Sarasaviya Awards : Sinhala cinema’s equivalent to The Oscars | Sunday Observer

Sarasaviya Awards : Sinhala cinema’s equivalent to The Oscars

You cannot mention Hollywood without remembering the Oscars, and you cannot imagine Bollywood without reflecting on Filmfare.

However, the much-awaited show which celebrates creativity and talent and merges with experience and commitment is back, after an eight year hiatus. Celebrities will take to the stage at the gala event that will take place on December 15 at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre. It is organized by The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited and sponsored by Sri Lanka Telecom.

Sarasaviya, the name derived from the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning, Saraswathi, has been strongly rooted in the arts field, in the country. It is the longest running arts related Sinhala weekly in the country, and the only Sinhala magazine dedicated to the local cinema, television, stage drama, music and other forms of art.

The Sarasaviya Film Awards is equally popular as the weekly tabloid. It is the second awards ceremony to be held on a mega scale in the country, after the Deepashika Awards. Originated in 1964, which falls under the ‘Golden Era’ of cinema, the Sarasaviya Film Awards sees stalwarts and fresh talent being felicitated for their contribution to the field.

The first Sarasaviya Awards was held by the Sarasaviya founder-editor Wimalasiri Perera on May 10, 1964, at the Asoka cinema, Grandpass. Ranjith Wijewardene, Ranapala Bodinagoda, Dharmapala Wettasinghe, D F Kariyakarawana, Nimal Perera, and D C Ranatunga spearheaded the project. The award was designed by Tissa Ranasinghe.


The concept of an awards festival was mainly inspired by the Filmfare Awards put together by Filmfare, India’s popular film tabloid. However, as each festival took to stage, the Sarasaviya Film Awards moulded its own unique identity. Since then many greats have carried home the statuette. Their movie career would not have been complete without having a Sarasaviya Award on their awards shelf. It is not only the jury awards that they strive for. Fans get to play their part by selecting their favourites to gift them with the Most Popular Actor and Actress awards. The Sarasaviya Film Awards has often been referred to as Sinhala cinema’s equivalent to The Oscars.

Three main awards: the Ranathisara Award, Ranapala Bodhinagoda Memorial Award and the Vishva Prasadini Award hold a special place among the awards distributed at the event. Seasoned film artistes are given the Ranathisara awards for their lifetime of achievement, deserving cinema critics are handed over the Ranapala Bodhinagoda Memorial Award and local film artistes who gain international recognition are felicitated with the Vishva Prasadini Awards.

One of the key aspects of the awards festival is that it represents a mixture of the art house and popular cinema. The movies and artistes who have been felicitated at the event have gained global recognition and won international accolades.

The first movie to win the Best Film and Best Director awards was Dr Lester James Peries’ ‘Gamperaliya’. The movie later won the Golden Peacock award at the International Film Festival of India, and the Golden Head of Palenque in Mexico. The film was adapted from Martin Wickramasinghe’s well loved novel of the same name. Punya Heendeniya also won the Best Actress Award for the film.

The Sunday Observer spoke to some of the veterans in the local cinema scene who have been a part of many Sarasaviya Film Festivals of the past and are looking forward to the upcoming event.

“I was elated to hear the news of the rekindling of the festival. We, as artistes missed it a lot when the awards festival was not staged for eight years. I received my first award at the Sarasaviya Film Festival in 1969 for Golu Hadawatha. I won the Most Popular Actress, as well, the same year. So, it was a double celebration.

The Sarasaviya Awards Festival is held to motivate artistes. I wish to express my gratitude to the authorities for bringing it back and I hope they would be strengthened to hold many more Sarasaviya Film Festivals in the future,” Anula Karunathilake said.

Veteran filmmaker, Sumitra Peries, was one of the first recipients of the Sarasaviya Film Festival Awards in 1964. She notes that the news of the festival’s comeback was nostalgic for her because it brought back many memories.

“We have lived through many of the Sarasaviya Film Festivals. Sri Lankan cinema is at crossroads today. You get a feeling that all your efforts have been worthwhile when you become part of the Sarasaviya Film Festival. I wish all would go well with the festival and many more festivals would follow,” she said.

Ravindra Randeniya noted that the Sarasaviya Film Festival is unparallelled, and being a part of it is a great honour for any artiste.

“The day I won my Sarasaviya Award was the day I truly stepped into cinema. I was welcomed into the field. The joy I received is a joy I can’t quite describe. It is the greatest joy I have ever felt. There has been a gap of eight years when the award festival was discontinued and during this time there may be many artistes who have missed out, which is a disconcerting thought. I am delighted that it has recommenced. It is timely because we need something like this in this day and age. Cinema and Sarasaviya have almost become one,” he said.

Award winning filmmaker, Prasanna Vithanage says, the news of the festival to be held after an eight year gap is welcoming.

“To win a Sarasaviya Award is the highest regard for an artiste. Sarasaviya is the only surviving cinema magazine in the country. To win an award at the film festival itself is a sign that you are a part of the Sri Lankan cinema industry. Another noteworthy feature is that after year 2000, the authorities absorbed cinema critics into the project. It meant that the judgment was based on merit. Though there are many film festivals held today, they are mostly like carnivals due to commercial pressure. The organizers forget that the festivals are held to uplift cinema, and showcase a lot of glitz instead. They are boring because the event drags on for five to seven hours. I hope Sarasaviya would keep the festival up to standard and hand out the awards based on cinematic quality,” he noted.

“Awards festivals can be found in abundance today. I have not become a veteran of awards. I won my 49th award at the State Rupavahini Awards, recently.

My first award was for Best Supporting Actor in 1986. Since then I have won awards for many fields. However, the awards won at the beginning of my career had a sense of national importance. Most of the present awards ceremonies is held under the private sector.

But, the Sarasaviya Film Awards is one of the few ceremonies which still hold national importance,” Vithanage said.

“Cinema is facing a decline now. We got a good morale uplift from the Sarasaviya Film Festivals in the past. I hope we would get the same from the upcoming film festival,” Jackson Antony said.