The gifted and versatile actor Gehan Cooray makes Sri Lanka proud with his Hollywood movie “Billionaire” . This movie was awarded at the prestigious Burbank International film recently.
This film was Gehan Cooray’s very own adaptation of George Bernard Show’s play ‘The Millionairess’ Gehan’s milestone in producing, writing the screen play and his portrayal in the title role were great achievements.
Based in Los Angeles, Gehan Cooray is also an actor, independent filmmaker and a classical singer. The film ‘The Billionaire’ was officially submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in late 2020, after becoming eligible for both Oscar and Golden Globe awards nominations.
by Zanita Careem
How did you get involved in the movie The Billionaire”
At the tender age of three , my mother introduced me to Classic Hollywood films like ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Mary Poppins’, which left an indelible impression on my mind. Throughout my childhood, I was struck by how movies could offer the viewer a form of audio-visual escapism that was practically unrivalled. However, since there was no English film industry in Sri Lanka, I grew up performing on the stage, and didn’t seriously consider becoming a filmmaker until I attended the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.
USC of course has the best cinematic arts school in the world, producing such Hollywood luminaries as George Lucas. Although I majored in Theatre and Psychology, I took as many cinema classes as I possibly could, and discovered a knack for filmmaking through class projects and such. It was several years after graduating from university, however, that a chance meeting with the famous director Jon Favreau in Hollywood set me on my current trajectory. Seeing my USC sweatshirt, he asked me if I was a filmmaker. My instinct at the time was to say “I’m an Actor and a Singer, but not really a filmmaker” – and yet, I subsequently said to myself….”If Mr. Favreau thinks I look like I could be making films, on top of being a performer, why not give it a go, since I’ve had such an excellent foundation at USC anyway?”
I started with a few short films, which got into some big film festivals in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Having received that kind of recognition for my work, my mother felt it was time for me to take the plunge and make a feature length film – which is what led to “THE BILLION AIRE”. I wanted to make a film that hearkened back to the elegance and sophistication of the Old Hollywood films I grew up watching.
How long did you take to make research and make the film?
It took several years. It was definitely a marathon, not a sprint, and it sometimes felt like I would never reach the finish line, honestly, but by the Grace of God, I finally did, overcoming all kinds of obstacles that seemed insurmountable to the point of despair at the time – but my Patience and Perseverance won out.
What were the key challenges in making ‘The Billionaire’
I had a number of people try to take advantage of me and bleed me dry in the most unscrupulous of ways, and so I would say the key challenge was finding the right collaborators whom I could really trust, and who had the film’s best interests in mind, versus their own best interests. This is always a challenge when you are producing a film as an independent filmmaker.
On a more artistic note, editing the film also proved to be a challenge. The first cut of the film was 2 hours 40 minutes. It took me a long time to find an editor who could help me bring the film under two hours, without sacrificing the main essence and thrust of the story. It was someone at Warner Bros. Studios who referred me to such an editor, who understood what I was trying to accomplish with the film, and respected my vision, without merely slicing and dicing the footage.
Working and producing the movie in Hollywood, tell us your first time experience
The difference between making a short film and making a feature film is like the difference between crawling and running a marathon, and so the short films I had so successfully made prior to THE BILLIONAIRE did not prepare me for what was to come. What helped me from beginning to end, however, was the strength of my artistic convictions – I was not just trying to make a movie, as so many do, but create a work of art that had literary, dramatic and musical merit. The whole process might have been somewhat intimidating, had I not had believed so completely in what I was doing.
Is digital technology and opportunity or a threat?
Digital technology is certainly an opportunity for so many young creative people, but it can also be a threat because anyone can make anything and upload it online – regardless of their level of education or their artistic abilities. Hence, there is such an overabundance of content available online digitally, that finding a work of quality these days can be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. I am still adamant about releasing my film in cinemas first, before taking the digital route, because there is a level of quality control and discernment in cinemas that sadly can’t be found in the digital sphere.
What inspired you to produce and star in ‘The Billionaire’?
