by Ruwini Jayawardana
Stars may come and stars may go but barely a handful of artistes remain immortalised in the hearts and minds of the people. More than 20 years have elapsed since the demise of the inimitable playback vocalist of the Sri Lankan silver screen, H.R. Jothipala but his songs are still among the most demanded numbers in the country today.
Hettiarachchige Reginald Jothipala was born in Katawalamulla to a middle-class family on February 12, 1936. His father was H.R. James and his mother was Ahaliyagoda H.K. Podinona Perera.
Jothi was the eldest in a family of five. He attended St. Lawrence College, Maradana, and St. John’s College, Dematagoda but never took up music as a subject neither at school nor after completing his studies. During his school days he was in the habit of spending his time at tea kiosks in the area listening to songs since his family did not possess a radio.
Though his love for music and song grew as the years swept by, the beginning of his musical career was filled with hardships and sorrow. Some criticised Jothi for singing to tunes of popular Hindi hits and many did not believe in Jothi’s unique talent. He began his career as a vocalist singing duets with Wasantha Sandanayake and G.S.B. Rani Perera at SLBC.
Though he made his debut as a playback singer in 1956 by taking part in Cyril P. Abeyratne’s Surathalee with the hit Siriyame Sara on which the music is directed by T.R. Papa, Jothi had recorded a song for the late Sirisena Wimalaweera’s Podi Putha earlier.
The song was mysteriously slashed from the film and Jothi had confessed that he had been in the brink of committing suicide when he went with his friends to watch Podi Putha and discovered that his number had not been included. According to records Jothi’s voice had failed to impress the Indian film composer on the film.
Later when Surathalee producer Jabir A. Cader expressed the desire to hear one of his songs to consider him for a film, Jothi almost passed out on the offer because he did not possess enough money to launch a record.
Fortunately veteran musician Stanley Omar came to his rescue and helped him out with the finances. This act of goodwill made way for a much-awaited break for young Jothi.
With Siriyame Sara becoming an instant hit the young vocalist began to taste popularity and success. It did not take him long to top the charts and win the name of being the best with an excellent screen voice, a tag that he holds up-to-date.
Jothi worked under many reputed directors of the country and had rendered his voice to all classes of actors ranging from Eddie Jayamanne, Ananda Jayaratne, Gamini Fonseka, Vijaya Kumaratunga, Ravindra Randeniya, Sanath Gunathilaka to the younger generation of actors like Damith Fonseka and Lal Weerasinghe.
One of the highlights of his career is the opportunity to work with the doyen of Sri Lankan cinema, Lester James Peries in the historical Sandeshaya. He sang the popular number Puruthugeesikaraya to the tunes composed by the country’s reputed musician Sunil Santha and lyrics penned by veteran lyricist Arisen Ahubudu.
He still holds the record as the playback singer who sang the most number of songs for films, the number being 330 films. The last film which had included a song of his was Supiri Balawatha released last year.
A significant aspect of Jothi’s melodious voice is that it is timeless. He has the capacity to sing at a range of pitches. He manages to create his own originality through his numbers and though many tried to imitate him they never quite succeeded in their effort.
It is reported that Jothi studied the actor for whom he was suppose to sing the song for and varied his voice to resemble to suite the artiste. This feature allowed him to sing for all types of characters: heros, villains and comedians.
He was a one-take singer and he even sang the original songs under the batons of Pandith W.D. Amaradeva, P.V. Nandasiri, Premasiri Khemadasa, Sarath Dassanayake, Victor Ratnayake and Milton Mallawarachchi. Jothi’s cassettes and CDs are still among the most sold albums and CDs of each year and he had become an icon for many youngsters who have joined the field after his death.
Jothi started his career as an actor with a group scene in Daskama in 1958. He got the chance to act a significant character in Sudu Sande Kalu Wala in 1963 before taking on heroic roles in films like Amathikama and Athulweema Thahanam.
He was able to build his image as an actor developed through Joe Dev Anand’s Geetha, Sujeewa and Obai Mamai. Ethulweema Thahanam, Sulalitha Sobani, Sukiri Kella, Abirahasa, Bonikka and Shanthi are some of the other films in which he portrayed memorable roles. He also produced Roy de Silva’s Sumithuro which is based on his life story and the main character itself was portrayed by Jothipala.
The versatile musical personality clinched two Sarasaviya awards for best playback singer in 1982 for his number Sara Sande in Mihidum Sihina and in 1985 for Palu Susanaya in Obata Divra Kiyannam.
He also won the award for the most popular singer several times. It is said that the media creates superstars but this falls short where Jothi is concerned. He reached the pinnacle of success purely through his own talent and practice.
One of the best comments he received during his musical career spanning over 30 years is from the celebrated Indian singer, Mohamed Rafi who once related that Jothi should have been born in India because Sri Lanka was too small a country for him to rocket him into international spheres.
A music show was never complete in the 70s and 80s without a Jothipala song and crowds poured in for his popular musical concert series Jothi Rathriya incepted in 1980. He had performed 242 shows and the Jothipala Fan Club (Jothi Mithuru Samajaya) was incepted in 1971.
Jothi married Blossom Winter, a nurse by profession and the couple had four daughters. Sri Lanka’s undisputed playback king died on July 7, 1987 at the age of 51 years.
Great song and well performed by Surendra Beautiful meaning…
Comment by thushari577 – Youtube