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CINEMAS IN SRI LANKA THEN AND NOW

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by HM Nissanka Warakaulle

Tracing the history of cinema halls in Sri Lanka brings back nostalgic memories to older folks who were regular filmgoers. While many of the old cinemas in Colombo still exist some have disappeared.

Regal theatre was and still is an outstanding cinema, constructed in the style of an opera house with balconies on the sides. This is locate in the heart of Colombo and accessible from all parts of the city. This cinema, belonging to the Ceylon Theatres circuit, screened English films, except when it was used for premiers of important Sinhala films and those of reputed Directors/Producers.

The next most important cinema in Colombo was the Savoy in Wellawatta. This too screens only English films, except in rare instances when the premier of a Sinhala movie is screened. It was in the Savoy that the then famous rock and roll film “Rock Around The Clock” with Bill Haley and his comets was screened. And what a pandemonium it created on the first day the film was screened! Most young people in the hall mounted small stage in front of the screen and started dancing and the management had to summon the police.

The other cinemas of that vintage were the Majestic, the Empire and the New Olympia all three of which screened only English films. Majestic and Empire belonged to the Ceylon Theatres while the New Olympia was owned by the Cader family.

Among the other older cinemas was the Elphinstone, which screened Sinhala, Tamil and Hindi films. Close to the Elphinstone was the Tower Hall which was converted into a cinema hall after a fairly long stint as a theatre for Sinhala dramas. The Tower Hall showed a jumble of films ranging from English to Sinhala and Hindi movies. Both these cinema halls were converted to drama theatres.

In addition to these cinemas the other very old cinemas in Colombo were the Kingsley in Kotahena and Gaiety in Gintupitiya (both screened Tamil films), Crown on Sangaraja Mawatha, Capitol on Armour Street, Plaza, Sapphire and Roxy (which is now known as Savoy) in Wellawatta, Gamini, which screened mainly Sinhala movies, near St. Joseph’s College and the Fawn on Union Place which screened English films that had been screened in other cinemas earlier. Of these only the Crown is still functioning and as was done earlier, only Hindi films from Bollywood are screened there.

The Gamini and Sapphire cinemas were burnt down during the 1983 riots as they belonged to Tamils. Bus conductors still call out the names of these cinemas to identify the halting places possibly not knowing they’re long gone. The Fawn was later converted ito a Carmart showroom for their Peugeot and Volkswagen cars of that time .

A few new cinemas were built in Colombo after the ‘golder oldies’. The first of these was the Liberty owned by Jabir A Cader, where ‘White Christmas” with Bing Crosby was screened to launch the new cinema. The Rio cinema was built on then Parson Street (now Sir Chittampalam Gardiner Mawatha) and the first film shown there was “South Pacific,” a Rogers and Hammerstein musical. The premier of this film was screened in 1965 with the then Governor-General William Gopallawa and Mrs. Gopallawa as the chief guests.

The Navah came up on a side street next to the Rio with only South Indian Tamil films (Kollywood) screened there. The other cinema screening Tamil films only was the Eros in Pamankada. During the 1983 riots the owner displayed a notice on the parapet wall indicating that the cinema belonged to a named Sinhalese to avoid the fate that befell the other cinemas believed to be Tamil owned. It still continues to show Tamil films.

Later on, two cinema were bult in Borella, the Lido and the Ritz, and Impala on Cotta Road and Samantha in Dematagoda. These four cinemas screened films of Sinhala, Hindi and Tamil languages.

Most of these cinemas are now non-existent. The Majestic was demolished and the Majestic City came up in its place; but within the premises there are two Majestic cinemas known as Majestic Cineplex. There are a few new cinema complexes that have come up in Colombo which are Cine City, Excel World, Scope and Liberty Lite. A new cinema was also built in the shopping arcade in the former race course.

Shifting from Colombo to Kandy, there were not that many cinemas as in Colombo. The Regal of the Ceylon Theatres circuit was the best known in Kandy, starting as the Empire and renamed Regal, which name it still retains. The Regal used to screen English films at early evening shows and Sinhala, Hindi or Tamil movies at the late show. On the same road as the Regal was the Wembley which screened mainly Sinhala films and also films from Bollywood and Kollywood.

Then there was the Wales Theatre which originally started in front of the old public market and had to be demolished when the new market came up. The owner was given a land above Torrington Road. But this too had to be demolished when the new DS Senanayake Public Library was built. When it was in existence Hindi and Tamil films were screened at the Wales.

In the early fifties another cinema hall was built above Trinity College. The owner(Lazarus) named it Laza using part of his name. After the cinema was sold to another person, the new owner rechristened the cinema as the Odeon. This cinema showed English films that were screened at the New Olympia in Colombo.

The last cinema hall in Kandy was the Bogambara cinema. Many serial films were screened there. When the new Bogambara Stadium was constructed this cinema was demolished.

Later the names of some of the cinemas belonging to Ceylon Theatres were changed to Regal. These were the Tivoli in Nuwara Eliya, Chandralekha in Gampola, one in Diyatalawa and Rajah in Jaffna as far as I recollect.

A very interesting cinema I remember was the Royal in Bandarawela. It was on the upper floor of a workshop belonging to Walker & Grieg situated on Main Street. Patrons had to climb a flight of steps to get to the cinema.

Then there was Imperial Talkies which used to take movies to places where there were no permanent cinemas, pitch a large tent and screen films with the help of a generator. This was much appreciated and patronized by the village folks who would not have seen a film otherwise during those days.

At present, there are cinema in almost every nook and corner of Sri Lanka and people do not have to travel long distances to watch a movie of their choice.



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Features

Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Features

Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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Features

JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe

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The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,

 

The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.

Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.

Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”

For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.

The twins with the
late Sunil Perera

On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.

Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri

According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.

The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.

There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.

The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan

After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.

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