Heendeniya Vidanaralalage Punya Heendeniya was born on 31 July 1938 in native Mirigama in a ideal village environment  as the fifth child in a family consisting of seven siblings, currently three elder sisters and a brother are deceased. Her father was well respected individual M. A. Hindeniya  a land owner and proprietary  planter in Mirigama. Her mother, D. L. Kahawitage was a resident of Panadura.Her father had been a versatile singer ,loved  art  who sings old songs well versed in music played the tabla ,Serpina, violin .They had possessed a gramophone instead of radio possessed  at home from which all songs were heard regularly.She had quipped that she may have acquired his hereditary affiliations to pursue her career in acting. In another television confrontation even though living in England for decades now she dreams of her Mirigama village environment etched in her mind everlastingly.

. She was first educated at Mirigama Primary School currently known as Dudley Senanayake College. Punya was sent to Mirigama Maha Vidyalaya after the age of six to study in English medium,the reason for her to be competent in both vernaculars. Punya had been an active student being a member of the school netball team.The pirivena temple where the Mahanayake Thero of the Sri Lanka Ramanna Nikaya now resides was separated only  by a wall in front of the Mirigama ‘Mahagedara’ ancestral dwelling where she lived as a child. The late Ven. Medhankara Nayaka Thero, who was the Chief Incumbent at that time, was a close relative of the Punya’s father a staunch Buddhist. Punya had three elder sisters: Daya, Sheela, Ramya, one elder brother, Weerawardhana and two younger brothers unfortunately all are deceased now also Amara and Karunasinghe. Ramya Heendeniya had acted in the film ‘Kurulu Bedda’ with Punya, and was the mother of journalist and writer Pushkara Wanniarachchi and teledrama editor Sameera Wanniarachchi.brother Weerawardhana was a music instructor while the renowned poet PKD Seneviratne was also a paternal relative of Punya.

She married Dr. Milroy Nanayakkara and had two children with her husband, they also have six grandchildren. After the marriage, she left the cinema and settled in England. During Punya’s peak days in acting she used to receive a heavy fan mail which she used to gaze at, among them there had been a fan letter by a DMO ( district medical officer) from Galle area, who had stated his ominous intention to meet her.Punya had affirmed in a television dialog lately that the District Medical Officer was in haste to meet her.That particular weekend the family was to visit her sister in Kalutara which she had conveyed to the doctor when he had uttered that is so much the better, as it is more convenient to him, than travelling to Mirigama. The doctor is her present husband Milroy Nanayakkara the wedding had not  taken much time thereafter , her bridesmaids had been Shobini Amerasinghe and Nilanthi Wijesinghe.She had regretted not been able to have Anula Karunatilleke as one, as she was already married then.Not long after the duo had migrated to England for Milroy to specialize in his medical field. Her son Anupama Nanayakkara is a specialist doctor. When Anupama was a child, he came to Sri Lanka in 1982 at the invitation of the Lester James Peiris and acted as the son of Nanda and Piyal in the film ‘Kaliyugaya’. Punya’s daughter, Purnami is also a doctor the two are blessed with six grandchildren .

Punya owing to her marriage since migration to England during a ten-year tenure in acting had only acted in a handful of films, the role of ‘Nanda’ in Gamperaliya film stands obviously above the rest to her. However for each role portrayed by her she was acclaimed to unprecedented tall altitudes particularly for her simplicity, her typical village incline, competent dancer, pleasantness, ability to express herself having excelled in both Sinhala and English literature, innate inherited affiliations to art.At school Punya had sung songs, apart from participating in a few ballets one was “Ditti Mangalika”, however  she had never performed on stage.She had been a keen student in literature had been excelling when expressing sentences which was a trump card for her film dialogues too. Of course Punya had very actively participated in dance classes the teacher had been Panibaratha who had just returned from India.Then too Punya had got to get written permission from her parents which her father most willingly consented as an enthusiast of art. Pannibaratha’s brother  Chitra Algama too had taught art in school.


For Punya’s elevated aptitude for dancing had been selected just for two dance frequencies in film ‘Asoka” of Sarath Wimalaweera. Almost simultaneously in year 1958 she was selected to portray the role of “Katherine” when still a novice sans any experience not even on a school stage .This opportunity had arisen through her cousin “Some’ Aiya who’s friend was SDS Somaratne an attorney at law for a role in ‘Deiyange Rate’ with previous experience in the film “Dingiri Menika”.The film was directed by an Indian national  LS Ramachandran not much versed with Sri Lankan traditions. One day on an appointment Punya, her father,Some Aiya had visited the office of SDS Somaratne which she reminisced was in a tiny office in Hulftsdorf. They had been searching for a new actress which was what Some Aiya had added that the director was searching for a new actress for the main role. Punya had been given a para from the book ‘Deiyange Rate” to read. Having previous experience in school literature class where she had read this book and other books of WS Silva like “Kelehanda’,Daivayogaya”etc. book several times had read very impressively the para which was given to her which had made them to select her unanimously  for the role of “Katherina”.


