The French Embassy at Rosemead Place was ‘home’ for fifteen glorious years until the studio moved to Barnes Place in 2000, the year I quit Bonsoir. It was the only foreign mission in Colombo at that time, to house such a television studio.
During those early years, we were unhappy being confined to ‘performing’ in front a grey or black curtain and under three lights. We wanted to shoot outdoors with its endless possibilities and thus made friends with our friendly and consenting neighbours.
The Bandaranaikes lived down the road at No 65. Their lovely old house – Tintagel – had lots of filmable corners and spaces. True they were friends of the family, true I had, as a wailing, pamper-less, one-week old infant, pee-ed in her older daughter Sunethra’s arms in the early 60s, true her younger daughter Chandrika is Francophone, and true her son Anura was my father’s student at Royal College, BUT I couldn’t just pop in and ask the world’s first woman Prime Minister, “Bonjour Madame B. may we shoot in your garden s’il vous plait ?”. That would have been very rude and in v-e-r-y bad taste. So I abandoned the idea.
Our immediate neighbours – D.S. and Krishnie Madanayake – at No 93, had and still have a stunningly beautiful old colonial, ‘maha-gedara’ styled house with its pillared and spacious front verandah, profusions of flowers, clipped lawns, shady trees, banks of ferns and a paved driveway – our dream location and tres, tres convenient +++.
Apparently the building housing our studio had once been their old stables. The Madanayakes were a very accommodating couple. “Mrs. Mada” (as we fondly referred to her) gave us permission to shoot in her house and garden whenever we wanted to, even when they were overseas. We only had to inform the domestics and walk in. Such was their generosity. We’ve shot innumerable programmes in all parts of this house. Respecting their privacy, we only never ventured into the bedrooms and toilets !
To this house we have invited and interviewed numerous personalities – Lester James Peries, Sriyani Amarasena, Ven Paravahera Chandaratana Thera (Chief Sanghanayake of France), Prasanna Vithanage, Joe Abeywickrema, Nita Fernando etc.
I remember the well-known francophone, francophile writer Piyasiri Vijeyesekere, on the Madanayake lawn, one evening, waxing eloquent about the pleasure he got in translating French books into Sinhala. The best known one among them is probably Marcel Pagnol’s ‘La Femme du Boulanger’.
Although we loved to, we couldn’t hop into a UTA or Air France plane and take off to France every time we wanted to do those “special programmes”. So we had to improvise, make-do and make-believe.
When Mrs. Mada’s bougainvilleas were once in bloom – in a thundering riot of colour – Yasmin timed well and did a very believe-able programme – touring the south of France on bicycles. We had to be content with close-angle shots and not reveal the Rosemead Place setting.
For yet another of her programmes on Alsace, Yasmin had us both dressed up as Alsatians (NOT the dogs please … but the people of Alsace on the Franco-German border). We picnicked on the lawn, with sauerkraut (pickled cabbage, a regional specialty), sausages, cheese and a bottle of Riesling wine (straw coloured water in this case). Credibility peaked with Yasmin in her peasant skirt and shawl, and I, in a hat and waistcoat, pranced around the garden arm in arm, feigning (regional) dance steps in close-up shots and then sat under a Bonsoir umbrella to eat the real and the fake food.
I know for a fact that Mrs. Mada always has, and still does, refuse requests from innumerable teledrama and film producers, and, production houses to use her house and garden for filming.
We were always the favoured ones, and for years on end …