Hema Nalin Karunaratne:
‘Our heritage to the world!’
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
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
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
“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
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
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
I worked at Rupavahini for 16 years and then at Swarnavahini till
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.