Exploring seven famous international film locations in Sri Lanka

by | May 10, 2021

From thick jungles to beautiful mountains to idealistic beaches, Sri Lanka has everything a film producer would need to make a film, and that too, everything accessible in a short amount of time! Here are seven iconic famous film locations in Sri Lanka.

The Bridge on the River Kwai Movie

1. The Bridge on the River Kwai – Kitulgala

Having won seven Academy Awards, The Bridge on the River Kwai, directed by David Lean, is a must-watch film adapted from a book that goes by the same name. Filmed in the 1950s in Kitulgala, perched on the western edge of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, a makeshift bridge was constructed over the Kelani River for the scene. The movie tells a story of a group of Japanese war prisoners who were forced to build a bridge over River Kwai, in an effort to connect Japan to Thailand and Burma. Film buffs like to make a trip to Kitulgala to get the feel of this cinematic location while the actual bridge in Thailand is a popular tourist spot as well. Visitors also include Kitulgala in their Sri Lanka holiday itinerary for adventure activities such as white-water rafting, trekking, bird watching, and more.

2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – Kandy

Originally scheduled to be filmed in Rajasthan, India during the 1980s, but was moved to Sri Lanka because Indian officials did not offer film permits because they were offended with the story. The highlands of Kandy, Sri Lanka is where Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was filmed – the jungle and the hanging rope bridge scenes in particular. Directed by the famous Steven Spielberg, and starred by Harrison Ford, the story is about an archaeologist who is perceived as the savior of the world.

The Hantana Tea Plantation, which is where Sri Lanka’s first tea museum now is, was the location of the ‘Mayapore’ village in the movie. Although most of the movie was shot on sound stage, if you want to get a hold of some of the actual scenes of filming in Sri Lanka, hike all the way up to the edge of the cliff to see the big rock wall which was a huge part of the bridge scene. The rope-bridge was built across a 300-foot-deep gorge downriver from the Victoria Dam, which is North of Kandy.

Kandy is also known as Sri Lanka’s cultural capital and is almost always on the list of places to visit in Sri Lanka. Home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic where the tooth of Lord Buddha is housed, Kandy also boasts picturesque locations, interesting nature trails, and enjoyable cultural dance shows.

3. A Common Man – Colombo

Starring Oscar Award Winner Ben Kingsley and Ben Cross, Sri Lankan film maker Chandran Rutnam did a great job at remaking the Indian thriller “A Wednesday”, on Sri Lankan grounds. The film is also a movie version of the book “Midnight’s Children”, with both actors taking the roles of a terrorist and police chief, respectively, the production team managed to bring home the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor awards at the 2013 Madrid International Film Festival.

The magnitude of the film was challenging, with shooting taking place within 70 days, at approximately 60 locations and 200 people on each set. Most of the locations were in Colombo – golf club, prison, colonial homes and ghetto streets being some of them. With some alteration to the background scenes, the same train station was resembled to one in India and then one in Pakistan. A basement was constructed under a school in Colombo and a playing field in Appelwatte was used to construct 50 homes for the Magician’s Ghetto.

4. The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo – Kandy

Filmed in 1997 at the Udawattakele forest and sanctuary in Kandy, The Second Jungle Book movie featured Jamie Williams as Mowgli, with supporting roles from Roddy Mac Dowell and Billy Campbell. In addition to the set, Warakagoda, Hettiarachchi and Sumanapala were some Sri Lankan aspects of the movie in the form of actors.

5. Elephant Walk – Kandy and Beruwala

Depicting colonial Ceylon, Elephant Walk is a film that revolves around the marriage of a white woman and her struggles of settling into a tea plantation owned by her British husband. Elephants roam freely in the plantation, creating havoc and destroying all the tea in a violent rage. Starring the iconic Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews and Peter Finch, this movie was released in the 1940s. Along with a few tea estates in Kandy, The Brief Gardens in Beruwala is a beautiful garden complex amidst paddy field and tea plantations that was used in the filming, with the rest of the movie being shot in a Hollywood studio.

6. Tarzan the Ape Man – Hill Country

With the original movie being produced in 1931, the remake of The Legend of Tarzan was done in various parts of Sri Lanka’s hill country. Tarzan the Ape Man was directed by John Derek, starring Bo Derek, Richard Harris and Miles O Keeffe, and is loosely based on the novel Tarzan of the Apes. Filmed from Jane’s (Bo Derek) point of view, several challenges were faced during the filming, and ended up being filmed with just an eight people team!

7. Bombay Velvet – West, South and East

Starring Indian actors Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar, Bombay Velvet is a Bollywood film directed by Anurag Kashyap and filmed almost entirely in Sri Lanka. Set in a backdrop resembling the 1960s, the story is about Johnny Balraj, a streetfighter falling in love with a singer (Rosie) and attempting to become a big shot in Mumbai with the hopes of winning over Rosie’s heart. Locations of shooting Bombay Velvet in Sri Lanka are: Colombo, Galle, Hambantota, and Passikuda.