I wanted to produce and star in a feature film that portrayed South Asians like myself in an empowered manner, first and foremost. Too often, we see South Asians portrayed in a somewhat subservient manner in Western cinema. My Godmother in Colombo, Nishanthi Perera Pieris, had told me about George Bernard Shaw’s play “The Millionairess”, which was quite progressive in the 1930s, depicting an empowered and thoroughly independent female character. I realized that, by changing the gender and turning the 1930s millionairess into a 21st century billionaire of South Asian descent, I could represent my race in a truly formidable manner. Also, since I grew up watching “My Fair Lady”, which was also adapted from a George Bernard Shaw play, I felt an immense affinity to the kind of language that Shaw utilizes. It was a secondary goal of mine to showcase to the world that a South Asian actor like me could speak the Queen’s English as resplendently and majestically as any Caucasian actor.
What projects do you have coming up?
I am working on adapting an operetta to the big screen, as well as another play which is a more dramatic version of an old fairytale. I wouldn’t be able to produce either project as an independent filmmaker however. I would need to partner with a studio. On a more independent level, I am envisioning a project that might be shot in Sri Lanka, with a big Hollywood actor or actress starring in the film alongside me. Hopefully all of the above comes to fruition.
I have recorded my first album, which will be released in 2021. It was produced by Grammy Award winning musician Hussain Jiffrey, and features Operatic Arias, French and Italian Classical Melodies, as well as Old English Songs from the late 19th century and early 20th century Broadway Musicals. I can’t wait to share this with the world.
Why the movie stresses on Asexuality.
The movie stresses on Asexuality because I myself identify as an Asexual gentleman. This is something which most people are completely unaware of, because so much emphasis is placed on Heterosexuality and Homosexuality. I wanted audiences to become aware of the fact that not everyone likes, needs, or wants sex. I for one, most certainly do not. In THE BILLIONAIRE, for example, the title character whom I portray is attracted to men romantically, but not sexually, which means that none of his relationships are ever consummated – not even after marriage. Since this reflects my own disposition, I felt it was important to showcase to the world at large that two people can fall in love and even get married, but remain essentially pure and chaste. This is a beautiful and sublime thing.
In George Bernard Shaw’s original play ‘The Millionairess’, the title character’s pride and self-worth seemed to derive almost entirely from her wealth and status. I thought this was a rather flimsy characterization, especially in the 21st century, when the Class system is considered somewhat archaic, and so I thought it would be dramatically and psychologically fascinating if my character – THE BILLIONAIRE – drew HIS pride and self-worth as much from his chastity and purity, as he did from his status and wealth. An Asexual person is quasi-angelic, in the sense that such an individual has no desire for a sexual connection with anyone, and I felt this was a much stronger reason for my character to be so proud – above and beyond being rich and upper class.
A lot of people in the LGBTQ community have role models in the media to look up to these days, but Asexual individuals do not have those same role models as yet, unfortunately, and I thought it was high time we changed that.
by Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
Gifts from Japan
My fascination about the seas, oceans and waves commenced at age five, when my father returned from home from Japan. Among a few items my dad brought home with him after his official trips to Japan, were kimonos, my first Judogi for practicing martial arts. All of which were nice, and my favourite Japanese item was a numbered copy of the painting, ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ (神奈川沖浪裏) or the Wave by Katsushika Hokusai.
Growing up in Bambalapitiya Flats, Colombo, Ceylon, every morning I would watch the real waves of the Indian Ocean from my bedroom windows and from our balcony, as well as Hokusai’s semi-abstract dramatic waves that was hung in our living room. At that time, I always wondered if the rows of ugly rocks placed by the city to prevent sea erosion, were really needed. Adding the years, I worked and lived-in seaside resorts and hotels, I have been fortunate to spend over 30 years, listening to, or looking at waves, every day. A few years ago, my father gifted me a copy of this great Japanese painting, which now hangs in my office in Canada. Nostalgia continues…
The drawing of the Wave is a deification of the sea made by Hokusai who lived with the religious terror of the overwhelming ocean completely surrounding his volcanic country. He was impressed by the sudden fury of the ocean’s leap toward the sky, by the deep blue of the inner side of the curve, by the splash of its claw-like crest as it sprays forth droplets. The Wave, completed around 1830, is Hokusai’s most famous work and is often considered the most recognizable work of Japanese art, in the world.
