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The Biography


The Last of the Big Ones’

By Vilasnee Tampoe

Born in Jaffna to a renowned family of lawyers and magistrates, far removed from the world of cinematic art, he found himself very much at ease in this milieu which became his world for more than forty five years.



Robin Tampoe -

He had his early education at Central College, Jaffna and his university education at Christian College, Thambaram and later joined the Law College in Colombo. His father W M S Tampoe, also a Lawyer was a pioneer in the film industry. His great Grandfather, Thamotheran Pillai MacGown Tampoe was the first magistrate to sit in a court of law in Jaffna. Robin gave up his law studies and proceeded to India to study the art of film making as early as 1956. Robin teamed with his father and produced his first film in India ‘SEPALI’ in 1957.


He broke off from his father and joined Chitrananda Abeysekera as his Story, Dialogue and Scriptwriter and produced his own film, Sirimalee in India. He studied Sinhala and when he started his third film, Suvineetha Lalani in Sri Lanka in 1960 he was well versed in the Sinhala language. He was one of the few producers who took up the challenge to successfully produce films in Sri Lanka using local talent and skills thereby benefiting many local producers and technicians. Suvineetha Lalani was chosen as fifth national by popular vote in the first Sarasaviya Film Festival in 1964. This was followed by a string of box office record films and he reached fame within a very short period.


Discussing a Film Script

Mrs Rita Tampoe, Vilasnee Tampoe, Robin Tampoe with Chitrananda Abeysekera, Herbie Seneviratne, L. M. Perera, Piyadasa Wijekoon, Richard Albert Tarzan, W.M.S. Tampoe & Dommie Jayawardene  



Dr. Tissa Abeysekera in his submissions says,“I was struck by the charismatic personality of the man and the awesome respect he seem to inspire. He was not yet 30, but he had arrived, and within the next few years he became a Legend’’

His meteoric rise straddles the early 60s when the idea of a ‘’national’’ cinema was being forged and a debate was begun as to what identity that the national cinema should have. As a Tamil producing box office hits in Sinhala, Robin was also caught in the ethnic politics that prevailed during this period. The book describes this socio political backcloth against which local producers had to work, official policies that were geared towards a Sinhala speaking cinema purged of Indian influence, the contribution of Tamils to the industry.

Elmo Gunaratne wrote in the Ceylon Observer in 1967, that he was the most outspoken and often misunderstood film personality of Ceylon.

In 1963 he built a well-equipped studio in Wellampitiya with equipment from Japan and the US. This gave rise to the emergence of many local producers, directors and technicians and exploiting local expertise. In a polls conducted by the Davasa paper he was chosen the most popular producer director in 1964. He produced three films in one year in 1966 a Sri Lankan record… Three theatres were also opened the same year, Vilasne Cinemas, at Dehiwala, Wellampitiya and Kahawatte.



Kusuma Gunawardane, Mr & Mrs Tampoe with Vilasnee, Gamini Fonseka, Piyadasa Palansuriya (brother of Sagara Palansuriya), Hon. Philip Gunawardane, Somadasa Elvitigala, Chitrananda Abeysekera and Elitne.




Hon. Philippe Gunawardena, Mrs. Gunawardena,

Piyadasa Palasuriya, Prof. E. R. Eratne, Gamini Fonseka, Chitrananda Abeysekera, Robin and Rita Tampoe.

At Regal Cinema, Colombo





Premasiri Khemadasa, Herby Seneviratne, Robin Tampoe, Chitrananda Abeysekera, Dharmadasa Walpola & Latha Walpola


In 1974 he was awarded the Deepasika Award for his outstanding contribution of films and was also recognized as being emblematic of Tamil participation in the local industry.

To promote ethnic harmony in 1978 he organized the first ever Sinhala film Festival in Jaffna along with the G A, Jaffna, Mr. Lionel Fernando and the participation of the Hon. Min. D. B. Wijetunga.

Kumaradasa Wagista wrote in the Mirror dated 1998 that he was one of the best known directors up to the 70s era…

The ten chapters of the book, “The Last of the Big Ones”, also trace the highlights of his career and reasons that brought about his decline in the 70s…They have to do with personal failings, an increasingly competitive environment, policies enacted by the national film corporation, the advent of television, video and DVD.



Despite its subjectivity, having being written by his daughter, the book does give an insight into the early years of cinema in Sri Lanka, which was also entangled in the ethno consciousness that has prevailed in the island. But beyond this, it is a mere attempt to recognize and salute the works of a producer director who had given so much to the cinema world, whose name still resonates among audiences and who spent the last years of his life struggling to recover some past glory…

Today’s cinema is built on the blood and the sweat and the tears of the people in the calibre of Robin Tampoe, wrote Sunil Mihindukula in the Sarasaviya dated march 2000, and the like of Robin Tampoe has the determination and the courage to face up to any situation however formidable.

In Feb. 1993 he was awarded the OCIC award for his contribution to the cinema.

Dr. Nihalsinghe in his submission said ‘’ He was a major contributor to the film production industry and a driving force at a time when the whole industry pivoted on such individual drive, that drive he had a plenty. Behind that energy was a man of his word and principle. Charm was one of his assets, and it was not a false one. While he made films in the fashion of the time, he did breakaway film to produce SUDO SUDU, with Gamini Fonseka in the lead. It was a demonstration of what Robin was truly capable of…

When he passed away Sunil Mihindukula said Robin Tampoe knew the hearts and the pulse of the cine gore and the demise of such a film personality is a loss to the cinema industry… Thirty-three years after his last film and fifty years after his first film the man in the street still remembers his name and his films….

The other day at the photograph exhibition of Timothy Weeraratne, Hon. Min. Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene said, how as a schoolboy he enjoyed Robin Tampoe films and those films are still vivid in his memory.

‘’Whatever his detractors say there is no doubt that Robin Tampoe occupies an important place in the history of Sri Lankan cinema’’… “Coming back to the biography which is also an affectionate Memoir I am certain it will rehabilitate Robin’s reputation and that is necessary as one whose contribution cannot be ignored”…. Dr. Lester James Peries.

“Landaka Mahima” - First Scene

Robin Tampoe



“Landaka Mahima” - First Scene

Starting the Camera

Rita and Vilasnee Tampoe

Dr. Lester James Peries in his dedications says “Robin was not only a film director, but also a producer, a studio owner an exhibitor, an importer. In a sense he was the complete film man the embodiment of the movie pioneer in an industry woefully lacking in the all round personality. He was well versed in all aspects of film making, apart from producing and directing he could also handle the camera skillfully, edit his film and even write the story, and script.”

Robin was at the origin of introducing a plethora of artistes to the cinema: from music directors such as Khemadasa who had his first film music direction in his Sudu Sande Kalu Wala in 1963, Elvitigala made his debut as music Director in his Sudo Sudu. Jothipala made his acting debut in his film in 1963, Swineetha, Nita, Boniface and Sujatha made their first steps in the world of cinema under his direction. Timothy cranked the camera first time in his Sudo Sudu. They are today part of the film establishment, most having begun at the same time as Robin Tampoe.


Robin with Hon. Prime-minister

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Also in the picture are Sanjeeva Tampoe & Kesavan

Mrs. Rita Tampoe with one of her Grand-children

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