Ran Muthu Duwa – By Rohan Abeygunawardena (email@example.com) and Ananda Wickramarachchi
Source : island
(First Colour Feature Film in Sinhala)
This article is dedicated to all the crew members of the first Sinhala colour film Ran Muthu Duwa that was screened 60 years ago on 10 August 1962.)
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke CBE FRAS was very well known world over as a renowned English science-fiction writer, science writer, futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host. But very few knew him as a producer of Sinhala feature films. He embarked on that for the benefit of the people in his host country Sri Lanka.
His first film co-produced with Mike Wilson and Shesha Palihakkara was Ran Muthu Duwa or Island of Treasures Ran Muthu Duwa was the first full-length Sinhala feature film in colour. The film was released on 10th August 1962, 60 years ago.
The film was directed by Mike Wilson, a photographer who immigrated to newly independent British colony of Ceylon in 1956 along with Arthur. Mike was originally from New Zealand and then lived in Britain and USA. Two friends Arthur and Mike were the early adopters of aqua-lung, invented in the mid-1940s which enabled divers to spend extended periods of time underwater. Both were “Scuba Divers” and lovers of exploring undersea and spent two adventurous years exploring the Great Barrier Reef in Australia before arriving to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). They have produced many rare underwater photographs taken during underwater expeditions. These were illustrated in Arthur’s book “The Coast of Coral.”
There was a very fascinating story behind making Ran Muthu Duwa. Arthur and Mike embarked on an underwater exploration expedition off the southern coast; in proximity to Yala off Kirinda beach. These were vast coral reefs found in Sri Lanka. Their friend Rodney Jonklaas, a Sri Lankan marine biologist and a diver also joined them.
This area exposed to the force of both monsoons, and the sea was very rough throughout the year and many a ships sank during the period of European colonisation. British realised the necessity to build offshore light houses for the safety of seafarers. They completed the project building two lighthouses known as the Great Basses and Little Basses using modern lenses called hyper radiant Fresnel lenses. The lighthouses were named Maha Ravana Kotuwa” and Kuda Ravana Kotuwa in Sinhala.
While exploring underwater terrain close to Great Basses and Little Basses Arthur, Mike and Rodney discovered bags of silver coins, cannons, and other artefacts on 22nd March 1961. Further research conducted by them examining historical records at Colombo Museum and other libraries established that the silver coins were from an early 18th century sunken ship belonged to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Their discovery was named the “Great Basses Wreck.”
Mike in his late twenties was an energetic young man was very keen to make a colour feature film based on their discovery. He has already produced a short film based on the underwater experiences around Great Barrier Reef in Australia when exploring it with Arthur. Mike, together with Arthur and Rodney, also wrote, photographed and directed the 25 minute documentary “Beneath the Seas of Ceylon” in 1958. This was the first film that displayed the beauty under the Sri Lankan oceans. Rodney once mentioned that he had learnt photography in general and underwater photography in particular from Mike.
Mike and Rodney approached Shesha Palihakkara who agreed to co-produce the film. Arthur, Mike and Sesha setup a company by the name Serendib Productions to make the film. The storyline was developed by Mike who had the knack for writing stories during his schooldays.
Bandu, a young man had a dream on a Wesak night. His father who was a pearl oyster diver, passed away several years ago, appeared and advised him to remove the pendant that hangs from a chain worn round his neck as it could bring bad luck to his life. Bandu broke the chain in his sleep and woke up frightened and sweating. Bandu remembered that the pendant was a silver coin his father picked up while pearl diving close to their Ran Muthu Duwa (a fictitious island). The day after it was picked up his father had a mysterious death. The next morning, together with his two friends Sena and Raju, Bandu visited a jewellery shop. Shop owner, Danapala examining the coin realised the value of it and pretending as a coin collector offered Rs.350 to buy off. Three friends now very much inquisitive did not accept the offer and left the shop. Danapala sent a man to follow the young men.
Bandu and his friends now keen to find out more about the coin, visited Colombo Museum. According to the records, this coin was from a treasure of an ancient shipwreck. They decided to go to the village and meet Bandu’s uncle. Uncle helped them to meet a Swami living in the island. Swami told the young men that there had been a temple situated in this island. Portuguese ransacked and all the wealth possessed by the temple was taken away in a ship. But they couldn’t sail very far and the ship was wrecked by a sudden storm. This was now a treasure that had run aground as a result of the curse of the God. He further said whoever tried to recover it would meet his death.
