Old relic of a cinema used for art, raves and raunchy movies
Relic of the past
Rio Cinema, a landmark building of its time is now barely alive. Much has happened to it since 1965 when it first raised its curtains to the public with a screening of South Pacific. The opening of this state-of-the-art movie theatre was the highlight of the year on Colombo’s social calendar with ministers, movie stars and diplomats kitted all in attendance.
“It was my grandfather Appapillai, who started Navah Cinema in 1951 and then Rio. The theatre is still in the same family“ says Ratnaraja Navaratnam who manages Rio Cinema today. Rio brought to life some of the greatest movies of all time like Sound of Music and West Side Story through its 70mm screen - 35mm was the norm in those days - and surround sound.
During the 1983 riots, the cinema was looted and completely burnt down. Forty years of work went up in flames overnight. “My father was very hurt. More than the financial loss, he felt betrayed. He had done so much for the society and for this to happen in his own neighbourhood was very saddening,” shares Ratnaraja. “These days it is more harmonious. Slave Island has a vibrant population, with the Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil people all living together. You find the mosques, temples and churches all within each other’s reach. People co-exist without any problem at all”.