Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner

Ceylon Theatres

To younger generations, the name evokes a street rather than a man – as in tribute to him, Parsons Road on which one finds the Regal Theatre, Ceylon Theatres’ first cinema, was renamed Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha.

Gardiner was born in 1896 at a time when Wilhelm Röntgen had announced his discovery of x-rays and when the first international Olympic Games (the Games of the I Olympiad) were held in modern history. The world was moving forward into the new century with a sense of expectancy.

Perhaps his parents had a similar sense of expectancy when their son took to studying law. But the call of commerce and business was greater for him, and Gardiner engaged in ventures that would prove a challenge as well as a source of wealth.

In fact, the Dictionary of Biography of the Tamils of Ceylon sets out that “he was in control of several prominent business establishments in the Island” – ventures that included being a pioneer cinema promoter, and undertakings in prestigious firms such as Cargills and Millers. Meanwhile, Ceylon Theatres is considered to be his most successful venture.

The lure of entertainment proved irresistible and he founded Ceylon Theatres in 1928, to the enduring gratitude of generations of filmgoers, and of which he remained chairman until his death in 1960. An article in the Daily Mirror has an anecdote about the race to produce the first Sinhala talkie, which offers a glimpse into his character and the times.

In the years post WWII, films from India and the West were extensively screened and immensely enjoyed. There was potential for a local movie in Sinhala – and the race was between Shanthi Kumar Seneviratne and Gardiner’s Asokamala, and Aloy and Eddie Jayamanne and S. M. Nayagam’s Kadawunu Poronduwa.

It was a close race and Gardiner’s team was pipped at the post by S. M. Nayagam’s Kadawunu Poronduwa, which was released on 21 January, while Asokamala was screened on 9 April. The year was 1947.

Gardiner was a deeply spiritual man – he was declared a Knight of St. Sylvester by the Pope for services to the Roman Catholic Church, and a Knight of St. Gregory (one of the five orders of knighthood of the Holy See bestowed in recognition of personal service through unusual labours and the example set in the community).

He was knighted in the 1951 New Year Honours in recognition of good works.

Chittampalam Gardiner: a flare for entertainment, commerce and community.