Vivek Oberoi and Namal Rajapaksa, at mass wedding
IIFA Colombo cost the Sri Lankan government about Rs. 850 million. The event was perhaps not a flop, but certainly not a hit. None of the A-Listers (Aishwariya, Amitabh, Abhishek) were there and neither were many of the Khans (Shah Rukh, Amir, Saif Ali). One Khan that did show up was Salman Khan, and he’s back in town today, to film a movie here. Another return visitor was Vivek Oberoi, hanging around with Namal Rajapaksa and visiting former LTTE cadres. Both of these former beaus of Aishwariya have followed through on a connection to Sri Lanka even though her father-in-law Amitabh pointedly has not. Are two visits and one film worth Rs. 850 million? Er. Probably not. At least not yet.
I enjoy watching Hindi and Tamil dance numbers because the locations change so much. They are dancing in the hills, then the beach, then by a lake, etc. Despite each star churning out dozens of films per year, they still have time for these multi-location shoots. Sri Lanka – having a variety of scenes within hours of each other – would be ideal for some of these dreamlike sequences. One could, for example, shoot at an alpine-like lake in the hill country, then by the Kandy Lake, then back to Colombo. Or, shoot in the Ella hills and then down to Arugam Bay. These combinations would all be possible within a day. Probably faster if Namal was riding in your convoy. To get the same diversity in India would take days at least.
What Sri Lanka lacks, however, is the skillset of Indian cinema. Modern Indian films are the technical equal of the west in terms of special effects, cinematography, etc. Indian advertising looks and sounds good. Indian movies are now quite awe-inspiring and they’ve developed the show-tune far beyond western abilities. Sri Lankan cinema, notable exceptions aside, still lacks the professionalism and polish of India. Namely because it’s not so highly capitalized.
If more Indians started filming down here we could learn from and eventually begin to compete with the best. Sadly, the most obvious talent source would be from Tamil Nadu, but their trade associations seem intent on boycotting. With interaction from India, however, Sri Lankan skills could improve, along with our standards. As a theoretical benefit, we might also become a bit less defensive, but Tamil Nadu seems intent on aggravating that trend.
Being featured in Bollywood films should also boost tourism to Sri Lanka. Many Indians are unaware of how beautiful Sri Lanka is, but they are certainly aware of Bollywood. Getting featured in the latter should bring more people down.
Is all of this worth nearly a billion rupees? Are the Indians going to take more money and jobs out than they put in? I don’t think it’s worth so much money yet, nor do I think it’s benefits to Sri Lanka have yet to be seen. Regardless, this engagement with India is just a start. Cinema is one obvious connection, but hopefully all the headlines about Khans arriving there are a hundred Singhs at House Of Fashions. For every Bollywood film one hopes there are also Vivek Oberois who take time off to visit the disadvantaged. IIFA was a bit expensive up front, but it may be bringing some long-term returns.