Sumitra Peries

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Sumitra Peries
Born (1934-03-24) 24 March 1934 (age 83)
Avissawella, Sri Lanka

Lester James Peries

Sumitra Peries on IMDb

Sumitra Peries (born 24 March 1934) is the first[citation needed] Sri Lankan female filmmaker and is known by all as the "Poetess of Sinhala Cinema". She also held the post of Sri Lanka's ambassador to France, Spain and the United Nations in the late 1990s. Of her films the more popular ones are Gehenu Lamai, Ganga Addara and Yahaluvo. She is married to the most prolific Sri Lankan film director Dr. Lester James Peries.[1][2]


Early life[edit]

Sumitra Gunawardena (birth name) was born on 24 March 1934 to a Marxist family known as the Boralugoda Gunewardene's in Avissawella. Her father, Henry (better known as Harry) Gunawardena was a proctor in Avissawella, and brother of the famous politicians Philip Gunawardena and Robert Gunawardena and her mother, Harriette Wickramasinghe was from a middle-class family. Three of Sumitra's relatives, Dinesh Gunawardena, Geethanjana Gunawardena and Prasanna Gunawardena, are still in Sri Lankan politics today.

When Sumitra was just 14 years of age, her mother died. At that time her brother Gamini was five years older and her sister Chandralatha, three years older. She also has a younger brother Ranjith. After the tragedy of their mother's death, Gamini went to the south of France and lived in a yacht with a French painter.

Sumitra began her education in Avissawella, then later enrolled to Visakha Vidyalaya in Colombo and finally joined the Aquinas College Colombo to do the London Advanced Level.

At the age of 20 Sumitra managed to find some money and travelled to Europe by ship to meet her elder brother Gamini. She was to build her own career there, although she didn't know it at the time.[3]


She studied film making at the London School of Film Technique and was awarded a Diploma in Film Direction and Production (1957–1959). She was the only woman studying this subject there at that time. After passing out, she began working at Mai Harris, a subtitling firm for a short period and later returned home to Sri Lanka. It was briefly before she left that she happened to meet her to-be-husband at the residence of Mr. Vernon Mendis, who was a mutual friend of Lester and Sumitra.

Later on her arrival in Sri Lanka, Sumitra's brother Gamini contacted Lester and checked the possibility of her sister working with him on shoot. Lester agreed and Sumitra started work as assistant director in his second film Sandesaya. A filmmaking company called Cinelanka was established later in 1963 with Anton Wickramasinghe, Lester and Sumitra as major shareholders.

Personal life[edit]

Sumitra married Lester James Peries on 19 June 1964 at All Saints Church, Borella and a reception was held at the residence of Anton Wickremasinghe afterwards.

Film career[edit]

Sumitra started off her own cinema debut with her first film Gehenu Lamai featuring newly discovered talent in the young Vasanthi Chathurani. The film was a box office hit and managed to bag many awards at the film festivals of the time. Her next film Ganga addara also featuring Vasanthi Chathurani, Vijaya Kumaratunge and Sanath Gunathileke was another box office hit. She has subsequently directed many more feature films which have all been subjected to international acclaim. Please visit the 'Movies' column of to find a detailed description about all these films.

Professional career[edit]

In the 1980s, Sumitra was a member of the presidential commission for two years to conduct an inquiry into Sri Lanka's film sector regarding all aspects of the industry such as its troubles, statistics, public opinions and recommendations.

She was in charge of production for Worldview International in Sri Lanka in 1988–1990. Also during the late 1980s and early 1990s, she was a member of the Board of Management of the Institute of Aesthetique Studies, Kelaniya University, Sri Lanka during which Prof A. J. Gunewardena was the director general of the institute.

Sumitra later served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to France and Spain in 1996–1999 and was also appointed as the ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United Nations by President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunge. She served at her post during the bicentennial of "FILM" in its birthplace - France – and was conveniently able to take part in all celebrations along with her spouse Lester James Peries.

She won the award for the best film director in fifty years of Sri Lankan cinema.[4]


International awards[edit]

  • Carthage International Film Festival – Gehenu Lamai – Diploma of Merit (1978), shared the jury award with Mirinal Sen of India.[5]
  • London Film Festival – Gehenu Lamai – Outstanding Film of the Year (1978)
  • South Asian Film Festival in Tokyo, Japan – Ganga Addara – Diploma
  • Moscow International Film Festival – Yahalu Yeheli – Diploma (1984), purchased by a German television channel in 1986
  • Filmex International Film Festival, Los Angeles – Yahalu Yeheli – Diploma (1985)
  • International Film Festival, Tokyo – Sagara Jalaya – One of the Ten Best Films, purchased by a Japanese television station
  • Nantes International Film Festival – Loku Duwa – Diploma (1993)
  • Fukuoka International Film Festival – Loku Duwa (1994)
  • London Film Festival – Duwata Mawaka Misa – Diploma (1998)
  • International Film Festival, India – Duwata Mawaka Misa (1998)
  • Fukuoka International Film Festival – Duwata Mawaka Misa (1998)
  • Golden Lotus – Deauville Award for "Contribution to Asian Cinema" (2001)

National awards[edit]

Best Editor:

