In the past few weeks Kandy is being stormed by a spree of posters by Kamal Addaraarachchi announcing his English classes, which will be commenced soon. There are at least three varieties of this poster in which Addaraarachchi urges that he (and, by extension, his syndicate) will “solve the dilemma caused by the Sword”: “කඩුවේ නඩුව අපි විසදන්නෙමු”. Addaraarachchi may have the same poster in other parts of the island and his campaign seems to be a well organized, well mediated programme. In the poster, Addaraaraahchi is introduced as a “veteran actor” and “English instructor”.
Kamal Addaraarachchi, in my evaluation, is one of the best actors of my time. In all forms of acting — stage, film and tele — Addaraarachchi has left an indelible mark and the quality of his work has only become better with time. To cite a few random, but memorable examples of the impact Addaraarachchi’s genius has left in me — someone growing up in the 1990s — one can consider films such as “Saptha Kanya” and — more recently — “Agni Dhaahaya”. His role in Herbert Ranjith Peiris’ “Hiruta Muvaven” (or, as it was better known, ඉදියප්පන් ගෙදර කතාව) most easily forewent the popularity of the rest of that teledrama’s cast.
It is not an issue whether Addaraarachchi is a good teacher of English, or not — maybe, he is and he should follow his talent and ability. But, the fact that Addaraarachchi — an actor and a reality show host —transforming his career into that of an “educator” is a trajectory and pattern that seeks our attention. In Addaraarachchi’s metamorphosis we see the extension of a now-familiar pattern where spheres which, in the pre-digital world, carried an air of “solemnity” and “seriousness” have now become the prerogative of “popular” or “branded” personalities: the boon of marketability and salesmanship.
Of course, we have seen the likes of Vijaya Kumaratunga (actor) and Gamini Fonseka (actor) engage in representational party politics in the 1970s and 1980s. But, these were men who resonated a political ideology with which they were in harmony. However, the sphere of politics and the role of politician underwent ruthless trivialization in more recent times with the likes of Rosy Senanayake, Anarkalli Akarsha, Upeksha Swarnamali, Malini Fonseka — and now, Nadeesha Hemamali (though, to be fair by Hemamali, she is yet to make her statement) — and Sanath Jayasuriya etc coming into the fray on the Aladin-carpet of their mass appeal. This is by no means a frail list, as other names that come within the definition includes Susanthika Jayasinghe, Wasanthi Chathurani and Geetha Kumarasinghe.
These are all “icons of an age” — an age of Facebooking and mass media popularity; an age in which one’s popularity and fan base overrides expertise and ability: where popularity and expertise are, in that sense, interchangeable. Kamal Addaraarachchi may or may not be a good English teacher, but his launching pad is his popularity as a charismatic actor and show host.
Secondly, the Addaraarachchi metamorphosis also shows the trivialization the world of education has undergone — and continues to do so — in recent years. The Addaraarachchi venture, therefore, offers us a rich analogy as to what the standards and the face of Lankan education at all levels are being leveled through. The actor / entertainer becomes the “path-maker” and source of light for the aspirant student of English.
For people growing up in Kandy in the mid-late 1990s, “Keerthi” next to Wembly Cinema was the name of an ice cream shop and video parlour. The 1990s was still the age of VHS video hiring, and Keerthi Video Stores was one of the few thriving such outlets of its time. As the years roll on, the VHS cassettes go out of fashion and other ice cream outlets get opened. Then, brand Keerthi has a face-lift courtesy of the next best “trade” of our present day: education. The ice cream parlour and VHS cassette renter of yesterday — again, an agent of popular entertainment — is now “Keerthi Education Centre” offering classes upto the O/L level.
For Addaraarachchi, it is either life making him search for new options at a time of price hikes, if not the bringing under his belt a field that can be very easily maneuvered what with all that popularity. It could also be that to teach English was a passion denied. But, as Keerthi Video / Ice Cream / Education has shown us the field of tuition education is an easily manipulable space today — a space on which any peddler with personality and marketing skills can build an empire on.