24th May 1998
By Bandula Jayasekara
Stephen Spielberg calls him “My most valued friend in South East Asia” Indias Doordarshan and Zee TV referred to him as “Sri Lanka’s best known address in Beverly Hills”.
He studied with the miracle man George Lucas at the famous film school at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and later at the San Fernando Valley College of Law. The man is Chandran Rutnam, moving movie man of Sri Lanka.
He brought the sexy Bo Derek, the hyperactive Harrison Ford of Indiana Jones, charming Geraldine Chaplain, the other officer and gentleman David Keith, India’s bad man Gulshan Grover and the master himself,StephenSpielberg to Sri Lanka. Rutnam brought to life with his team at Film Location Services ‘The Iron Triangle’ starring Beau Bridges and Dr. Haing Ngor ‘Beyond Rangoon’ , ‘Indo Chine’ ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Doom’ , ‘Victory’, ‘Tarzan the Apeman’, Blood Sport One and Two, ‘A Dangerous Life’, ‘Mountbatten the Last Viceroy’, ‘Fifty Fifty’, ‘Paradise Road’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘In the Name of God’s Poor ‘Mother Theresa’, ‘Ghosts Can’t Do It’, ‘Gold and Saffron’ and many more bringing in over US dollars 70 million to Sri Lanka.
Chandran and his team are truly wonder men. Galle Face Hotel and the national museum became the palace of Ferdinand Marcos, beautiful Mahaweli river became a river of Vietnam, Kandy was used for Delhi and Calcutta, Colombo for Melbourne, Udawatte Kelle in Kandy as a jungle in Africa, and Mother Theresa received her Nobel Peace Prize at a warehouse in Peliyagoda turned Oslo.
Rutnam is a man with impeccable manners and easy going eloquence who started his life as a teenage gofer in Sir David Lean’s ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’. He was enamoured with film making and followed Lean to London and William Holden to Los Angeles and struck gold like Dick Whittington.
Born to a Tamil father Dr. James Rutnam and a Sinhala mother Evelyn Wijeratne, who gave him all his yearning for freedom and adventure Chandaran lives a nomadic life in Los Angeles, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, enjoying the life that is out there.
He has directed four Lankan films. ‘Adara Kathawa’ (Love story) his first was a tribute to the love of his parents, a Sinhalese and a Tamil who built a bridge of love. But he borrowed the ending from William Shakespeare a la Romeo and Juliet where both lovers end their lives. He did the movie before the major ethnic problems began. Today the movie can be viewed several times over. It is true as Chandran says “Only love can conquer it all. Love has no Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims.”
Rutnam is a dreamer. He dreams, and admits that many of his dreams have come true. He dreamt of owning an Airline because he loved the idea of movement, and the air and sea fascinated him. That dream came true. Today he is the Chairman of Lion Air. But how will he cross the seven seas? By ship or seaplane? Rutnam doesn’t stop - “every time one is fullfilled there are six more dreams.
“So I dream on.”
He has few great influences in his life, apart from his late parents, three able educators and a boxing coach who showed him that in life one can fall, try again and keep going. W. T. Kebel Principal of St. Thomas’ Prep., Dr. R. L. Hayman Principal of St. Thomas’ Gurutalawa and Rev. A. J. Foster his Pastor,David Lean who could convert scripts to screen and the imaginative and innovative Stephen Spielberg. The last time Chandran met Sir David Lean was in Hollywood when Lean received a life time achievement award.
The memory of legendary Frank Sinatra who said ‘farewell’ last week brings Rutnam pleasant memories. In Rutnam’s words “he invited me and my partner to his house ten years ago and he had big movie stars, business tycoons and other distinguished people at the party.”
“He spent quite some time with us and was very entertaining and extremely sociable. I have been a fan of his all my life. Today I smile thinking of the happy memory of that meeting with Sinatra.” he said
This is a rare meeting I had with elusive Chandran Rutnam. He is private, too private. But I thought the time was right. My time. So I asked “Have you been romantically involved with any international film stars or had any flings”?
Surprisingly he answered. “Well if I have not, there is something radically wrong with me and I don’t think that there is anything radically wrong with me.
“The normal answer to that is no comment. But lets put it this way. Yes on both counts.” If you meet him, ask him who? He may give the names but never ask his age. He will not tell you because he never does.
George Bernard Shaw said “I was convinced that Sri Lanka is the cradle of the human race because everybody there is an original”- Now, I’m convinced.
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