In the meantime, Danapala too came to the island and met his old friends Muthusami and Kalidasan. A business rival of Bandu’s late father, Muthusami had become very rich now. Muthusami’s daughter was known to Bandu during their school days in the village. Muthusami’s intention was to give her daughter Kumari, in marriage to Kalidasan’s son Renga. In the meantime Bandu met Kumari and a love affair developed between the two. Kalidasan and Renga hated them.
Danapala, a cunning man he was, approached the young men and tried to persuade them to join his team to recover the treasurer. Bandu flatly refused. His intention was to recover the treasure and build a temple to enable the people to worship with Swami’s blessings.
Bandu and the friends hired a boat from Muthusami with the help of his uncle to explore underwater to locate the treasure. Bandu and Renga met each other under water and the latter tried to attack the former. The ensuing fight resulted Renga losing and drifting away unconscious. Bandu brought part of the treasure to the boat in a cane bucket. He went underwater again to bring the remaining part of the treasure against the advice of his friends. Accompanied by Muthusami, Danapala got into Bandu’s boat wielding a gun and over powered Bandu’s friends and the uncle. When Bandu came on board with the balance part of the treasure, Danapala tried to shoot and kill him. But Muthusami was against it and pushed Danapala off the boat.
In the meantime Kalidasan got hold of Kumari who was coming to the beach to meet Bandu. Kalidasan took her to the rock where the ancient kings beheaded the offenders. She was chained to the rock. She was submerged in the seawater when Bandu found her. Rajo ran into a hardware shop close by and forcefully grabbed a hand saw blade from the shop owner. He and the friends managed to cut the chain and rescued Kumari at the last moment.Bandu got the treasure, but he used part of that to rebuild the temple and handed over the balance to the government.
Mike and Sesha invited in 25-year-old Gamini Fonseka for the leading role, “Bandu.” Gamini was an extra in Rekawa and had acted in few films such as Daiva Yogaya (1959-minor role), Sandeshaya (1960-leading but not the main role). He initially wanted to be a cameraman but got the opportunity to work as a second assistant director of David Lean’s award winning “Bridge on the River Kwai” and Lester James Peries’ Rekawa.
Gamini never wanted a stuntman to perform his underwater scenes. Confident and arrogant, Gamini insisted that he should be given training in diving. He proved to be a good diver after few days of training. Gamini, the handsome and smart young man went on to dominate the Sinhala film scene for at least five decades.
Looking around, the producers found a 21 year old girl from Panadura Arts Association to play the role of the heroine. She was Jeevarani Kurukulasuriya. She has acted in a popular stage drama Maha Hene Riri Yaka a story written by late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranayke and directed by Dick Dias. Jeevarani too became a popular actress in Sinhala Cinema, later on.
A friend of Arthur and Mike, Hector Eknayake was persuaded to play the villain’s role as Renga. Hector, a former Boxer also helped training the cast in fighting scenes in this action packed Sinhala production. Hector also trained Gamini in diving.
Others selected were Joe Abeywickrama as Sena, Shane Gunaratne as Rajo, Anthony C. Perera as Bandu’s uncle, Austin Abeysekera as Danapala, Vincent Vass as Kumari’s father Muttusamy, Thilakasiri Fernando as Swami, Eddie Amarasinghe as Sena’s friend, LakShmi Bai as Bandu’s mother, Sam P. Liyanage as the Moor hardware shop owner.
Others who contributed to the success of Ran Muthu Duwa:
Tissa Liyanasuriya was assigned with the task of writing the script and the dialogues in Sinhala, based on Mike’s storyline. He was also employed as the assistant director.
The film editing and other technical matters were assigned to Titus Thotawatte who had already carried out editing of Lester’s “Rekawa.”
Rodney Jonklaas assisted in the production and also as a diver of Danapala’s team.
Maestro W.D. Amaradeva got his very first opportunity to direct the music of a film. Together with Sri Chandrarathne Manawasinghe who did the lyrics they composed three songs. The theme song “Paramitha Bala” sung by Amaradeva and Nanda Malini. A love song for hero and heroine, Bandu and Kumari was “Galana Gangaki Jeevithe” and the playback singers were Narada Disasekera and Nanda Malani. “Pipi Pipi Renu Natana,” a group song was sung by Narada. For Nanda Malani and Narada this was the first break in the film industry to perform as playback singers. These songs were very popular even today after 60 years.
