City in Cine - Village

Lights, camera, action: All set for the opening of Sri Lanka’s Hollywood in Tissamaharama
By Isuri Kaviratne, Pix by Saman Kariyawasam.

Located within 235 acres at Rahmihitenna in Tissamaharama are Colombo’s Nippon Hotel, Kandy’s Suisse Hotel, Hulftsdorp’s old courts complex and the Galle fish market. In addition, mansions, huts, cottages, a lake, paddy fields and even scenic mountains form its landscape. Welcome to Sri Lanka’s first ever tele-cinema village.

Come March 30, the tele-cinema village will be officially inaugurated though the work has been only half done. The studio here with 36 light-bars is Sri Lanka’s largest and it is capable of creating sets for any scene which a director may visualize.

Work began on the tele-cinema village in October 2008 at what was once known as Kirindi Oya Farm surrounded by Wedihiti Kanda, Yodha Wewa with the Tissamaharamaya Rajamaha Viharaya close by.

The project cost is estimated at Rs. 1,100 million and the money is being raised by the levy imposed on Indian teledramas that are broadcast in Sri Lanka. The Media Ministry collected the levy on behalf of the Finance Ministry, Media Ministry Secretary W. B. Ganegala says.

He says the location was recommended by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in keeping with his policy of taking development to the village. Two art directors who are responsible for creating the sets at the village say only the first phase of the project has been completed so far. The directors, K.D. Justin and Welagedara Ranasinghe, say they have a workforce of 1,500 people and hope to complete the project in three stages.

The second stage of the project will see an underwater studio equipped with water-proof cameras in addition to a drama school, a railway track and sets depicting more old buildings.

Also evident at the village are the two art directors’ creativity and optimum use of resources. They have created some sets with two façades where both sides can be used for the shooting of two films at the same time.

The studio for the interior shoot is another example. “The studio has a 100-foot-long screen, designed in such a way that three films could be shot at the same time,” Justin says.

There are some constructions which can be used for both interior and exterior shoots and there are buildings that depict architectural designs from the 1940s to the modern- day.

“Only the foundation and pillars of these constructions are permanent so that the structure of the building could be changed according to the director’s requirements. The railings, window panels, doors and walls too could be removed and rearranged to create a house, a hospital or a hotel,” says Justin.

Ranasinghe says even huts and cottages have been built in such a way that they could be converted into something else. He says the village offers many advantages to directors and producers.

“They don’t have the problem of crowd control, which usually happens when films are shot in public places. There is no transport problem or cost. The village also has accommodation facilities,” he says.

Sudath Rohana’s “Swayanjatha” will have the honour of being the first teledrama to be shot in the village. Shooting will start on March 31, a day after the ceremonial opening.

According to project engineer Sudath Ranga de Silva there are three types of accommodation available – one for actors, one for crew and villas in a secluded area of the village for scriptwriters who would be able to work undisturbed.

The village also has a car park and a restaurant. The Media Ministry’s Senior Assistant Secretary D.D. Waniganayake says the project has created job opportunities for people in the area.

“We are planning to outsource services such as cleaning, security, running of the restaurant and laundry to the people in the area. We also plan to have a computerized databank of people, especially young boys and girls, who like to act. For instance, if a director wants a group of farmers, he can refer the databank and contact them. They don’t have to bring in minor actors and actresses from Colombo,” he says.

The final stage of the project is scheduled to be completed by 2012.

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