Bridge on the River Kwai will rise again as Sri Lankan tourist draw

Sri Lankan authorities hope to draw tourists by rebuilding bridge blown up for 1957 film

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 4:23am

Its detonation is one of the most famous scenes in movie history.

Now, 57 years after it was blown to smithereens, authorities in Sri Lanka plan to rebuild the centrepiece of the film Bridge on the River Kwai, to assuage the anger among locals over a controversial dam project.

The second world war epic was supposedly set in Japanese-held Burma - present-day Myanmar. But it was mostly filmed in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, between 1956 and 1957.

The final scene, in which a British officer played by Alec Guinness blows up a rail bridge that his fellow prisoners of war have just built, was shot at sleepy Kitulgala, two hours' drive from the capital Colombo.

In recent years, the village has become a magnet for adrenalin junkies who can white-water raft down the river, whose real name is the Kelani.

So when Sri Lanka's Electricity Board unveiled plans to dam the river as part of a US$82 million hydroelectric project, there was dismay among locals whose livelihoods depend on tourism.

But in a bid to soften the blow, the electricity board has said it will pay for the reconstruction of a new wooden bridge, built on the original's foundations, to attract fans of the Oscar-winning movie.

"We have offered to rebuild the bridge at the same location," said the board's chief project engineer, Kamal Laksiri.

"Today there is no bridge, only a few concrete posts remain. But we have looked at drawings and pictures of the bridge and we will recreate it."

The explosion scene had to be shot twice in 1957 after a cameraman failed to give the correct signal to director David Lean.

Elephants were used to haul the train out of the river for the second take and locals used the wooden debris to build homes or keep as souvenirs.

Chandralatha Jayawardena, 59, still steers foreigners to the river on a daily basis.

"My husband was an extra in the movie and we earn a living by guiding tourists," she said.

Since Sri Lanka's 37-year ethnic conflict came to an end in 2009, tourism has been growing, with 1.2 million foreigners expected to visit this year.

Tourism chiefs say the rebuilt bridge, along with a new visitor museum, will guarantee Kitulgala remains on the tourist map.

"Kitulgala was always promoted as the place of the bridge in the Bridge on the River Kwai," said Rumy Jauffer, the head of the tourism promotion bureau.

"Recreating that bridge will certainly add value."


Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)