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Talk of the local film business



I found a long email from film producer/director/entrepreneur Chandran Rutnam. He had sent it to several other people, journos included. Being a cinema buff and an admirer of Rutnam as one of our premier film producer/directors I read carefully through and decided I need to convey most of what he wrote to a wider readership. Plus add my own comments. I rate his films The Road from Elephant Pass and According to Matthew two of the best of Sri Lankan films, the latter first released in English. They were excellent in filming, editing, and the carefully selected actors suited roles they played. Translated and dubbed to several languages, they were screened in many other countries.

If you remember, Road from Elephant Pass was an adaptation of Nihal de Silva’s novel of the same name. Ashan Dias depicted the army captain detailed to escort a Tamil girl who is supposed to want to convey a top secret to an Army high-up in Colombo. Her double crossing plan goes haywire when she falls in love with the originally nasty soldier. Ratnam’s wife told me interestingly how Suranga Ranawaka was selected to play the role of the LTTE-er disguising herself as traitor to the Tamil cause, but in the end becoming one for the sake of love. Ratnam had been long on the lookout for a girl he felt would play the role competently and also look it. On his return to office from a sojourn overseas he spotted a new employee. He immediately sensed she was the girl he had been looking for to play Kamala Velaithan.

According to Matthew –

the scandalous saga of midnight masses, priestly sexual indiscretion and an illicit love affair; murder of two innocents by Father Mathew Pieris of the Anglican Church of St Paul the Apostle on Kynsey Road had no easy passage to screening in cinemas. The Church objected strongly and would not allow filming in the Kynsey Road premises. Thus the construction of extensive sets with a replica of the domed church. However, it finally made it and was translated to several languages and won accolades. Alston Koch played the role of the well built, deep voiced hypocritical padre to perfection while a just-turning-popular Bollywood star, Jacqueline Fernandez, played the bewitched woman who was complicit in the murder of respective spouses.

The above is an introduction to a man who needs no introduction, and who has moved to have local films accepted as an industry with accruing benefits.

Local cinema now an industry

In the email received, the announcement is made that finally Sri Lankan cinema is an industry. “We were 40 years behind but that is a norm for Sri Lankan cinema. We were 10 years behind in our entry to digital projection. It has also been observed that the cinema industry in most of the countries in the world has been improved with the recognition of cinema as an industry.” The email noted that the motion picture industry is a multimillion dollar business throughout the world, India and the US leading. The reason why we have lagged so far behind is adduced to “personal agendas within agendas and of course, the Sri Lankan brand of Jealousy and Envy embedded in our genes.” True? I agree. Judging is by what pertains in most fields of human activity in this land.

The email says the making and marketing of films, like the manufacturing of any product is primarily an industry and must come under the purview of the Ministry of Industries. A selected film, if considered of cultural value, should be transferred to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, where the business of films making, distribution and screening belonged to earlier.

Referring to the distribution of films, it must be at the discretion of the cinema owner. It is up to him to decide whether it’s marketable or not. “If the government wishes to accommodate loss making films often referred to erroneously as ‘Art films and Award Winners’ the Ministry of Culture must take the credit and bear the loss. They could, if they wish to, screen such in their special cinema circuit.”

Four all important factors in show business are identified: production, exhibition, profit and quality. Expanding on ‘show business’ the definitions are Show: business that produces a product that people are willing to pay to watch. Business is that the film covers costs and makes profit or loss.

“As an ‘Industry’ the cinema owners must be encouraged to give a better ambiance and a better service. They must be given the liberty to exhibit any film in any language which they feel will fill their cinemas for their survival. The survival of the cinemas is of paramount importance if the cinema industry is to prosper.

“Our local Sinhala and Tamil films must upgrade their quality and audience appeal to compete for exhibition in the cinemas. We have the talent…we have the technology and most of all, we now have a worldwide audience.”

Ratnam ends his email on film as an industry by intoning “Better late than never.”

History of Sinhala cinema

I deem it not out of place, rather pertinent, to go back in time to trace very briefly the birth of cinema in our land. I researched when I wrote about the incomparable Rukmani Devi some time ago.

The birth of the Sinhala film industry was on January 21, 1947; in India though. Thus our local film industry is three score and ten plus four years. As we all know, it was Kadawunu Poronduwa (Broken Promise) that holds the honour of being the first Sinhala film, produced by S M Nayagam, directed by Jyotish Singh and scripted by BAW Jayamanne. Stars were Rukmani Devi, the queen of emotion; Eddie Jayamanne – dubbed on billboards as The King of Comedy, Mabel Blythe his partner in kitchen antics, Stanley Mallawarachchi – Rukmani’s love interest and also starring Bertram Fernando and others.

Hollywood produced the world’s first sync-sound musical – The Jazz Singer – starring Al Johnson on October 6, 1927. In Britain the first sound feature film was Blackmail directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released on July 28, 1929. India, now the world’s largest producer of films and having sections within the industry – Bollywood (Mumbai), Tollywood (Bengali), South Indian and in several languages – first released its sound talkie Aram Ara on March 14, 1931.

