The Sri Lankan film industry's overwhelming acceptance of the Bangalore lass, Pooja Umashankar, seems to have rung alarm bells among Sinhala nationalists, who fear that the local film industry, already under threat from Bollywood and Mollywood, will be swamped by Indian stars, technicians and directors.
The government has slapped a tax ranging from LKR 150,000 ($ 1366) to LKR 250,000 ($ 2277) on Sri Lankan films which use foreign talent. But industry insiders suspect that the new measure was triggered by the rising popularity of Pooja who stormed into the Sinhala movie scene with the box office hit Anjalika last year.
Sri Lankan audiences were thrilled to see a Sinhala movie where the main star was singing and gyrating as beautifully and excitingly as a Bollywood nymph to the tune of Sinhala songs. After the runaway success of Anjalika, Pooja had signed two more films Piyambanna Mang Asai and Yahaluwo which audiences are waiting to lap up.
"It is not a secret that all this fuss and the new tax regulations came because Pooja was nominated in the Best Actress category at the recent Sarasaviya Film Festival and came third in most popular actress category," says Tusita de Alwis, publicity manager of Ceylon Theatres, in a survey conducted by media.
"Jealousy plain and simple is behind all this," says Inoka Sathyangani, director of Sulang Kirilli which had won several international awards. "We are now in a global village and we should not be erecting walls between us," she told Hindustan Times.
Since the tax was the brainchild of the "non-performing" National Film Corporation (NFC) Sathyangani feels that it might have done it only to show that it existed. " At any rate, government should first ask itself whether its tax on foreign TV serials had helped the Sri Lankan TV industry. The truth is that it has not. Cheap Indian directors are now brought in to direct Sinhala serials," Sathyangani pointed out. "And what is 250,000 rupees for a wealthy producer?"
"NFC's thought control and talent control are totally against the current world trend," said Prasanna Vithanage, an internationally known film maker, whose latest film Hand Ball is being directed by Uberto Pasolini. Ranjan Ramanayake, the macho hero of Sinhala films, has cast Mumbai's Ardeen Khan in the female lead in his new big budget action film Leader.
However, not all deride the measure. "It will help protect the up and coming Sri Lankan artistes," Nita Fernando, the veteran actress, tells media. Scriptwriter Yolanda Weerasinghe points out that in the West, foreign artistes could be employed only if suitable locals were not available. Sri Lankan artistes should get organised on this, she adds.