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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Home truths for Sri Lankan film

By Chloe Arnold
BBC correspondent in Colombo

Scene from film Wind Bird
Films like Wind Bird often lose out to Bollywood musicals

Sri Lankan cinema is highly acclaimed abroad - its films have won dozens of awards at international festivals.

Film makers tackle gritty subjects, including family relationships, abortion and the years of conflict between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels in the north.

But if you visit a cinema in the capital, Colombo, you will be hard-pushed to find a local film on show.

The Village in the Jungle is a classic piece of Sri Lankan cinema.

It tells the story of a despotic village headman who is eventually killed by one of the villagers.

Its director, Lester James Peries, is often called the father of Sri Lankan cinema: he was the first film maker to take the action out of the studio and film on location.

[Bollywood films] have beautiful scenery, a nice storyline that you can relate to and nice music, lovely music
Colombo film-goer

"Almost all my films have been based on the Sri Lankan family and I've used the family as a microcosm of the world outside of social, political, economic pressures," he says.

"Most of my films, of course, are based on the celebrated novels from Sinhalese literature."

But despite his acclaim outside Sri Lanka - his films have been shown at the Cannes, Venice and London film festivals - appealing to audiences at home has proved difficult.

"Our main problem is with the Bollywood film. Not with the American film, which is really the problem in Europe. Here, our screen time is taken by the Hindi film, where music and dance combine with the story.

"Not, I think, the most happy kind of mixture, but they do entertain vast crowds."

Blockbusters

At the Liberty Cinema in central Colombo, they are showing Hum Tum, or Me and You.

It is a film fresh from the studios of Bombay, the home of the hugely popular Hindi movie.

Bollywood blockbusters have a big following here.

Inoka Sathyangani, director
Though our film industry is 57 years old, we do not have a good film culture
Inoka Sathyangani, director

"[There's] a lot of music, entertainment, comedy. And I think it's something different," says one film-goer.

"They have beautiful scenery, a nice storyline that you can relate to, and nice music, lovely music. Lots of Sri Lankans follow the Hindi movies."

Another says: "Most of the Hindi films are based on good stories, like love stories and action movies."

Still, Sri Lankan directors refuse to be discouraged. It is not just the audiences they blame.

"Though our film industry is 57 years old, we do not have a good film culture in Sri Lanka," says director Inoka Sathyangani.

Her latest film, the Wind Bird, broaches the taboo subject of abortion.

It has scooped awards at half a dozen film festivals.

But she says she is saddened that there is not more interest in home-grown films in Sri Lanka.

It is not a question of understanding subject matter, she says.

"The main reason is the picture quality is not good, so it is quite obvious for them to go to see a perfect movie than see a low-budget, unprofessional movie."

Until there is proper funding for Sri Lankan cinema, Inoka says, people will keep demanding Bollywood, with its all-singing, all-dancing storylines and saccharine romances, rather than the harder-edged films she and her peers are struggling to produce.




SEE ALSO:
Sinhala film legend Gamini dies
30 Sep 04  |  South Asia
'Degrading' film angers Buddhists
13 Sep 04  |  South Asia
Sri Lanka hosts Teresa biopic
15 Oct 03  |  Europe
Protests over Sri Lanka war film
16 May 03  |  South Asia
Jolie backs Sri Lanka peace
17 Apr 03  |  South Asia
Sri Lanka bans transvestite film
19 Jul 02  |  South Asia


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