Sign of Sri Lankan Cinema


Sign of Sri Lankan Cinema

During the grim days of aristocratic socialist rule in the 1970s Sri Lanka had a vibrant national cinema that competed successfully with Indian imports. The key to its success was a well organised distribution system. It fell apart through public and private sector mismanagement. The photograph of the sign in this post captures the mindset of the mismanagement which makes for a long sad read. Yet how we got to the rise before the fall leave room for optimism and hope.

After all, we must be optimistic no?

8 comments

  1. Was cinema in the 1970’s really good?

    The industry, in terms of distribution was almost killed. Not sure if that resulted in any good films coming out.

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    • Read an interesting book about the period (based on the author’s master’s research thesis). The period saw a quite a stunning rise in Cinema audiences (30 million in 1971 to 74.4 million in 1979). There was also a standards based system for funding local independent films makers – who ended up making films that made a profit despite the availability of Indian imports.

      The crux of it was a calculated performance based distribution system that ensured films got nation wide distribution. From the details I can recall it was a subversively capitalist system😉 The thing was that it required good management – which in a highly politicised civil service system was not an easy thing to do. The collapse of the system was not due to capitalism or television but poor management – which is quite thoroughly documented. Quite an interesting read on government/private sector management in that era in general, not just cinema.

      As for good films – well that’s another story.

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  2. Think you need to take it with a large pinch of salt.

    The facts, as far as I am aware is that distribution was centralised and ticket prices capped. The result was a lack of money so much so that most operators were looking at closing down their theatres. These restrictions extended well into the 1980’s, I think it was only in the 1990’s that it was liberalised a bit.

    However it was made unlawful to shut down a cinema. If a cinema was to be knocked down then it needed to be replaced by another, which is why Majestic City still has a cinema, although it was smaller than the original cinema.

    I recall dingy cinemas with a/c that was switched off half way through the film and films that appeared years after release overseas.

    Did this support result in the development of a good industry here? I don’t know – were there any critically acclaimed films produced in that era?

    I think simple grants to local film makers would have done a better job.

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  3. Weed. It thrills. So it sells. If our movies do such a good job too, people even may sit outside under coconut trees at night, watch those movies, like they do in India.

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  4. Jack: The book that I read seemed to provide evidence that the period did benefit the industry at multiple levels. Can’t recall the specific details – but it pointed out that the decline started to occur around 1978-1979 due to the inability of the state to manage the system. Any case its old stuff. before my time I can thankfully say🙂

    Sam: I think these days Cinemas are used as cheap motels😉

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  5. Cinema has always been among national champions for most countries along with airlines and heavy industry.

    The reason Bollywood thrived was the restrictions placed on importing Hollywood films by India’s own aristocratic socialist rule. So Bollywood made a number of barely disguised copies and the audiences lapped it up.

    I love 70- 80’s Sri Lankan cinema eg. Dhadabima.
    Sri lankan cinema on the whole has more substance and tells more topical stories than the Bollywwod Masala fare .

    Perhaps the audience is dumbing down and starting to prefer escapism than substance.

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