Gehan makes Sri Lanka proud with ‘The Billionaire’
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.
Showcasing the epitome of elegance and craftsmanship
Pure Gold by Tiesh has a well renowned Sri Lankan actress Yehali Tashiya Kalidasa as its brand ambassador. She is a multi-faceted young personality who has made her international debut in Pakistani cinema, and perfectly embodies the essence of the Pure Gold by Tiesh brand.
Tiesh, recognized for its exceptional craftsmanship and timeless designs, launched thier latest filigree collection under its subsidiary, Pure Gold by Tiesh. Imported from the best jewellery houses in Europe, Italy, Turkey, and Dubai, this collection features a stunning array of Italian 18-karat jewellery and 22-carat gold pieces adorned with pearls.
The newly unveiled filigree collection showcases a range of breathtaking earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings that exude elegance, dynamism, and vitality. With pieces available in tri-colours, rose gold, white gold, and yellow gold, Pure Gold by Tiesh has curated this collection with careful attention to detail, catering specifically to the wedding season.
Director Thiyasha expressed the brand’s dedication to excellence, stating, “Our jewellery stands out compared to other bridal jewellers. We are deeply invested in every aspect, from design to quality and craftsmanship. Our customers have repeatedly expressed their satisfaction, stating that our collections surpass those of many leading jewellery houses.”
What sets the filigree collection by Pure Gold by Tiesh apart is its versatility, allowing each piece to be worn in multiple ways. With a commitment to inclusivity, Tiesh caters to diverse cultures and ethnicities, offering something for everyone, from beautiful Hindu brides to Muslim brides and traditional Kandian brides.
Director Ayesh De Fonseka elaborated on the collection’s uniqueness, saying, “Each piece is distinct and one-of-a-kind. What’s truly captivating about this collection is its transformative aspect. We are reintroducing our special ring that transforms into a bangle, a design we first introduced in Sri Lanka in 2015.”
The dazzling filigree collection showcases the sheer intricacy and timeless allure of filigree work through an exquisite range. The inclusion of transformative jewellery adds an innovative touch to the collection, setting it apart from Tiesh’s other offerings. Every piece of jewellery from Tiesh is a fusion of traditional and trendsetting elements, allowing customers to express their individual preferences. This exclusivity distinguishes the brand from its competitors, while the meticulous attention to detail adds a touch of modern luxury to each creation.
“We wanted a collection that could complement any look: beautifully paired with your favourite watch, worn as a classic stack of bangles, or simply worn alone for a more subtle appearance,” Thiyasha further added.
The campaign surrounding the filigree collection not only celebrates the grandeur and glamour of modern Sri Lankan women but also pays tribute to the rich culture and bridal market. Tiesh continues to be at the forefront of the jewellery industry, offering exquisite designs that capture the hearts and desires of jewellery enthusiasts worldwide.
Fellowship and networking
Institute of Hospitality Sri Lanka
The Institute of Hospitality, Sri Lanka International branch had their 31st Annual General Meeting recently meeting at Movenpic Hotel Colombo followed by cocktails and fellowship.
This is an annual event, organised by the President Dr. Harsha Jayasinghe and Executive Committee of the Institute.This event is organised for members of the Institute of Hospitality who have shown their dedication and commitment to the tourist industry.
The evening started with a speech from the President of the Institute Dr. Harsha. He spoke about the challenges ahead for the hospitality industry. Sri Lanka is making progress and economy is slowing signs of settling down. There are many tourists to Sri Lanka and this is definitely positive signs for the country said Director/CEO of National Development Bank Dimantha Seneviratne.
It was an entertaining evening with many members of the hospitality industry in attendance. The General Manager of the Movenpick hotel Roshan Perera gave his unstinted support to make a successful event The Chief Guest Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management Shirantha Peiris also spoke
Denara Eid Durbar
The Denara Vocational Training Institute a subsidiary of the All Ceylon Muslim Women’s Association is for the first time conducting a full day’s programme comprising a mini Eid Bazaar, Sale of items produced by the students of Denara and Cuty Rose and an evening of entertainment. It will be open to the public on Saturday,17th June from 9 am to 5 pm and entrance tickets to the exhibition are priced at Rs. 100/- .
Denara was established in October 2021 where courses in dressmaking, needlework, computer classes, cookery classes and Mehendi Art have been carried out. Despite the economic crisis, and all the challenges endured during these past few years, Denara has been able to still conduct the above classes giving many opportunities to the youth. The Vocational and Training Institute is supported by the All Ceylon Muslin Women’s Association, a reputed charity organization of 70 years history to date!
More than 200 items will be exhibited and available for sale, in addition to bed linen, table linen, cushion covers, cloth bags, and others lovingly crafted with beautiful hand embroidery.
Different to regular exhibitions and sales, a second part is being introduced to the day’s activities where a complete Moghul feel will take over! Ambassador for Turkey Demet Sekercioglu, Ambassador for Turkey in Colombo will grace the exhibition at 4 pm.
A spokesperson from the organising committee said that it will be a festive occasion in keeping with Eid, where an evening of music and games, a fashion show by the students of Denara and Cuty Rose showcasing their creations will be held not only to encourage the talented students who have worked hard to showcase their talents, but also to create an entertaining afternoon. The widely acclaimed Muslim Chorale Choir will make a guest appearance complementing the occasion. The day’s proceedings will conclude with a light dinner where tickets for this are priced at Rs. 3,000/- and already available for sale at the Denara Vocational Training Institute Office located at 191/50, Mangala Gardens, Colombo 5. . Please call on 077 853 9890 for further details.
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