Makebelieve in Nowhere

(City in the jungle.)

We went off in search of Mahinda Rajapaksa TeleCinema Park, Sri Lanka’s new big 250 acre location designed to draw filmmakers the world over to shoot in Sri Lanka.

Great idea, right? Innovative—driving economic development through film, right? The downside?

It’s empty.

Entirely empty.

In the middle of the jungle. This Telecinema complex is 20 miles from the nearest town of 2,000 people, as about as far as you can get from Colombo. The biggest “city” in the region is Hambantota, pop. 11,000.

Named, like everything else here, after the Rajapaksa family, the family that essentially runs Sri Lanka’s. Mahinda, it’s benefactor and creator is also the President, probably for life. (He’s eliminated term limits).

But the Rajapaksa vision can be a bit interesting. The President’s hometown of Hambantota has now been turned into Sri Lanka’s largest construction site. The region is literally ablaze with new monstrous building sticking out of the jungle. What was once a little town where the shops closed at sundown will, for no other apparent reason than it being the President’s hometown, be the ill thought out center of what I call “Rajapaksa Dream Land.

The cineplex has a mock town and a city (front of buildings only), a lake and a studio. Renting out the city or village is something to the tune of Rs. 5000 per day, and the studio I think is Rs. 10,000 per day. So, between $40-80 a day. Quite the steal.

But who the hell would literally go out to the middle of nowhere to get their films/commercials etc filmed? Turns out. No one, really.

To date, only one international film has filmed here.

How has business been, I asked our tour guide. With a shrug and a shy laugh, she responded “It’s…ok”

The project comes at the immense cost of Rs. 1.5 billion of which Rs. 750 million has already been invested, funded almost entirely by the country’s very high import taxes on movies and DVD sales here.

With Chinese support, labor and loans, the president is constructing a harbor designed to fit the world’s largest ships. The downside? The harbor is not deep enough and will need to be constantly dredged at extreme cost. It also ignores the fantastic deep water port of Trincomalee, a majority Tamil city.

He is constructing an international airport. The downside? It’s in a jungle in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Just google map “Hambantota International Airport”

Which is where the nation’s second airline, Mihin Lanka, a Rajapaksa pet project will be based out of. The downside? Mihin Lanka has been losing hundreds of millions of rupees a year.

The list goes on. It seems that Hambantota will be the next capital city of the country at this rate. It is the focus of pretty much every major development project in Sri Lanka.

Building a cineplex here makes just about as a building an international airport, or an internationally sized cricket stadium, in the middle of the jungle, which is exactly what the Rajapaksa family has done.

It’s shocking that I see such little resistance and opposition to these delusional dreams. The ‘whys’ of that is a blog for another time.