Looking at dates, we were 20 years behind Hollywood; 18 behind the UK; and 16 behind India. However the first Sinhala film produced in-house in Ceylon was in 1952, directed yet again by South Indian Nayagam and titled Banda Nagarayata Pamine, followed by Prema Tharangaya (1953) and Ahankara Sthree (1954).

Whatever said and done, our cinema has progressed with stalwarts like Lester James Peiris, Sumithra Peiris, Chandran Ratnam to name but three with very many younger persons of skill and sensitivity to direct and produce quality films. We are also glad that after untoward delay, digitalization of old films was introduced and is done now. The landmark making Rekawa was almost lost to posterity.

Thus congratulations to the movers and doers who have succeeded in getting due recognition for local films so it is henceforth a recognized industry.

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Obtaining fresh mandate unavoidable requirement



Protesters demanding local goverment elections

by Jehan Perera

The government’s plans for reviving the economy show signs of working out for the time being. The long-awaited IMF loan is about to be granted. This would enable the government to access other loans to tide over the current economic difficulties. The challenge will be to ensure that both the old loans and new ones will be repayable. To this end the government has begun to implement its new tax policy which increases the tax burden significantly on income earners who can barely make ends meet, even without the taxes, in the aftermath of the rise in price levels. The government is also giving signals that it plans to downsize the government bureaucracy and loss-making state enterprises. These are reforms that may be necessary to balance the budget, but they are not likely to gain the government the favour of the affected people. The World Bank has warned that many are at risk of falling back into poverty, with 40 percent of the population living on less than 225 rupees per person per day.

The problem for the government is that the economic policies, required to stabilize the economy, are not popular ones. They are also politically difficult ones. The failure to analyse the past does not help us to ascertain reasons for our failures and also avoids taking action against those who had misused, or damaged, the system unfairly. The costs of this economic restructuring, to make the country financially viable, is falling heavily, if not disproportionately, on those who are middle class and below. Fixed income earners are particularly affected as they bear a double burden in being taxed at higher levels, at a time when the cost of living has soared. Unlike those in the business sector, and independent professionals, who can pass on cost increases to their clients, those in fixed incomes find it impossible to make ends meet. Emigration statistics show that over 1.2 million people, or five percent of the population, left the country, for foreign employment, last year.

The economic hardships, experienced by the people, has led to the mobilization of traditional trade unions and professionals’ organisations. They are all up in arms against the government’s income generation, at their expense. Last week’s strike, described as a token strike, was successful in that it evoked a conciliatory response from the government. Many workers did not keep away from work, perhaps due to the apprehension that they might not only lose their jobs, but also their properties, as threatened by one government member, who is close to the President. There was a precedent for this in 1981 when the government warned striking workers that they would be sacked. The government carried out its threat and over 40,000 government officials lost their jobs. They and their families were condemned to a long time in penury. The rest of society went along with the repression as the government was one with an overwhelming mandate from the people.


The striking unions have explained their decision to temporarily discontinue their strike action due to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s willingness to reconsider their economic grievances. More than 40 trade unions, in several sectors, joined the strike. They explained they had been compelled to resort to strike action as there was no positive response from the government to their demands. Due to the strike, services such as health, posts, and railways were affected. Workers in other sectors, including education, port, power, water supply, petroleum, road development, and banking services, also joined the strike. The striking unions have said they would take up the President’s offer to discuss their concerns with the government and temporarily called a halt to their strike action. This would give the government an opportunity to rethink its strategy. Unlike the government in 1981 this one has no popular mandate. In the aftermath of the protest movement, it has only a legal mandate.

So far, the government has been unyielding in the face of public discontent. Public protests have been suppressed. Protest leaders have been arrested and price and tax hikes have gone ahead as planned. The government has been justifying the rigid positions it has been taking on the basis of its prioritization of economic recovery for which both political stability and financial resources are necessary. However, by refusing to heed public opinion the government has been putting itself on a course of confrontation with organized forces, be they trade unions or political parties. The severity of the economic burden, placed on the larger section of society, even as other sectors of society appear to be relatively unaffected, creates a perception of injustice that needs to be mitigated. Engaging in discussion with the trade unions and reconsidering its approach to those who have been involved in public protests could be peace making gestures in the current situation.

On the other hand, exacerbating the political crisis is the government’s continuing refusal to hold the local government elections, as scheduled, on two occasions now by the Elections Commission and demanded by law. The government’s stance is even in contradiction to the Supreme Court’s directives that the government should release the financial resources necessary for the purpose leading to an ever-widening opposition to it. The government’s determination to thwart the local government elections stems from its pragmatic concerns regarding its ability to fare well at them. Public opinion polls show the government parties obtaining much lower support than the opposition parties. Except for the President, the rest of the government consists of the same political parties and government members that faced the wrath of the people’s movement a year ago and had to resign in ignominy.