However Amaradeva composed only part of the background music. He was unable to travel to London with his musicians due to financial constraints to provide music at the time of processing of underwater scenes. Titus found a solution. He bought few instrumental music records (EP’s) and incorporated as background music. As a result part of the background music of the first Sinhala colour film was western, not the Maestro’s type.
Filming and Location
The film was shot in and around Trincomalee, Eastern Sri Lanka and close to Swami Rock (Kôṇâmalai) also called ‘lovers leap,’ where the ancient Koneswaram Hindu Temple perch atop it. Director of photography was assigned to W.A. Ratnayake. There were three cameramen. Outdoor filming was by Mike himself, underwater by Rodney and Sumiththa Amarasinghe filmed song sequence of “Galana Gangaki Jeevithe.”
Studio cameraman for the film was M. S. Anandan of Ceylon Studios.
Development and Critical reception
It was a genuine sunken treasure discovered by Arthur and Mike off Kirinda beach in the south of Sri Lanka that inspired energetic Mike Wilson to make Ran Muthu Duwa. Mike had written, shot and directed a short (25 mins.) underwater documentary film naming “Beneath the Seas of Ceylon” for Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board. Arthur was little hesitant initially but later agreed to provide part of the finance and also to help in production. The company Arthur, Mike and Sesha formed, Serendib Productions worked on a budget of Rs.450,000. Arthur provided start-up capital of Rs.50,000.
Ran Muthu Duwa
(Island of Treasures) was the first full-length colour film to be produced in Sinhala in Sri Lanka. While underwater filming was shot on using a 16mm Arri flex camera with double side perforation negative, for the other scenes a 35mm Arri flex IIc camera was used. The entire film was shot on Eastman Colour 32 ASA (American Standard Association). But the technology was such in the sixties there was no final colour negative. Instead 35mm four number of black and white matrices had to be technically processed for optical sound track and one each for three basic colours of Blue, Green, and Red (BGR) for printing the positives using BGR filters. Mike and Titus took the exposed negatives and dialogue tracks to Technicolor Laboratories in London for processing.
While Titus and Mike were processing the films with technicians at the Technicolor Laboratories in London, the famous film director Terence Young and his men were processing “Dr. No,” the first James Bond film in an adjoining studio. Terence hearing that an underwater feature film from the island of Ceylon was being processed, had barged into the studio and discussed the technical features of underwater filming with Mike and Titus.
A lover of films Dinesh Priyasad was an early viewer of “Thunderball,” the fourth Bond Film directed by Terence that was released in 1965. Dinesh was generally familiar with the technical aspects of filmmaking and directed several Sinhala films later on, including award winning Demodara Palama He also provided technical details for this article. Dinesh noticed that many underwater scenes were similar to Ran Muthu Duwa and informed his good friend Mike of his findings. Mike too watched this film several times and realised the plot. He knew for certain that some underwater sequences were being developed from his film. According to Titus, Mike became a worried man for Terence didn’t have the common courtesy to even acknowledge that in the end credits of the film “Thunderball” or written a letter thanking him. Mike’s frustration led him tomake a film naming Sorungeth Soru literally meaning “thieves are always thieves.” This was probably the wackiest feature film directed by Mike, yet it won Best Film and Best Actor awards at the 5th Sarasaviya Awards held in 1968.
Ran Muthu Duwa, with beautiful underwater scenes including fighting sequences was released on 10 August 1962, and it received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It also became the talking point throughout Sri Lanka, not only among Sinhala film fans but also those who loved Tamil and English films. Some of my Tamil friends said it was better than MGR (M.G. Ramachandran) films. Some others said it was like an “English Mystery Thriller.” Nearly one million people or ten percent of the population had seen it, and at the end of the day Ran Muthu Duwa was a tremendous commercial success. The film received “Famous film,” “Best Male Singer,” “Best Female Singer,” “Best Lyricist,” awards at the first Sarasaviya Awards held in 1964 and the “Favourite Producer” award at third Deepasika Award Ceremony in 1972.
Arthur C. Clerk who was hesitant to finance the project when proposal was made by his friend Mike, yet he exclaimed later, “I have never grown tired of watching the scenes of dawn over the great temples, the sea-washed cliffs of Trincomalee, the lines of pilgrims descending Adam’s Peak, and the mysterious underwater sequences even today, thirty-six years after it was made.” He wanted to arrange a re-release. But that never took place as he passed away on the 19th March 2008.Many of the film crew members are no more except Jeevarani Kurukulasuriya, Nanda Malini, Tissa Liyanasuriya and Hector Ekanayake.