5 Missing & Unfinished Sri Lankan Films

Tales from an Ancient Land

5 Missing & Unfinished Sri Lankan Films

Sri Lankan cinema has seen its notable classics, but what about films that never saw the light of day? Brilliant ideas that were conceived by the best in the business – for instance, by the late Gamini Fonseka – remained and died on the page. Then there were some films people saw back in the day, but can hardly be found now. Here’s a shortlist of 5 interesting films or projects that are either missing or were never finished… I’m sure there’s more out there!

Mike Wilson’s “Beneath the Seas of Ceylon” (1958)

The late Mike Wilson, whose life story deserves a stand-alone film, wrote/directed and filmed this 25-minute documentary. According to writer Richard Boyle, the 16mm film was the first underwater film to be shot in the seas of Sri Lanka. The film was strangely sponsored by the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board, although the documentary hardly spent much time promoting tea (just like the previous film it sponsored – “Song of Ceylon”). Supposedly, it features spectacular scenes of late diving pioneer Rodney Jonklaas being “chased by sharks and taming groupers”. However, one can hardly find a copy of it now. Mike would go on to direct the first color film of Sri Lanka in 1962 (“Ranmuthuduwa”); later, however, his ‘collaboration’ with the late Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray and their subsequent conflict over an unproduced script (‘Alien’) would spell doom for Wilson, as he gave up the worldly life and became a swami instead.

Mike Wilson as a Swami in later life (Photo: Richard Boyle)

Manik Sandrasagra’s “The Criterion” (Circa 1970s)

Writer Richard Boyle worked together with late producer/director Manik Sandrasagra on several productions – including Lester James Peries’s “God-King” (1973). In the ’70s the duo hatched some very interesting ideas/projects that never took off – one of which was called “The Criterion”. According to Boyle, Manik came up with an idea for a science fiction film about a station presenter having discussions about the Dhamma with an “intergalactic probe with artificial intelligence” that orbits the Earth. By all means, it was a very radical concept back then, and supposedly garnered much interest from international producers/directors, including John Boorman. Unfortunately for them (and for us too) the project never saw the light of day. Interestingly, Mike Wilson (who was then a swami) was consulted due to his knowledge of Buddhism and Science Fiction.

Late Manik Sandrasagra (Photo: Richard Boyle)

Gamini Fonseka’s “Bloody Mary” (Circa 1970s)

Another sensational idea which would have been a riveting film was “Bloody Mary”. Only now, it was proposed by the late legend Gamini Fonseka (Boyle says he came into their “orbit” with “better ideas”). Gamini proposed making a film based on a true story about an Australian woman named Mary Palliser who came to Sri Lanka in 1942. Soon after, she set up a R & R camp for army personnel in Pattipola. Known to be quite a character, she soon fell out of favor with the government when she supposedly ‘intimidated’ the station-master at Pattipola. But before she was deported back to Australia, she did something truly shocking: she set fire to her camp, shot its animals, and also buried cyanide on her land! (hence the title “Bloody Mary”). Boyle suggested that it was quite a disappointment that they were unable to find anyone to back the project, considering the compelling nature of the narrative. One could only imagine what a film it would’ve been!

Late Legend Gamini Fonseka (Photo: Wikipedia)

Manik Sandrasagra’s “Rampage” (1978)

Starring Gamini Fonseka, this film set in the 1930s about a British planter/hunter (played by Gamini himself) who goes head-to-head with a vengeful elephant is now lost. Supposedly attempts were made by relative parties to recover and track down the film or its negative, which some believe is in India. Richard Boyle wrote the script of the film, which still lives on in the memory of audiences who were lucky to watch it back in the day.

Gamini Fonseka as the protagonist of “Rampage”

Tissa Abeysekara’s “Man Mula Wel” (Circa 1980s)

The late Dr. Tissa Abeysekara was responsible for some of the best films in Sinhala cinema, some of which are “Mahagedera” (1980) “Karumakkarayo” (1983)” and “Viragaya” (1987) – the latter which is considered to be one of the top 10 films in Sri Lanka. But one film he made – or failed to finish due to financial setbacks – was called “Man Mula Wel”, which starred the late Vijay Kumaratunga and Swarna Mallwarachchi. There are many interesting stories about this film (all of which are clearly detailed in an article by Ajith Galappaththi in 2014 for the “Island”). In it he says that some believed the film was cursed, as the producer – including one of its main actors (Vijay Kumaratunga) and several other thespians – died during the span it was being made. After filming stopped, the producer of the film tried to get Tissa Abeysekara to finish it later; but according to him, Tissa was not interested. There was a question as to why Tissa, even after he became the chairman of the NFC in 1999, did not bother to finish the film. Attempts were also made earlier by Vijay Kumaratunga (who owned the film in the 80s) to get Tissa to complete it (before Vijay’s untimely death in 1988), but strangely Tissa remained disinterested. Supposedly, the film is near complete (allegedly there’s one more scene left to be filmed) and only the dubbing needs to be done. The film (according to the article) is now in the possession of Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga. Tissa Abeysekara passed away in 2009 (including some of the film’s central players like Dhamma Jagoda and Daya Alwis). So chances are the film will never see the light of day, which is a pity… because nearly everyone who was involved in the film thinks it would’ve been a seminal movie in Sinhala cinema.

Further reading about this film:https://www.divaina.com/2014/11/16/nimna09.html?fbclid=IwAR1nHS9o41cwK5Cd_5GNBkX6T0tgFf8BQQftIZwFYEYNV3phLvPOFyvyqnQ

Late Dr. Tissa Abeysekera

HONORABLE MENTION: “Minisa saha Kaputa” (Man and the Crow)

This award-winning short film directed by Sugathapala Senerath Yapa is a 15-minute film which is about the greed of man. Edited in a frenetic, stylized way by the late Titus Thotawatte, many filmgoers [in the 70s] remember this obscure short that often played beside the main feature. It’s not available online, but it’s really hard to locate a copy elsewhere too; this writer managed to obtain a copy from Mr. Dharmasiri Bandaranayake back in 2012, but carelessly misplaced it. You can read the review for the film in ‘Daily Mirror’ at https://www.pressreader.com/sri-lanka/daily-mirror-sri-lanka/20120820/282540130496563

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