of acting and make sure to build up connections in the field. Once you are confident in yourself, you can move forward."
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