I never fully understood the eerie message Hokusai was communicating with the world, through his timeless masterpiece for 174 years, until the year 2004. The Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 is one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Some waves that hit Indonesia were 100 feet tall, and Sri Lanka recorded 33 feet waves. This Tsunami resulted in 228,000 estimated deaths (35,000 in Sri Lanka) in 14 countries, and displaced over 1.7 million people (half a million in Sri Lanka). Mercilessness of the angry nature truly defies imagination.
Two weeks ago, my youngest son, Ché Rana asked me if I could give him a special present for his 18th birthday. He wanted me to do a large (4 feet X 4 feet) abstract painting for his bedroom, as his birthday present. He requested me to create the painting based on the theme he gave me (Tsunami) and his preferred colours. I wasn’t given much of artistic freedom, but he inspired me to produce a new large painting. While creating this painting in my basement studio, my creative mood inspired me to pen a new poem – ‘Tsunamic Moods’ as a tribute to Hokusai.
A cool morning and a calm ocean
Greeted by gentle breeze as we sail
Everyone happy in a relaxing holiday mood
Life seems peaceful when all is plain sailing
Suddenly the dark sky invades, the sunshine flees
Change of course, birds disappearing abruptly
Seagull screams drowned by some fearsome noise
A provoked nature, ocean exploded in thunderous fury
Swells coming small at first, then large and violent
We are helpless in the midst of giant monstrous waves
Dreams plunge to nightmares, crushing my hopes
Can we survive a ruthless life tsunami?
Diminishing Dumbara patterns call for revival
The Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum is home to a striking repertoire of Dumbara designs. The collection which is open to the public only through temporary exhibitions, urges the revival of this fast diminishing traditional form of Lankan art which is described as a kind of ‘artistic meditation.’
by Randima Attygalle
The staff of the Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum treats me to a feast of painstakingly designed exotic dumbara mats, tapestries, cushion covers, purses and much more. I marvel at the skill of the traditional Lankan artisan which is often taken for granted, bargained over, driven to substitute with other means of income today.
Once the staple of the picturesque Dumbara valley (valley of the mist) or Dumbara mitiyawatha, the craft was even sought by royalty. Some of the descendants of the master weavers who enthralled Kandyan monarchs with their art, still labour to keep their family tradition alive in villages of the Dumbara valley such as Thalagune and Menikhinna. They work against many odds. The base for the craft is the hemp leaf (niyanda hana) botanically termed Sansevieria zeylanica which is hard to source today. This drives the weavers to find substitutes such as cotton.
“The difficulty in sourcing traditional inputs and the poor market price for this time consuming craft force many weavers to abandon it. In the olden days, low pit looms were used to weave hemp. Today these are replaced by cotton and standing looms. The natural dyes are today replaced with synthetics,” notes the Director General, Department of National Museums, Sanuja Kasthuriarchchi.
One of the chief keepers of the tangible history of ours, Kasthuriarachchi with her special interest in traditional local arts, moots public-private collaborations to revive this one-of-a-kind Sri Lankan craft. Unless the weavers are offered incentives and assisted to find markets, their art would soon be confined only to museums, she laments. “This environmental-friendly form of art deserves pride of place in homes, offices and hotels and a national boost is necessary.”
The Colombo National Museum’s collection of dumbara designs are a mix of donations and purchases. The entire collection, however, is not meant for public viewing, given the restrictions in exhibiting space. “We do our best to enable public access through our temporary exhibitions from time to time,” says the DG. The collection also facilitates research. They are important for the study of the use of colours, the distinct patterns of fauna and flora and other inherent weaving skills of master weavers.
An intense research on Dumbara craft by the Anthropology Department of the Colombo National Museum is underway. The community-based research in the traditional weaving villages of Dumbara which was to commence last year was suspended due to the pandemic. Museum officials hope to recommence the project once normalcy returns.
“Today the craft has been diversified and has added handbags, file covers, pencil holders etc. to its portfolio. Yet, unless the craftspeople are given a sense of security including assured markets locally and globally, this craft will not last up to the next generation,” remarks Manoj Hettiarachchi. The Museum’s anthropology curator. Museum officials encourage the public to add to their Dumbara collection.
‘An investment in the national interest, such donated exhibits from private collections will be conserved for posterity. They are treated against possible insect attacksand other hazards.’
