The tax increase for foreign produced TV films, tele dramas, soaps was a step in the right direction to revitalize the TV and movie industry in Sri Lanka, and encourage domestic exponents in the field to produce quality indigenous material suitable for Sri Lankan audiences and preserve indigenous cultural and moral values. This need for quality local material has been voiced by local actors, producers and directors in an industry now threatened in its very existence by the high influx of foreign “canned” material.

While, this being so, what are the other impacts from this decision. What about some of the support crafts that may be negatively impacted. How the chance of viewing quality foreign material be denied to local viewers and film & TV enthusiasts. What about educational films. This article attempts to also look at the flip side.

During the budget speech, the government said that they would increase the levy on foreign films and television dramas dubbed into Sinhala and Tamil from Rs. 90,000 to R.s 300,000 per 30 minutes.

But if TV stations reduce their budget as a consequence of the levy, the professional dubbing artistes would lose their livelihood according to ITN Executive Producer (dubbing and subtitles), Pran Wakista. The veteran was behind the dubbing of City Hunter, Asalia Mala, Sathya Gaweshaka, Lost and Autumn in My Heart.

Wakista said that the levy is a direct attack on dubbing artistes by veterans of the film and television drama industry as they believe these dubbed dramas steal their market. “At the same time, I believe that there should be standards and controls on what kind of dramas are dubbed. Some channels run on foreign teledramas and these should be limited. But this huge tax may not be the answer,” he said. He also commented that if a foreign film or a teledrama is more popular among the audience, it means that as a work of art it is more successful.

Wakista explained that as an artiste working for a government media organization, he is always careful to use correct grammar and decent language, especially when dubbing programmes for children. This ensures that these programmes actually inculcate good qualities in children and gives them something positive.

“There are certain media organizations that pay no attention to this,” he says and contends the new levy is an attack on a certain group of artistes and a certain audience. He draws attention to the benefits of dubbing award-winning films and telecasting them locally. “In addition to the audience, even technicians could learn things like camera angles,” Wakista said.

Discussing the Sinhala-dubbed Korean teledrama that became popular locally, he said that in addition to enjoying the beauty of the production, people also learn a different culture, as well as history and it might serve as a catalyst to learn the Korean language later. “The levy would serve to limit these good quality products as these are expensive to buy and the TV station cannot bear to pay a high tax as well. More low-quality foreign teledramas would be bought and dubbed in order to bear the tax. This would actually create greater damage in the long run,” he says.

Foreign films and teledramas are dubbed with the basic motive of tapping the Sinhala audience at a lower cost and thereby increase the profit margin of TV stations, according to veteran film director Asoka Handagama. From 6.30 to 9.30 pm every day these low cost foreign teledramas are telecast and the audience actually has no choice but watch them. These dubbed teledramas have a set market and rather than producing teledrama locally, these are popularized. “This is not beneficial to the audience,” said Handagama.
Handagama also commented that he is personally against this levy as it would hamper the local industry as well. At the same time, he believes that this would have some kind of control over the local market. Rates for the advertisements that are run alongside the dubbed foreign teledramas are also very high.

“These TV stations can still earn a lot of profit even with the levy in place, as the teledramas are bought at very cheap rates,” he contends. He also emphasizes the need for the tax revenue earned via the levy, to be reinvested in the local film and teledrama industry.

Ini Avan is a Sinhala-Tamil movie by Handagama that was released in 2012. The film focuses on the plight of young ex-LTTE militants and though mainly in Tamil language, it reached both Sinhala and Tamil audiences alike due to the effective use of subtitles.
Handagama is of the belief that subtitles are the best option for a quality teledrama or a film that’s in a foreign language. “Subtitles give the meaning to what’s being said in foreign language, while the flavour of the movie is preserved. At international film festivals only subtitles are used,” Handagama says. According to him, Tamil movies subtitled in Sinhala could be an effective tool that indirectly promotes reconciliation.

Tension is lost when one finds similarities between the different ethnic groups and understands one another. Nowadays, Tamil movies are popular among Sinhala people and they are willing to watch them at theaters, with or without subtitles. “What could be done to popularize this as an effective tool on reconciliation is to use Tamil subtitles on Sinhala teledramas and films and telecast these too”, said Handagama.

When asked whether bringing down foreign advertisements and dubbing them reduces creative opportunities for the local talent, Senior Advertising Specialist, Dushantha Ahangama commented that it depends on whether Sri Lanka could produce the advertisements locally to the same standards and quality at the same cost.  He said they are subject to industry decisions.

Kelaniya University, Department of Modern Languages, Dulanka Lansakara commented that watching films and teledramas which are dubbed or subtitled doesn’t help learning a language directly, but it helps build the grammar structure and develop language style.
She explained that watching foreign films helps the learner grasp the culture. This could help compare the two cultures, which helps in the learning process. For a learner with basic language proficiency, it helps develop vocabulary. “When a movie is dubbed or subtitles are used, sometimes certain aspects such as crude language and sexual references are removed. This is not helpful to a language learner,” she says.