Cinema Retrospective

Sri Lankan cinema encompasses the films made in Sri Lanka. It is a fledgling industry that has struggled to find a footing since its inauguration in 1947 with Kadawunu Poronduwa produced by S.M.Nayagam of Chitra Kala Movietone. Sri Lankan films are usually made in the Sinhalese language, the language of the majority Sinhala people.

View all the old sinhala films which atarted from Kadauna Poranduwa.

In the first nine years most films were made in South India and followed the conventions of Indian cinema. Studio shooting was the norm, with Indian style sets erected in film studios. Even though it is popularly held that Rekava, made in 1956 by pioneer director Lester James Peries, was the first Sinhala film to be shot completely out of studio, it was really the film “Gambada Sundari”, made in 1950 which was the first film shot outside studios. It was also the first Sri Lankan film where, like in “Rekawa”, the dialog was recorded on the spot. This was because the film was shot on 16mm , using an Auricon sound-on-film camera which recorded the sound on the 16mm film optically, unlike in the case of where the sound was recorded on a Kinevox 35mm magnetic recorder. The film was later ‘blown-up’ to 35mm and was screened in Colombo in 1950.

Though “Rekawa” was acclaimed by local and international critics, the film failed to find an audience in the country and was a box office failure. Films continued to follow formulaic storylines borrowed from India up through the early 60s despite such efforts as Sandesaya and Kurulu Bedda.

In 1964, Lester James Peries again contributed to the development of Sri Lankan cinema with Gamperaliya which was the first Sinhala film to feature no songs and like Rekava shot completely outside the studio. It garnered massive praise for portraying Sinhala culture in a realistic manner and was hailed by critics and audiences alike. The producer Anton Wicremasinghe was awarded the Silver Peacock at the New Delhi International Film Festival for Gamperaliya.Following this breakthrough, several artistic Sinhala films were made in the late-60s including Sath Samudura by professor Siri Gunasinghe, ably supported by exquisite cinematography by Dr.D.B. Nihalsingha.
During the 1970s several talents came to the forefront while commercial cinema continued to steal from Indian films. These include Dr. D.B.Nihalsingha with “Weilkatara”- Sri Lanka’s first film in Cinemascope ratio wide screen in 1972; Vasantha Obeysekera who followed up his well-received debut Ves Gatho with a slew of successful films culminating with Palangetiyo in 1979. Another major director who stepped forward during this time is Dharmasena Pathiraja who examined the tensions of city youth in such works as Bambaru Awith and Ahas Gauwa. Artist and poet Mahagama Sekera’s sole film Thun Man Handiya is also an important film in Sri Lankan cinema released in 1970. Sumitra Peries, the wife of Lester James Peries, also struck out during the ’70s with work that looked at the conflicting roles of women in society. Her work include Gehenu Lamai and Ganga Addara.

Over the next few decades, artists such as Tissa Abeysekara, Dr. D.B.Nihalsingha, Prasanna Vithanage and Vimukthi Jayasundara have attempted to breathe new life into the industry. Nihalsingha was an accomplished cinematographer as well as an editor: so his films has an input which was special and brought a viewpoint to all his films, most of which focused on the exploited women.
Vithanage’s film Purahanda Kaluwara is widely considered one of the best movies made in Sri Lanka as is Jayasundara’s Sulanga Enu Pinisa which won the coverted Camera d’Or for best first film at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

In recent years, films have begun to tackle gritty subjects such as family relationships, abortion and results of the conflict between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels in the north. Director Asoka Handagamma especially has drawn criticism for pursuing such material in his work.

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