The Principal of her school KA Pagnaratne a close friend of her father,Wimalanath Dissanayake, his mother had visited home when she was plucking flowers to go to the temple on a Vesak day. Punya had confessed that on such a day her dwelling too looked like a temple with Vesak decorations. There visit had been to meet her father to explore the possibility to obtain his permission for her portray a lead role in film ‘Patachara”.They realised she was too small then to portray the lead role, one Primrose Perera had been selected with her she had taken part in some dancing sequences in the Neliya area not particularly as an actress.But this film had not got off the blocks properly had abruptly clogged. Not long after Punya had been selected to portray the lead role in film “Deiyangerate” where most shooting had been on the Sri Pada incline a place a bit foreign to her,also she  had to go up and down around fifteen times.The co actor too had been a novice had made mistakes in dialogues having to take more takes to make matters rather cumbersome. The rest of the locations she quipped were at a studio in Kandana,She reminisced that the film had prolonged for nearly one and a half years released in the Vesak period in year 1958.


During this time Punya had been a sought after actress with many directors coming to her with offers to portray vivid roles in films.Her next films were “Kurulubedda” and  “Ranmenika”.The latter was shot in her own backyard like in Mirigama  suburbs for which she was like home. Most of the films then had been directed by Indians who adopted the similar make up styles similar for Indian actresses which was disliked by Punya.Once she got acquainted with them she had requested for a lighter make ups. In another television dialog recently Punya had quipped that she would have preferred to portray roles SANS any make up .During Punya’s initial tenure she had not known much on acting but she quipped that some artistes particularly Senadhira Kuruppu had advised the novices the basics ,having organized classes too on how to face camera, speak etc for which she was very grateful. The role of “Katherina” Punya became exceedingly popular which made her turning point in the cinematic career. After the above films, she acted in the films Sri 296 and Suneetha where the shooting was done in India. Then in year 1961, she played the lead role of blockbuster film ‘Kurulu Bedda’. After ‘Kurulu Bedda’, Punya starred in the film ‘Sikuru Tharuwa’ again portraying the lead role. The producer of the ‘Sikuru Tharuwa’ John Amaratunga had come in search of Punya and informed that she has been selected for the lead role in the film ‘Gameperaliya’ too directed by Lestor James Peiris for the role of “Nanda’. She received several awards for the critics acclaimed role in the film. In 1968, she won the award for the Best Actress at the fifth Sarasaviya awards ceremony her role in the film ‘Ransalu.’’] Although she gave up acting in 1968, at the peak of her career, she made comeback in the film ‘Kaliyugaya’ in 1983 for which she received a merit award at the Presidential Film Award. In year 2013 Sumathi Awards, she was honored with once a life time award of “UW Sumathipala” Memorial Award .All awards she obtained are appended below. .

1964- Eksath Rasika Sangamaya Best Actress Award, Gamperaliya1964- Sarasaviya Film Awards- Best Actress Award, Best film, Gamperaliya1964- Best Actress Proficiency Award, Sikuru Tharuwa1965 Gamperaliya won “Golden Peacock Award” Grand Prix International Film Festival of India, New Delhi1965 Gamperaliya won “Golden Head of Palenque“, Resena Mundial Film Festival in Acapulco, Mexico1965- Punya Heendeniya represented Sri Lanka on World Human Rights Day at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.1966 Swarana Sankha Award, Best Actress Award, Parasathumal1968- Sarasaviya Film Awards, Sarasaviya Best Actress Award– Best Actress Award, Ran Salu1985- Presidential Award- Kaliyugaya.1998- to Celebrate 50 years of Sri Lankan Cinema a Rs10 stamp depicting Gamperaliya was issued.2000-Lifetime achievement, President’s Golden Lion Award 2008-Gamperaliya (Changement au village) shown in Cannes Film Festival as restored Classics.2013-U.W.Sumathipala Lifetime Achievement Award,2015- Special Signis Salutation Award, -the highest award given by Signis Sri Lanka for a person who has contributed much for the development of media in Sri Lanka.2016 – Sarasaviya Abhimani (Legendary) Award.


In the context of the above during the tenure of Punya Heendeniya’s acting career though she had acted in a fewer number of films she had won more awards that the number of films she had portrayed roles in.In her twilight years she leads a contended life having educated her son and daughter also to follow her spouses medical profession son  a specialist physician.Punya spends time with her grand children which  all grandparents are compelled to perform.All her fans would wish her goof health and longevity, but it is certain that a similar Punya Heendeniya would never be born perhaps for centuries.


Sunil Thenabadu in Brisbane e mail sthenabadu@hotmail.com..whatsapp 0061444533242