  • Gamperaliya – Sarasaviya Film Awards (1964)
  • Delovak Athara – Sarasaviya Film Awards (1967)
  • Ahasin Polawata – Presidential Awards (1979) & OCIC Awards (1979)
  • Bakmaha Deege – Critics Awards (1971)

Best Director:

  • Ganga Addara – Sarasaviya Film Awards (1981) & Presidential Awards (1981)
  • Yahalu Yeheli – Presidential Awards (1983) & OCIC Awards (1983)
  • Maya – Sarasaviya Film Awards (1984) & National Award for Best Film and Best Director in 1986.
  • Sagara Jalaya – OCIC Awards (1989) & Swarna Sanka Awards (1988)
  • Loku Duwa – Presidential Awards (1989) & Sarasaviya Silver Jubilee Awards (1988)
  • Duwata Mawaka Misa Presidential Awards (1996)
  • Zonta Arthur C Clark Award for Communication (1988)
  • Rana Thisara Lifetime Achievement Award (1993)[6]

The Lester James Peries and Sumitra Peries Foundation[edit]

The Lester James Peries and Sumitra Peries foundation was inaugurated on Thursday 9 June 2011 at the BMICH with an oration by the chief Guest - celebrated Indian film maker Padma Vibushan Dr. Adoor Gopalakrishnan and the Speaker of Parliament Chamal Rajapakse was the Guest of Honour. The Foundation is incorporated through an act of Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The bill of incorporation was forwarded to parliament by Hon. Malini Fonseka on 5 January 2011. The foundation focuses on the following general objectives-

1. To provide assistance for the development, promotion and sustenance of the Sri Lankan cinema and to those associated with it;
2. To promote and foster cinema and related arts and crafts for children and young adults;
3. To promote, improve, develop, provide financial assistance and maintain academic, scientific, cultural, literary, artistic and physical abilities and aptitudes;
4. To promote, propagate and foster humanitarian ideals, democratic and pluralistic values, good citizenship, patriotic concepts and beliefs;
5. To improve, develop, create, foster and maintain talents and abilities in entrepreneurship, research and training in business, technology and management and concept of income generating and self-employment ventures and enterprises; to establish, improve, encourage, develop and maintain research and research facilities in scientific, cultural, educational, economic and all other aspects of human development;
6. To advise and assist the Government, NGOs and individuals in the furtherance of the objectives of the Foundation;
7. To preserve and promote all cinematographic and any other creations of Lester James Peries and Sumitra Peries made by them including scripts, manuscripts, books, letters, articles, poems, photographs, audio cassettes, VHS cassettes, CDs, VCDs, DVDs, MP3s and any other audio devices, visual devices and media;
8. To preserve all cinematic equipment and personal memorabilia owned and used by Lester James Peries and Sumitra Peries;
9. To maintain Archives to promote and preserve all cinematographic and any other creations of any Sri Lankan film maker;
10. To grant prizes, rewards, awards or scholarship to develop, promote and encourage creative talents in general or in particular fields;
11. To organize, conduct and participate in seminars, meetings, workshops, discussions, talks, classes, films, film shows, demonstrations, sports, and recreational activities, and to write, print and publish books, periodicals, magazines, articles and newspapers, in furtherance of the objectives herein specified and specifically in all areas of educational activity;
12. To establish and maintain libraries, workshops and readings rooms, and to equip the same having regard to the primary objects of the Foundation;
13. To publish articles, periodicals or such other literature and information as may prove necessary or useful for the purpose of the Foundation;
14. To undertake and execute any trusts the undertaking whereof seems desirable and either gratuitously or otherwise.

The foundation operates from the residence of Dr. Lester James Peries, down Dr. Lester James Peries Mawatha, and is involved in organizing many events annually to promote the film industry of the past and present in Sri Lanka.

The Foundation is spearheaded by its trustees- Dr. Lester James Peries, Mrs. Sumitra Peries, Mr. Yadamini Gunawardene, Mr. Kumar de Silva and Mrs. Gayathri Mustachi. Also on the board of directors serves Ms. Yashodha Wimaladharma, Mr. Sameera Manabharana Randeniya, Mr. Yasoja Gunawardene and Mr. Nuran Gomez.

Latest news[edit]

Sumitra Peries latest cinema venture Vaishnavee shot in 2012 made her the first director ever to shoot with the latest Red Epic camera and this step has laid the foundation for the next Generation Digital Cinema for Sri Lanka. The film is speculated to be released around March next year. Dr. and Mrs. Peries recently celebrated their Golden wedding anniversary on 19 June 2014 and now live happily in the comfort of their home located down the road named after Dr. Lester James Peries.

There are two books written about her namely

1. Sumitra Peries- by Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin (English)

2. Sumitra - by Ajith Galappaththi (Sinhala)

These two volumes are available in bookstores in Sri Lanka.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Profile:(". 12 January 2008. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. 
  2. ^ "Sumitra Peries a female idol". Sunday Observer (Sri Lanka). 22 September 2002. 
  3. ^ "A celebration between two celebrities". Daily News (Sri Lanka). 19 October 2002. 
  4. ^ "Keeping in touch with the French". Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). 19 October 1997. ISSN 1391-0531. 
  5. ^ "Gehenu Lamai (1977)". 12 January 2008. Archived from the original on 16 May 2007. 
  6. ^ "Achievements". ( 12 January 2008. 

External links[edit]