Sarasaviya Awards ceremony rolls out | Sunday Observer

Sarasaviya Awards ceremony rolls out

Focal point: Film fans throng the Colombo Regal Cinema
Focal point: Film fans throng the Colombo Regal Cinema

For the 34th time, the popular Sarasaviya Awards ceremony will roll out the red carpet to honor distinguished individuals involved with the Sinhala cinema in recognition of their contributions to the Sri Lankan film industry at the BMICH on Friday, (3). This year’s event presented by the weekly Sarasaviya newspaper, in collaboration with the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. will be sponsored by Cargills Ceylon Plc.

The Cargills and Sarasaviya tie up signifies the bond of two reputed organisations that have been in existence in the country for decades, to host a film festival of this nature. In addition, the two organisations have passionately involved themselves in the movie industries too in terms of film production and film promotion, bringing people together through entertainment.

The Chief Executive Officer and the Deputy Chairman of Cargills (Ceylon) PLC, Ranjit Page who has seen the evolution of Sri Lankan cinema from close quarters via Ceylon Theaters Ltd. the entertainment arm of C T Holdings PLC, recently met up with the Sunday Observer to illustrate the company’s efforts in rejuvenating the island’s film industry.

“Sri Lanka embodies a rich history. The entertainment sector can be instrumental in bringing our culture and values to the fore. The industry is the hub of new technologies. It is also a sector in which youth can shine as new filmmakers,” Page, Deputy Chairman, C T Holdings PLC said.

With its roots spanning as far back as 1928, the Ceylon Theatres Group has played a major role in the development of the Sri Lankan cinema industry for 90 years, introducing innovative technologies while keeping abreast of the global technological trends.

“We built new cinemas, digitalised the screens, and created an environment suitable for a family outing as a means of uplifting the local film industry. Our main aim was to win the hearts of the people through cinema and that is why we were the first to venture into the Northern Province after the end of the war,” Page explained.

Known as one of the oldest film production companies in Sri Lanka, Ceylon Theaters was taken over by Albert A. Page with the aim of enriching the industry and helping to entertain the masses.

Armed with the belief that good entertainment will unite people to bridge the gap between diverse cultures and regions, the company became the first to mark several milestones in the Sri Lankan cinema history.

They incorporated Ceylon Studios in 1956 thereby stopping remittances to India for film production.

They also established the first cinema hall in the country – the Empire Theatre, which was built on the site that the Regal (Colombo) stands today.

April 7, 1947 the company released its first national film ‘Asokamala.’ They followed it up with many noteworthy productions like ‘Nidhanaya’, ’Ada Rae’, ’Kusumalatha’ and ‘Akkara Paha.’ Later the company diversified its portfolio and acquired Millers Ltd. and Cargills (Ceylon) Ltd in 1981.

Adding another feather on their cap, the company created the country’s first Cineplex at Majestic City. They also boast of the largest number of film screens in Sri Lanka: 15 screens in Colombo, Jaffna, Kandy, Negombo, Gampaha and Nuwara Eliya, with plans for 21 new screens across eight locations.

Regal (Colombo) is a leading release centre for Sinhala movies, while Majestic and Empire Cineplex release English and Hindi films.

Ceylon Theatres (Pvt) Ltd also partly owns and operates the Cinema Entertainments Ltd. (CEL) circuit, and continues to invest in upgrading the facilities in the cinemas. This is to ensure that CT cinemas would provide the best entertainment and facilities, while strongly committing to the development of the movie industry in the country.

“We wanted to create a good environment to lure youth to film theaters to watch films. We digitalised the cinema in Nuwara Eliya which had been shut down for a couple of years. Likewise, we are on the look out for new venues in which we can put more than one cinema screen. We believe, presenting the latest technology in a novel manner will woo the youth and bring them over to the industry. Both, the public and private sectors need to do their bit to achieve this target,” Page opined.

With over 27 years of experience in the management sector, Page has also been instrumental in introducing the modern trade concept to the country. The Cargills group today owns the largest network of supermarket chains in the island.

“During my stint I saw the suffering of the rural farmers. We gave them a chance to sell their goods on our shelves. We also changed the structure of the supermarket,” he said adding that customer needs have changed over the decades and we need to cater to this.

“We need to change according to time. We cannot play the same tune which we did in the past and expect to draw the masses. We should learn from the past and make the transition.

Other countries have built malls which house a few cinema screens. We are looking at taking this concept out of Colombo,” he explained.

Stressing on the importance of making way for new young filmmakers for the industry to move forward Page says, the country needs entrepreneurs and business leaders who can revolutionise the industry.

“They would then realise that the country gave them this opportunity and they need to give something back to their motherland. We still make movies to please ourselves rather than aim at making productions with the goal of bringing youth into film halls. Think about your customer’s tastes too rather than your own,” he pointed out.

Though there still are a few veterans in Hollywood and Bollywood many new faces too have joined the scene each year. He says, this change of mindset needs to be brought to the Sri Lankan cinema sector. Cultural change too can be brought via the cinema.

“We have changed the face of agriculture and dairy. We have also changed the concept of entrepreneurship to a certain extent. Now it is time for the cinema to make that transition. We need to do this using the latest technology. We also need to hand over the industry to the future generation,” he said.

“People see the world through entertainment. They will be able to witness things which are in the international sphere as well as those in the home front. It is a powerful medium which can drive home a message and reach thousands of people easily,” he said, adding that a policy needs to be created for the betterment of the future rather than viewing it in the past angle.

He says, an equal playing field in investment is needed for an industry to thrive. Productions, imports and screen developments need to be encouraged. The answer to films queuing up for release is to increase the number of screens.

“You do not need acres to build a film hall today. You do not need to have 600 seats in a theatre. The youth are looking for something to inspire them. We need to provide them with that inspiration and create a good cinema culture for them to take this industry forward,” he concluded with a smile.

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