The government’s response to the pressures it is under has been to repress the protest movement through police action that is especially intolerant of street protests. It has also put pressure on state institutions to conform to its will, regardless of the law. The decisions of the Election Commission to set dates for the local government elections have been disregarded once, and the elections now appear to have to be postponed yet again. The government is also defying summons upon its ministers by the Human Rights Commission which has been acting independently to hold the government to account to the best extent it can. The government’s refusal to abide by the judicial decision not to block financial resources for election purposes is a blow to the rule of law that will be to the longer-term detriment of the country. These are all negative trends that are recipes for future strife and lawlessness. These would have long term and unexpected implications not to the best for the development of the country or its values.

There are indications that President Wickremesinghe is cognizant of the precariousness of the situation. The accumulation of pressures needs to be avoided, be it for gas at homes or issues in the country. As an experienced political leader, student of international politics, he would be aware of the dangers posed by precipitating a clash involving the three branches of government. A confrontation with the judiciary, or a negation of its decisions, would erode the confidence in the entire legal system. It would damage the confidence of investors and the international community alike in the stability of the polity and its commitment to the rule of law. The public exhortations of the US ambassador with regard to the need to conduct the local government elections would have driven this point home.

It is also likely that the US position on the importance of holding elections on time is also held by the other Western countries and Japan. Sri Lanka is dependent on these countries, still the wealthiest in the world, for its economic sustenance, trade and aid, in the form of concessional financing and benefits, such as the GSP Plus tariff concession. Therefore, the pressures coming from both the ground level in the country and the international community, may push the government in the direction of elections and seeking a mandate from the people. Strengthening the legitimacy of the government to govern effectively and engage in problem solving in the national interest requires an electoral mandate. The mandate sought may not be at the local government level, where public opinion polls show the government at its weakest, but at the national level which the President can exercise at his discretion.

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Sing-along… Down Memory Lane



Sing-alongs have turned out to be hugely popular, in the local showbiz scene, and, I would say, it’s mainly because they are family events, and also the opportunity given to guests to shine, in the vocal spotlight, for a minute, or two!

I first experienced a sing-along when I was invited to check out the famous Rhythm World Dance School sing-along evening.

It was, indeed, something different, with Sohan & The X-Periments doing the needful, and, today, Sohan and his outfit are considered the No.1 band for sing-along events.

Melantha Perera: President of Moratuwa Arts Forum

I’m told that the first ever sing-along concert, in Sri Lanka, was held on 27th April, 1997, and it was called Down Memory Lane (DML), presented by the Moratuwa Arts Forum (MAF),

The year 2023 is a landmark year for the MAF and, I’m informed, they will be celebrating their Silver Jubilee with a memorable concert, on 29th April, 2023, at the Grand Bolgoda Resort, Moratuwa.

Due to the Covid pandemic, their sing-along series had to be cancelled, as well as their planned concert for 2019. However, the organisers say the delayed 25th Jubilee Celebration concert is poised to be a thriller, scheduled to be held on 29th April, 2023.

During the past 25 years, 18 DML concerts had been held, and the 25th Jubilee Celebration concert will be the 19th in the series.

Famous, and much-loved, ‘golden oldies’, will be sung by the audience of music lovers, at this two and a half hours programme.

Down Memory Lane was the brainchild of musician Priya Peiris, (of ‘Cock-a-Doodle-Do’ fame) and the MAF became the pioneers of sing-along concerts in Sri Lanka.

The repertoire of songs for the 25th Jubilee Celebration concert will include a vast selection of international favourites, Cowboy and old American Plantation hits, Calypsos, Negro Spirituals, everybody’s favourites, from the ’60s and ’70s era, Sinhala evergreens, etc.

Down Memory Lane


Fun time for the audience Down Memory Lane

Singers from the Moratuwa Arts Forum will be on stage to urge the audience to sing. The band Echo Steel will provide the musical accompaniment for the audience to join in the singing, supported by Brian Coorey, the left handed electric bass guitarist, and Ramany Soysa on grand piano.

The organisers say that every participant will get a free songbook. There would also be a raffle draw, with several prizes to be won,

Arun Dias Bandaranaike will be the master of ceremonies.

President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha Perera, back from Australia, after a successful tour, says: “All music lovers, especially Golden Oldies enthusiasts, are cordially invited to come with their families, and friends, to have an enjoyable evening, and to experience heartwarming fellowship and bonhomie.”

Further details could be obtained from MAF Treasurer, Laksiri Fernando (077 376 22 75).

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‘Ranpota’ hitmaker



Nimal Jayamanne

CATCH 22 for

‘Ranpota’ hitmaker Nimal Jayamanne has got a new outfit going, made up of veteran musicians.

The band is called CATCH 22 and they, officially, started performing at The Warehouse (TWH), on 2nd March 2023.

The members are Nimal Jayamanne, R. Sumith Jayaratne, Duminda Sellappruma, Keerthi Samarasekara and Sajith Mutucumarana.

Says Nimal: “I took this name (CATCH 22) as a mark of respect to the late and great Hassan Musafer, who was the drummer of the original Catch 22.

You could catch Nimal in action, on Thursday evenings, at TWH, from 7 pm onwards.

Till recently, Nimal, who underwent a cataract operation, on his left eye, last week, was with Warehouse Legends, and has this to say about them:

“Thank you Warehouse Legends for letting me be an active member of your team, during the past year and 14 days. I wish you all the best.”

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