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Hema Nalin Karunaratne:

‘Our heritage to the world!’


Hema Nalin Karunaratne

Picture by Ruwan de Silva

Who wants to be the authority on culture and heritage in our land? For those interested, Hema Nalin Karunaratne is set to floor the gas pedal with his Heritage TV channel on Dialog TV - available free of charge 24/7.

Following his trails along the hallways of Rupavahini and Swarnavahini for quarter of a century, Nalin now heads a satellite channel, a meeting place for culture and nature. Heritage TV has been broadcast on Sri TV since September, 2008 two hours a day.

“I believe we have a robust heritage that the world should learn, study and research. So my foremost aim was to build up a channel thoroughly focused on our heritage. We are now in the process of creating a world audience for Sri Lankan programmes by using more and more foreign languages.

We should tell specifically the Western world what Sri Lanka is.” started off Nalin in a voice thickened with firm resolution.

The channel was officially launched on May 31 at the BMICH with the distinguished participation of Speaker W J M Lokubandara, Culture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Western Provincial Council Minister Udaya Prabath Gammanpila, Youth affairs Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, former Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Chairman Professor Tissa Kariyawasam and Dialog TV Chief Nushard Perera.

Speaker Lokubandara went back to the times when our ancestors worshipped natural elements such as sun and tree: “We had such respects to natural elements. That became part and parcel of our culture. Even today, we are the archetype of our own past.”

Nalin was a lad full of spirit when he left Royal College in 1980. He headed many a college functions such as debating team, Sinhala Association and Health Club.

Nalin chose science stream for A/Ls, but still his heart went for Arts. He was still occupied with the college’s arts scene for the next two years, until he stepped into Rupavahini as an Assistant Producer when legendary M J Perera held the Chairman’s office. Rupavahini molded the monumental design of Hema Nalin’s career.

“It so happened when I had to read out a bomb awareness announcement. That was in 1983, when that ‘famous’ catastrophe took place. That was enough for the management to gauge my language and announcing skills. Since then I have been known as a presenter, though producing is still my teacup.”

Nalin introduced the way of the art to announcing, which was quick, witty and original. When the way the many elders passed down the knowledge bored the younger generation, Nalin made it animated. Rupavahini’s education service was a milepost in his life. He was only to see his future with 9.05 fame and the variety of others tagging along him in both Rupavahini and Swarnavahini.

Ever since his childhood, Nalin has been fond of travelling. Today he is a much travelled man both at home and abroad. Even for university dissertations, he used to present the documentary programmes he produced.

“My first overseas visit was to Germany and UK both for three months respectively. I obtained a scholarship for USA for an year when I was in Swarnavahini. I travelled in many countries when I was doing magazine programme Dutu Nudutu.”

Why a special channel for documentaries, when the normal channels have allocated a particular airtime?

“Obviously they can’t spare a prime time for documentaries. They have to divide the time for everything ranging from entertainment.”

Nalin’s channel is not for SMS addicts - this is completely for those who love serious stuff. “But,” adds Nalin, “I don’t look down on teledrama or anything like that. What I wanted is a channel completely focused on documentaries. That’s it.”

Nalin is determined to make his Heritage TV the local Discovery model one day. But he has other issues too. Marketability is such one.

“I buy documentaries - in fact fifty-percent of our programmes. But I ask producers to have the lowest possible budget. We are not teledrama producers, so we don’t enjoy such a lavish market.”

He however has realised the lack of documentary producers, which made him think up of a training institute too.

“We have set up one, and the work will start towards the middle of June. There is an exam for interested ones, and we buy what they produce. It’s completely pointless when I have to go to Kandy to do a documentary on Kandy perahera. There are enough provincial producers who are capable, though they need training. My aim is to generate more documentary producers.”

What else have you got in your mind? No, that’s not at all. Still more to go.

“I need to take these programmes out of Colombo to hold creative workshops. If someone in Anuradhapura has more to say after watching a programme, rather than ‘it’s excellent’, then I think our meaning of education is fulfilled. There are knowledge tanks outside the Colombo waiting to be shared. We have to go find them. For instance Jaffna will be open for us in the near future, meaning we are going to have more to unearth.”

Following all these, Nalin sets sights on a monthly - or perhaps a tri-monthly - magazine containing what was telecast on the channel. When he left his last workplace Swarnavahini, Nalin had no specific idea on what is in store for him.

“I wanted more freedom to do what I am trained in - the documentaries.

I worked at Rupavahini for 16 years and then at Swarnavahini till March, 2008.

You have to leave them when the moment comes in, however much you may love. Whatever happened, I am indebted to my previous workplaces, for they made me who I am today.”

Hema Nalin Karunaratne was more known as a presenter.

However in future he will be the backseat man of many documentaries we watch on Dialog TV. Nalin lives with his wife Dr Iresha Karunaratne and daughter Nalini.

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