Saturday Magazine

Ceylon Theatres marks 75 years

by Lalith Jayanetti
Manager-Cinema Entertainments Pvt. Ltd.


On the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the national film industry, "Nidhanaya" (Treasure), directed by Dr. Lester James Peiris, topped the list of the 10 best films selected from those that had been produced for the past 50 years. The Ceylon Theatres Ltd., a pioneer in Sri Lankan cinema, which produced this film in 1970, notched 75 years of existence on the 29th of September 2003.

Inception of theatres in Sri Lanka

The first theatre of Sri Lanka is considered to be the Empire Theatre. At that time it was located at the place where the present Regal Theatre in Colombo is. It was then a shed made of metal sheets and was run by a gentleman named Morwick Major. During that period Madan, Director of Madan Theatres of India, came to Sri Lanka and began screening films at the present Empire Theatre, then known as "Public Hall". Before 1925 the New Olympia Theatre was run by T. A. G. Noorbhai from whom Mr. A. L. Thamiah acquired it in the same year. In 1926 Noorbhai requested Abraham Gardiner (later Sir Chittampalam Gardiner) to join his film screening business.

Accordingly, the Ceylon Theatres Ltd. was born on 29th September 1928.

In 1929 the present Regal Theatre in Nuwara Eliya was started by the name of "Clifford Pavilion". This theatre is regarded as the first to be erected by the Ceylon Theatres Ltd.

Somewhere in November 1939 the Ceylon Theatres Ltd. took over the film screening business from Madan Theatres of India. After the end of the Second World War, it had prospered much. Until today it is successfully contributing to the screening of films. I believe that right from its inception certain persons and their decisions have been a determinant factor for the success of the Ceylon Theatres Ltd. Therefore, it is our duty to highlight some of these significant persons.

1. Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner (1899-1960)

At a time (like the year 1928) when the screening and distribution of films would have been most unlikely to have any success whatsoever, venturing on same, indeed, deserves due respect and admiration. Even today, it is undoubtedly the Regal Theatre in Colombo which is the best place for viewing a film.

The very attempt of Sir Gardiner to start this theatre is a clear indication of his correct attitude towards the cinematic medium.

In recognition of the outstanding contribution of Sir Gardiner to local film industry, all theatres islandwide remained closed on that day in December 1960 when his funeral took place. The street where the Regal Theatre is, was named Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha.

2. A. L. Thambiah

He was the first Sri Lankan to introduce motion pictures into the country. Together with Mr. Gardiner, he started the Ceylon Theatres Pvt. Ltd. Being the member of parliament for the electorate of Kayts from 1947 till 1956, he was a member of the first board of directors of the Ceylon Theatres Pvt. Ltd. for a longer period, Thambiah was an active member of that board.

3. S. Sellamuttu

Becoming the private assistant to Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner in 1944, he was appointed to the board of directors in 1946. Following the demise of N. E. Weerasooriya on 31st May 1974, Sellamuttu became the chairman. He was a councillor of the Colombo Municipality and in 1951 he was elected mayor of Colombo. His ability and honesty in dealing with foreign film companies was highly appreciated.

4. Albert A. Page

On 15th July 1942 he joined the Ceylon Theatres Pvt. Ltd. as a junior clerk of the fiance division. On being qualified by the Sri Lanka Institute of Chartered Accountants and the London Institute of Chartered secretaries, he was appointed the chief accountant in 1950. In 1952 he was appointed the secretary of the company and became a member of he board of directors in 1958. On 10th December 1960 he was appointed the assistant managing director, Albert page subsequently became the chairman and the managing director, holding the latter position till he passed away. Under his presidency, many a vital change was effected within the company. The "Majestic City" of Bambalapitiya (Colombo 04), including the majestic Theatre, was the fruit of his endeavours.

5. Anthony A. Page

In 1972 he was qualified by the Sri Lanka Institute of Chartered Accountants and that same year he was appointed the private assistant to the Managing director of the Ceylon Theatres Pvt. Ltd. In 1973 he underwent one-year training at Rank Leisure Services Ltd. In film screening, distribution, production and financial management.

He was the major driving force behind the professional life of this correspondent. Anthony Page, who acts very methodically and meticulously, has an ability to prompt those working under him to serve most efficiently.

Films produced by the

Ceylon theatres Ltd.

The Ceylon Theatres Ltd. started film production by producing "Asokamala" (1945), the second film in the country. In 1956 it started Sri Lanka’s first studio by the name of "Ceylon Studios".

These two institutions have produced a number of films so far and the films "Golu Hadwatha" (Silent Heart), "Akkara Paha" (Five acres) and "Nidhanaya" (Treasure), directed by Dr. Lester James Peiris, have been acclaimed by film critics and viewers alike, both here and abroad.

To mark the 75 years of this institution, Mrs. Sumithra Peiris has directed a film named "Sakman Maluwa" (The garden) which is now ready for screening to the public.

Although the Ceylon Theatres Ltd. is independently producing local films, it has amalgamated with two other companies, namely "Liberty Cinemas" and "Cinemas" to give birth to "Cinema Entertainment Pvt. Ltd." which has already started to produce local films.

Considering the role played for the revival of local cinema for 75 years, the contribution made to enhance the taste of film viewers by importing and distributing award-winning foreign films in Sri Lanka and the service rendered to the spectators by maintaining the high standard of its theatres, I feel that the Ceylon Theatres Ltd. is the "treasure" of Sri Lankan Cinema.

I would like to conclude by quoting "Cinema Asiriya" (Wonders of Cinema), a series of articles by Gamini Weragama, veteran film critic and one-time general manager of the National Film Corporation:

"The birth of the Ceylon Theatres Ltd. in 1926 under the guidance of Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner is a significant landmark in the history of cinema in this country.

"Even at present, it is the prime film company which has a tremendous impact on local cinema. This company, owner of a network of theatres islandwide, took the lead in importing of films as well.

"The Ceylon Entertainment Ltd. and Cinemas Ltd. were established in 1946 and 1947 respectively. Even today, these three leading companies have become the major force in determining the future of Sri Lankan Cinema".