Sri Lankan movies picking up, but hurdles remain

Panaji, Nov 23 (IANS) After being battered for years by ethnic conflict, Sri Lanka's movie industry is picking up but has a long way to go to come on par with its once golden era, a Sri Lankan director said Saturday.

New cinemas are finally coming up, although the total number of theatres across the island nation has dropped from 300 plus in the 1970s to less than half the number, director Rasitha Jinasena said.

"Younger people are now making movies. I think the industry will have a better future," Jinasena told IANS on the sidelines of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) here.

"Yes, new cinemas are also slowly coming up

…

But there are problems. Freedom of expression is an issue. We are not as free as in the olden days. We have to be very careful about what films we make."

Echoing the sentiments of others in the Sri Lankan movie industry, he said the army was now very touchy about any film made on its role in the war that crushed the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

Although a bilingual country, Sri Lankan produces dominantly only Sinhalese language movies - 20-25 a year. Each film releases some 30 copies. About 500,000 people - a miniscule number compared to India - watch each movie.

According to Jinasena, a box office hit may get one million viewership and "once in a blue moon, a movie may attract about two million".

The 38-year-old Jinasena, who entered the movie industry nine years ago, has directed three Sinhalese movies, including "Karma" and "How I Wonder What You Were".

He has also co-produced two films including a French-Sri Lankan project and a Bollywood style masala movie.

"In the golden era of Sri Lankan cinema, people flocked to see movies," Jianasena said.

"But poor quality and the war drove them away from theatres. But after the war (ended in 2009), people are beginning to return to cinema halls as the fear of bomb blasts is over."

He said one reason why Sri Lankans did not produce Tamil movies - rare exceptions apart - was that well-produced Tamil films came from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

"Instead of wasting money on producing a Tamil movie, it makes better sense to watch an Indian Tamil movie!"

The Sri Lankan admitted that the movie industry in his country had a long way to go, particularly vis-à-vis quality of studios and technical expertise which he said was available aplenty in India.

"We need to get the experts from India," he said. "Sound engineers, costume directors and so on. After all, aren't we neighbouring countries?"

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in)