A.D. Ranjith Kumara a life of achievement – from freelancer to the editorial chair

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A.D. Ranjith Kumara

By Lakshman Wickramasinghe

In newspaper journalism it is rare for a freelancer to rise up-to occupy the Editor’s chair. Mr. A.D Ranjith Kumara was one such rare person. He climbed up the ladder from a freelancer, feature writer, to become the Editor of ‘Sarasaviya’, the weekly Arts and Film tabloid of the Lake House Group of newspapers. He held the position of Editor ‘Sarasaviya’ for about 16 years.

I am proud of Ranjith’s achievement for personal reasons too. Under late Mr. Wimalasiri Perera’s guidance, I happened to be the person who taught Ranjith Kumara, the basics of journalism. Ranjith Kumara records this fact in an article he wrote about me to the ‘Sarsaviya’ of 09.08.2018, when I was awarded the Sarasaviya Ranapala Bodinagoda Memorial Award for Life-Time Achievement in Film Journalism.

I quote (my English translation ): ‘it is an auspicious occasion for a student to write an article about the teacher who taught him the A-B-C of journalism. That teacher was Lakshman Wickramasinghe’. I must also mention that to be fair by A.D. Ranjih Kumara and myself, that he had retired as the Editor of Sarsaviya, before I received the Ranapala Bodinagoda Memorial Sarasaviya Award. The Editor of Sarasaviya at the time was Mr. Aruna Gunaratna. So, the teacher-student nexus did not influence that decision. I must also mention here that the perennial strength of Sarasaviya Film Awards had been the neutrality in decision-making and judgment.

I remember Ranjith Kumara’s arrival at the Sarsaviya Editorial. He had that innocent school boyish look in him. Mr. Wimalasiri Perera after talking with Ranjith for some time, referred him to me, the then sub editor, to guide him in journalism. Ranjith Kumara has had some prior experience in writing articles. He had been contributing articles for ‘Visithura’ the film tabloid of ‘Davasa’ Group of newspapers. He also had some experience in film making being in the Team of young Anandians who produced a film named “Nim Valalla’’. It was produced and directed by Ranjith Lal, a classmate of Ranjith. Ranjith Kumara was the Assistant Director and the Art Director.

He had started designing book covers while at school. He had designed the cover page for Ananda College magazine. The letters ‘Anandaya’ in Sinhala, I am told, was also designed by him. Since then, he had designed hundreds of book covers. I write all this to indicate that Ranjith Kumara had inborn talent, in different aspects of writing and art. Hence, it was easy for me to train him to become an all -round journalist.

At that time, barring Mr. Wimalasiri Perera the Chief Editor, and Mr. Nimal Perera Abeyawardene, the Photo Editor, there were only two other regular staff members in the Sarasaviya editorial section. The Feature Writer was Mr. Dias Gunaratna (later to become the Professor of Philosophy of University of Peradeniya, after having obtained a PhD degree). I was the sole sub-editor. The film correspondent was Mr. Wakista. He did the weekly film news round-up. Mr. Somaweera Senanayaka was the sub-editor of ‘Nava Yugaya’, which was also under the Editorship of Wimalasiri Perera.

All other staff in the two editorial sections were freelancers. Most were University students. All stringers and I were around 26 years of age or under. The youngest was Ranjith Kumara. We were a happy bunch addressing each other by our first names, enjoying Wakista’s never-ending jokes, as we worked. However, in work, we were serious, ethical, disciplined, punctual, working long hours when necessary and supporting each other, if called to do so. Messrs Wimalasiri Perera and Nimal Perera set the standards. We were a proud group when ‘Sarasaviya’ circulation climbed over the 100,000 mark. Mr. Wimalasiri celebrated the success with a luncheon for all staff.

Although, a just -out of school- freelance journalist Ranjith Kumara was ambitious. He wanted to write features and contribute as much as possible. He was eager to interview the higher- rung of film personalities. One morning he approached me and asked whether it was okay to write a feature on Gamini Fonseka. As he was enthusiastic and wanting to break new ground, I said it would be okay and asked him how he proposed to do it and on what theme he was going to interview him on. He mentioned the theme and then sprang a surprise ” Mr. Lakshman, do you think you can obtain an appointment for me as I do not know him?”

Instinctively I wanted to say – “No”, as we do not usually send raw staffers to interview the best in the industry. However, I thought I would take a risk and see what he would come up with. After sometime, I phoned Gamini (Fonseka) and after exchanging pleasantries, posed the question. ‘I have a newly recruited freelancer with me. He wants to do a feature on you…… His writing is good and is a very enthusiastic staff member’. His reply was ‘Lucky if you say so I will meet with him’ (not the exact words but words to that effect).

I gave all the guidance necessary for such a meeting. The appointment gave Ranjith Kumara adequate time to prepare, including reading up on Gamini and his films. To cut a long story short his final product was very good. We did a double page spread of his feature on Gamini Fonseka. It firmly established Ranjith Kumara as a ‘Sarasaviya’ journalist. Perhaps it was this opening that climaxed in Ranjith Kumara writing a book on Gamini Fonseka on his 50th Birthday titled ‘Gamini Fonseka Hela Cinemawe Sakvithi’. Although I branched away from journalism into advertising and communication research, Ranjith and I maintained close contact.

Mr. A.D. Ranjith Kumara was awarded ‘Sri Lanka Life Time Journalism Award’ at the Journalism Excellence Award Ceremony in 2022.

Ranjith Kumara was married to award winning singer Damayanthi Jayakody. Their son Dr. Nuwan Nayanajith Kumara is the present Editor of Sarasaviya.

May A.D. Ranjith Kumara achieve the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

(The writer is a former journalist, communication researcher, and a retired officer of the International Civil Service of the United Nations.)

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