- Actor-turned-MP Uddika Premarathne urges Parliament to recognise cinema as an industry and implement plan to generate revenue
BY Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
The Sri Lankan political stage is not unfamiliar with celebrities-turned-politicians, but Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP Uddika Premarathne, who has appeared in films such as Samanala Sandhawaniya (2013) and Maharaja Gemunu (2015), is using his voice to highlight issues that hinder the development of the local movie industry, and recently urged the gazetting of a Cabinet paper that will recognise cinema as an industry.
Speaking in Parliament earlier this week, Premarathne said the cinema industry has been tossed from one ministry to another in the past, coming under the purview of the Cultural Affairs Ministry, Finance Ministry, and now the Mass Media Ministry.
“Revenue from the cinema industry has even been directed to the Treasury in the past, as it was once an industry that generated money, but today, it is limited to around 50 theatres within the country. This is an industry that had 365 theatres at the beginning. It was then reduced to 145, after Black July,” Premarathne said.
This number dropped to 50, especially during the Covid19 pandemic, which has had a significant impact on the industry.
Premaratne brought up an approved Cabinet paper submitted when Wimal Weerawansa was Industries Minister and Mahinda Rajapaksa was Prime Minister. The Cabinet paper was regarding the recognition of cinema as an industry, but despite the Cabinet nod that it received at the time, Premarathne said it is yet to be gazetted. This only worsens the challenges faced by the industry.
While addressing Parliament, he reminded State Minister for Mass Media Shantha Bandara, who was present in Parliament, to fast-track this process.
This was especially important, considering the taxes charged from cinemas, he noted. According to Premarathne, Local Government authorities oversee taxes charged from cinemas, and charge varying rates, and a cinema in Ja-Ela recently shut down due to the high rates charged.
“Cinema theatres fall under Local Government authorities, who issue all provisions for cinemas and also oversee all taxes on cinemas. There was a programme to strengthen the cinema industry a while ago by relaxing taxes,” he said, adding that taxes were reintroduced later on.
The future of cinema
In order to paint a picture of what Sri Lankan cinema can be transformed into, Premarathne drew comparisons with international industries, especially India.
“It is countries in which cinema is recognised as an industry that the sector has developed. In Asia, the biggest cinema industry is in India, which makes Indian rupees (INR) 183 billion in foreign income for India,” Premarathne said.
He added that a more recent addition is over-the-top (OTT) platforms, such as Netflix, which gained popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Even in this context, India earns a high revenue – $ 823 million.”
The MP went on to say that Indian cinema has been developed to such an extent because they have a target to build the cinema high, and the implementation of these ensures the industry’s revenue keeps increasing.
“It is Hindi-language cinema that was mainly generating revenue in India, amounting to 30% of foreign income, but now South Indian cinema, including Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada language films make up over 60% of productions in India. They appointed a task force to develop South Indian cinema, and developed it across the globe.”
Premarathne ended on a positive note, saying Sri Lankan cinema can also be developed with a similar plan. This is important, he said, as the entertainment business can gain many returns for the country. He also encouraged policymakers to collaborate with industry personnel, as they already have plans for taking the industry forward.