The dumbara patterns were perfected by men and women of the kinnaraya caste, notes Ananda Coomaraswamy in his work,
Mediaeval Sinhalase Art. The historian also mentions ballads known as kinnara kavi sung by ancient dumbara weavers.
The labour-intensive fibre-production process is described by Coomaraswamy in his book. The rounded green leaves of the hana plant are gathered and scraped against a log known as the niyanda poruwa with a wooden tool (ge-valla) shaped like a spoke shave. ‘This scraping removes the fleshy part of the leaf, leaving the white fibre, which is oiled and brushed and then ready for use almost immediately. Part of the material is left white, the rest dyed red, yellow or black.’
As Coomsraswamy describes: ‘the red colour is obtained by boiling the fibre with patangi wood, korakaha leaves and gingelly oil or seeds; the yellow from a decoction of venivel; the black with the help of gall nuts, aralu and bulu.’ Added to these three traditionally used natural colours mentioned by Coomaraswamy are an assortment of others including green and blue sourced by artificial dyes.
The loom is described as a ‘low horizontal contrivance’ and the weaver squats on the mat itself, supported by a few flat logs between it and the ground. The pattern is picked up with the weaver’s lathe (vema); this lathe, having an eye at one end, serves as a bodkin called heda liya with which to draw the weft threads through the warp.’
Perfectly plain mats are called pannam kalala, Coomaraswamy documents. These are usually decorated with birds, as is usually are kurullu kalala. Those with a variety of patterns are veda kalala or veda peduru. Among the notable dumbara patterns are toran-petta, tarava,tani-vel iruwa, depota lanuwa, taraka petta, pannam petta, tunpota lanuwa, del geta lanuva and mal gaha. Animal patterns of birds, deer, cobra and elephants were also popular.
Pic credit: Department of National Museums
When I met Imran Khan, cricketer
by Zanita Careem
I recall meeting Imran Khan, the former cricketer after his victory of the World Cup during his visit to Sri Lanka, a few years ago. I met him whilst he was here on an invitation extended by the Chairman of Sifani Jevellers Shaabdeen The young cricketer at that time appeared so much more reserved. circumspect and formal. Handsome indeed, Imran Khan was the cynosure of all eyes among the women at that function.
Last week he was in Sri Lanka as the Prime Minister of Pakistan on an official visit on the invitation extended by the PM Mahinda Rajapakse and President of Sri Lanka Gothabaya Rajapakse..
During the interview, at that time he spoke with disarming candour about the many twists and turns of his life journey as a cricketer . Even at that time, he was adored by millions of fans,His charismatic personality was admired by many in the cricketing field where he was famous for his blistering bowling. He also spoke about his greatest success as a fund-raiser, establishing the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and research centre in 1996 and a college in 2008 with funds raised.
He was recognised as a great ,cricketer, a compassionate philanthropist, his charismatic personality is recognised, well beyond the borders of Pakistan. Meeting the former Captain of the Pakistan cricket team who defeated England in 1992 at the World Cup final is still etched in my memory.
Imran’s was raised in an upper middle class family with an engineer father and home maker mother. He did not pursue politics as a career until his late 40s. Before politics his passion was international cricket. An iconic cricketer. Khan dominated the cricketing World in the 1980s and 1990s. Oxford educated. he spent most of his time overseas. He was well liked figure in Pakistan, due to his boyish charm and sportsmanship. To millions of Pakistanis, Khan was their leader who led the nation to victory.
Today Imran’s journey to the corridors of Parliament was very interesting. He is articule, and used his voice for people’s issues. He increasingly asserted that his decision to enter politics was for the people not for fame, money or power. The huge fan following that Imran amassed were the urban younger citizens. His fiery speeches, his leadership skills for dealing with some of the contentions issues are remarkable. He saw a political vacuum in the theoretical state of Pakistan and made all efforts to make it a better alternative to the existing system after he took over power as the Prime Minister.
He arrived in Sri Lanka for a two day official visit, this Colombo trip was only Imran’s second foray since becoming PM.Imran Khan is the first head of state since the pandemic to visit Sri Lanka. During his two day stay he had many fruitful bilateral meetings with the higher officials in Sri Lanka.
