Gamini Fonseka’s ‘Rampage’ – A Lost Film?

In 1978, the late larger-than-life Manik Sandrasagra directed an ambitious film called “Rampage” starring late acting legend Gamini Fonseka. “Rampage” was the first English language film to be financed entirely by Sri Lankans. It was also the first English production to be recognized locally with Gamini Fonseka and Sandrasagra being awarded Bronze Lions, and also certificates of merit awarded to Vamadevan [the DOP] for Cinematography and Chris Greet as best supporting actor at the first Presidential Awards back in 1979. But the only issue is… one can hardly find a copy of it now. What happened to the film?

Previously, Sandrasagra had co-produced “The God King” (1973), directed by Dr. Lester James Peries which was a huge Box Office Flop. But at the time, it was a pioneering effort and was the first international co-production of its kind in Sri Lanka. Sandrasaga also directed the film ‘Kalu Diya Dahara‘ (1972), which included the famous song ‘Master Sir‘ by music director Nimal Mendis. Then he directed ‘Kolamba Sanniya‘ (1976), a Sinhala comedy film starring late greats such as Joe Abeywickrama, Freddy Silva and Eddie Jayamanne. All of these films are available to view today, but what of his 1978 film “Rampage“? Unless the NFC or some other institution has a copy housed somewhere (in which case they should take steps to screen it), nothing is available of this film online – no video clips on YouTube, articles, etc.

According to Richard Boyle (the writer of the film), the idea for “Rampage” from Sandrasagra came when he thought of revising the format of animal-based horror films in the 70s (such as Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws‘) by shifting the sympathy to animals instead of humans. Boyle further states that it [“Rampage“] was a green film way ahead of its time that also addressed the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, which is in full swing today. So what is the film actually about?

The plot of “Rampage” was set in Sri Lanka in the 1930s, with Gamini Fonseka playing the lead role of Sir George, a planter/hunter who becomes the ire of a vengeful elephant. It was described as a “Moby Dick type of man vs beast saga with an elephant as the other protagonist” by D.B.S Jeyaraj. Most of the filming supposedly took place in Nuwaraeliya and Kandy, with some studio shooting in Colombo. Boyle has also stated that he wrote the main role with Gamini Fonseka in mind and that it was a ‘marvelous film’ which was craftily directed by Sandrasagra. But even he states in an article from 2009 (following Sandrasagra’s death a year earlier) that there “was not a copy left” of the film. It’s hard to tell whether he found a copy later, but Sandrasagra himself noted (before his death in 2008) in an article for “The Island” that “to this day I cannot locate the negative or the company that financed it, in spite of the fact that both Gamini and I were equity participants in the production. I suppose the investors got their tax benefits and were not too bothered either with the film or with its distribution.

On set photo with the crew (second from the right is Sandrasagra)

If there is a copy out there, this film should definitely be dusted and exhibited again! Also, if you want to get a glimpse of who Sandrasagra was, take a look at the video clip below.

Manik Sandrasagra from an interview in later life

One of the last interviews of Manik Sandrasagra