Los Angeles-based Sri Lankan-American actor and independent filmmaker Gehan Cooray’s film The Billionaire had its Sri Lankan cinematic premiere on 10 March at the One Galle Face PVR Cinemas.
The Oscar-eligible feature film and winner of the “Best Comedy Feature” award at the Burbank International Film Festival was screened to a select group of invitees and media personnel, and with cinemas mandated to operate at 25% capacity, it saw a myriad of notable faces show up to witness the film.
The film is a screen adaptation on George Bernard Shaw’s play The Millionairess, and really, having watched it ourselves, while it may be called a romantic comedy – and yes it is romantic, and comedic – there’s a lot more to it than that. The guests in attendance too were pretty much all in agreement that the film will not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, looking around the select few in the audience, it was comically obvious that some were bored out of their minds while the rest died laughing.
Hilariously acentric, the film was intended to be as such, as Gehan himself shared that he wished for it to be similar to the classics of cinema’s past, akin to what was once called “talkies” back when films were making the transition from silent films to sound films, with long-drawn-out dialogue, constituted entirely of conversation.
During a question and answer session held following the screening, Gehan shared that it is definitely not a film as audiences are used to nowadays; there’s no spectacle, it is an intellectual film, and if you fancy yourself an intellectual, you should certainly give it a chance.
About being able to premiere his film in Sri Lanka, Gehan commented: “It is always a joy to share work with your own country even if you might live overseas. I think it was probably for the best that the cinematic premiere of the film was here in my motherland Sri Lanka.
“To think in this day and age, with the current climate, to release a movie in cinemas is truly a privilege for any filmmaker, because even the big Warner Brothers movies have had to go straight to streaming in some cases. So this meant everything to me; to be able to put it on the big screen and share it with my fellow Sri Lankans.”
Our personal consensus of the film is that we absolutely loved it. Very much having contributed to the uncontrolled cackling at the cinema, we cannot recommend this more. It is dialogue heavy and we must request that you pay attention because it is clever, and quick and witty, and it’s worth every bit of your time.
The Billionaire will be premiering to the public on 19 March, available in most Colombo cinemas for two weeks.
We asked some of the guests in attendance to share their thoughts on the film.
Legendary filmmaker and entrepreneur Chandran Rutnam said: “First of all, I have a great friendship with Gehan and have seen this movie several times. Gehan has nurtured this movie, has asked a lot of times what I thought, and I have told him what I thought and he has made those adjustments.” He added: “What I like about him is that he wants to do something with passion and this is the first time I saw a movie that directly deals with sexuality, asexuality, homosexuality, whatever it is, in this way…I liked the movie. It is probably not for the general public; it is for a niche audience,” he said, wishing Gehan the best of luck.
Tangerine Tours (Pvt.) Ltd. Chairman and Managing Director Angeline Myrese Ondaatjie said: “I felt I was watching a play and the fact that it was based on a play by George Bernard Shaw, that made a lot of sense, and I kind of got into it as if I was watching a two-hour play and I really enjoyed it. It was more than a movie for me.”
Pianist, accompanist, music director, and music educationalist Soundarie David Rodrigo said: “Personally, I think it was a great adaptation of Bernard Shaw’s play and I think we all ought to be proud of Gehan today for this project and showcasing Sri Lanka to the world outside; showing them that here we have a local who has made it international,” she said, adding: “Of course the fact that he sang in it gave it something very special and personal and that appealed to me given the fact that I have played with Gehan for several of his concerts, so that was very appealing and it is a movie that would appeal to a very niche audience and like he mentioned, an intelligent audience, but that doesn’t mean that anybody who is curious and wants to come check it out, shouldn’t. I think they definitely should, as I am sure they would be able to connect with it, with intense focus.”
Famous chef, columnist, and author Koluu Ranawake said: “I have seen the film before and really enjoyed it, I love the locations they were shot at. Gehan, of course, did a wonderful job and I loved the supporting cast. Everything visually and all round was really nice,” he said. Speaking briefly about the subject matter of the film, with its asexual protagonist, he said: “It’s an interesting concept, it is not a gay thing or a straight thing, it is an in-between, the matter of being asexual is new, something that the entire world is awakening to, and I think it is a very sensitive topic and a very bold one, and am very happy that Gehan made it so that people are made aware of it.”
Photos Krishan Kariyawasam