The attention and the warmth showered on Imran Khan marks a definite turn in the relationship between Sri Lanka and Pakistan
The exuberant welcome Imran recieved in Sri Lanka reflects the love, the people and the cricket fans had for him. Billboards and flags ffluttered along the routes and within the city of Colombo focussed the cordial welcome.
In Sri Lanka ,his speeches reflected the oratorical skiis. His ability to entice enthuiastic and spontaneous responses that sesulted in standing ovation at the few meetings he chaired. His eloquent language of English with a Britist aacent, well known and admired by many.
His ability to project to thousands of people , without effacing their differenes make him not only a rare and articulate politician, but an outstanding Prime Minister. Meanwhile a press release from .Sthe embassy of Pakistan stated
The charismatic captain led Pakistan to its World Cup victory in 1992. Mr Khan, struggled for years to turn popular support into electoral gains. He launched his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996. His party won the General Election 2018 and he became Prime Minister of Pakistan after a political struggle of 22 years.
Imran Khan’s economic vision for Pakistan is alluring. Khan is working hard to improve the lives of the poor. He promised a “new Pakistan” in the 2018 General Election. Imran made pledges with the nation for a uniform education system, launching of a health card scheme, elimination of corruption, improving the tax culture, self-sustainability of Pakistan, generating employment opportunities, strengthening of the federation, bringing reforms in police, boosting investment and tourism, strengthening agriculture sector by imposing an agriculture emergency, and protecting women population. He is on right track to fulfill his promises with the nation.
The Government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has handled the economic impact of pandemic with effective strategies and emerged successful during tough times. Year 2020 has known to be a tale of challenges globally, but for Pakistan, under the leadership of PM Imran Khan, it has proved as a “story of success and development” even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Year 2020 narrates a journey of stable economy, numerous development and welfare projects, and remarkable achievements at foreign policy front. Khan’s government has significant achieved major milestones during 2020 along with a set of the Prime Minister’s New Year resolutions for year 2021.
Khan is not only achieving at domestic front but also fighting for the betterment of globe. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 75th session, highlighted global issues including climate change, money laundering, pandemic, Islamophobia and human rights violations. He called upon the UN to play its role to combat racism and ensure implementation of its own resolution for global peace and stability.
Imran khan is a philanthropist. He is gifted with natural leadership and the capacity to accumulate great wealth. He has great talent for management in all walks of life, especially in business and financial matters, where he contributes the greater vision, purpose, and long-range goals. He understands the material world, and intuitively knows what makes virtually any enterprise work. Business, finance, real estate, law, science, publishing, and the management of large institutions are among the vocational fields that suit Imran best. He is naturally attracted to positions of influence and leadership, politics, social work, and teaching are among the many other areas where his abilities are shining.
PM Imran Khan’s political struggle of twenty two years can be compared with a thrilling test cricket match, full of twists and turns. After a long struggle, he succeeded in the 2018 General Election. PM Imran Khan’s Government has managed to perform well in the foreign affairs arena as well. Critical in this regard has been Khan’s personal charisma on the international stage and close coordination with the country’s all institutions.
During the 1990s, Khan also served as UNICEF’s Special Representative for Sports and promoted health and immunization programmes in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. While in London, he also works with the Lord’s Taverners, a cricket charity. After retirement from cricket and before joining politics Khan focused his efforts solely on social work. By early nineties, he had founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, a charity organisation bearing the name of his mother, Mrs. Shaukat Khanum. As the Trust’s maiden endeavour, Khan established Pakistan’s first and only cancer hospital, constructed using donations and funds exceeding $25 million, raised by Khan from all over the world.
Khan also established a technical college in the Mianwali District during April 2018 called Namal College. It was built by the Mianwali Development Trust (MDT), and is an associate college of the University of Bradford. Imran Khan Foundation is another welfare work, which aims to assist needy people all over Pakistan. It has provided help to flood victims in Pakistan.
President Rajapaksa is familiar with Pakistan where he attended number of military courses in Pakistan military training institutions. While Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has also deep association with Pakistan. Imran khan has visited Sri Lanka on number of occasions and has a great fan following in the Island Country. The upcoming visit of Prime Minister Khan will be a great opportunity for leaders of both countries to make bilateral relations meaningful and beneficial for people of Sri Lanka and Pakistan which would further strengthen the relations between the two friendly nations.
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