From Blockbusters to groundbreaking documentaries, Sri Lanka has played host to many an international film. With its lush green jungles, lofty mountain peaks and eye-catching rivers and waterfalls,the island is every filmmakers dream when it comes to shooting on an outdoor film set.
It is no wonder therefore that Sri Lanka has graced the silver screen on numerous occasions having been picked by film directors such as Steven Spielberg and Don Boyd to be the locality of more than 40 films. You might come across these everyday or exotic locations that debuted on screen.
Elephant Walk (1954)
One of the first feature length Hollywood films shot in Sri Lanka was Elephant Walk starring Elizabeth Taylor. She plays the role of a newly married woman who comes to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) to be with her Colonial tea planter husband.
The film features the scenic landscapes and pleasant tropical weather of the Island. Although filmed with star Vivien Leigh in the lead role as the actress quit two days into filming she was promptly replaced by Taylor.
The Purple Plane (1954)
The Purple Plane also known as Llanaru Roja is a British war film directed by Robert Parrish. It features Gregory Peck as a Canadian Air Force Pilot battling depression during the last few months of World War II.
The film was shot almost entirely in Sigiriya while scenes were also filmed in Elephant pass, Kitulgala and the Kelani River. In fact, after the film’s success, many of the locations were later employed for the epic war drama Bridge on the River Kwai several years later.
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Bridge on the River Kwai directed by David Clean relates the story of four prisoners captured by the Japanese during World War 2. They are brought to Burma (now Myanmar) and are forced to work on a bridge that will connect Burma to Thailand.
Bridge on the River Kwai was shot almost exclusively along the Kelani River in Kituglala and its lush terrain. The filming of the famous blowing up of the bridge scene was done in the presence of former Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranayake.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Who can forget the Indiana Jones trilogy? A major blockbuster sensation of the 80’s and 90’s it is a classic enjoyed even today. The second installment of the franchise, was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Harrison Ford in the title role.
It was to be filmed in North India, however, the team opted for Sri Lanka due to the ease in obtaining permission and abstract locations. For the most part, the movie was shot in Kandy.
Thee is a Tamil film directed by R Krishnamurthy. The movie tells the story of two brothers Raja and Ravi played by Raijinkanth and Suman as they follow different paths in life.
In a twist of fate, Raja becomes a smuggler and Ravi becomes a policeman. Most scenes of the film were shot at the BMICH, Independence Square and the entrance of the John Keells head Quarters and Colombo Harbour.
The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo (1997)
The movie is an adventure film starring Jamie Williams as Mowgli. Following the adventures of a boy nurtured by wolves it was shot primarily in Kandy’s mountainous Udawatta Kele Sanctuary. It is in fact a live adaptation of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and not his work ‘The Second Jugle Book’
Bombay Velvet (2015)
An Indian crime drama film directed and produced by Anurag Kashyap. The plot revolves around Balraj a street boxer who is in love with a Jazz singer called Rosie.
Dreaming of winning Rosie’s heart by becoming rich he sets out with hopes of becoming successful. The film was shot on the more historically suited streets of Galle, Colombo and Passekudah and at the Ranminithenna National Tele-Cinema Park in Hambantota.
Water is an Indo-Canadian film written and directed by Deepa Mehta. The movie is set in 1983 and explores the lives of widows living in an ashram in Varanasi, India.
The film is also the third and final installment of Mehta’s element trilogy and was even the inspiration for the 2006 novel, Water: A Novel. Although the story is based in India, due to issues, filming was moved to Sri Lanka where the director fell in love with the charming coconut palm fringed setting of the Bolgoda Lake.
Monkey Kingdom (2015)
Monkey Kingdom is a nature documentary following a family
of monkeys living in the ancient ruins found in the jungles of Polonnaruwa.
The documentary was shot over the course of three years with over 1,000 camera days and about 150 state of the art cameras being used to record the band of ‘toque macaques’ that were the films subject matter.
Midnight’s Children (2012)
Another film directed by Deepa Mehta and based on the book of the same name by critically acclaimed author Salmon Rushdie, Midnight’s Children deals with India’s transition from British colonialism to independence. Receiving a mix of positive and modest reviews, the story is told by chief protagonist Saleem Sinai and is set within the context of actual historical events.
Despite the movie being set in India and Pakistan, filming took place in Colombo in secret. Due to the century-old architecture that survived in the city and existing British Bungalows, Mehta had even stated that Colombo made
a better Mumbai for the movie. Ravindra Randeniya chaired
the Film Team, while many Sri Lankans play the roles of extras in the movie, inlcuding Ashok Ferrey, Shanaka Amarasinghe and Tracy Jayasinghe.