Columnists,Top Story l by Hi!! Online l 15 Jan 2021     - 739

Gehan Cooray’s feature film THE BILLIONAIRE officially in consideration for nominations at the Oscars and Golden Globe Awards


Mr. Gehan Cooray’s THE BILLIONAIRE won the ‘Best Comedy Feature’ Award at the Burbank International Film Festival in September 2020. This is his first feature film.

Los Angeles-based actor/independent filmmaker/classical singer Gehan Cooray's soon-to-be-released feature film THE BILLIONAIRE was officially submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, in late 2020, after becoming eligible for both Oscar and Golden Globe Award nominations.

The film was honoured with The Best Comedy Feature Award at the Burbank International Film Festival in September 2020, where one of the awards presenters was Hollywood mogul Shane Black who wrote and directed 'Iron Man 3' among other blockbuster franchise features. Burbank is the media capital of the world, home to the famous Walt Disney Studios, and the legendary Warner Bros. Studios where Mr. Cooray personally supervised the Post Production of his award-winning new film, having cast the film in Hollywood, and shooting it on location in Canada.

THE BILLIONAIRE is now on the Academy Screening Room, which is the Oscar voting members' official streaming platform, under the 'Best Picture' category (and all accompanying categories such as 'Best Actor' and 'Best Adapted Screenplay'), for Oscar voters to watch the film at their leisure as they deliberate upon their official nominations.

Among the categories that the film is eligible for at the Golden Globe Awards, are 'Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy', 'Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy' (Gehan Cooray) and 'Best Screenplay - Motion Picture' (Gehan Cooray). Mr. Cooray was privileged to be interviewed on the phone for 30 minutes by one of the Golden Globe Award Jurors from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who had very high praise for the film and for his performance as the title character.

The film was the brainchild of Gehan Cooray, who adapted the film’s screenplay from George Bernard Shaw’s 1930s play The Millionairess, while also donning multiple hats as Executive Producer, Lead Actor, and Chief Editor/Post-Production Supervisor. THE BILLIONAIRE invests a contemporary romantic slant on Shaw’s classic comedy, infusing it with LGBTQ and Asexual perspectives.

Multi-hyphenate Gehan Cooray’s inspiration to distill Bernard Shaw’s classic, once controversial play was due to the lack of stories about marriage, separation and remarriage from the Gay and Asexual points of view. With that transformative goal in mind, Cooray who is an alumnus of the University of Southern California (where he studied Drama, Cinema and Psychology), and who made his Carnegie Hall solo concert debut to great acclaim in 2019, embarked on his maiden feature.

Retaining the brainy wit of Shaw’s dialogue, Cooray invigorated the cerebral complexity of the original with a modern-day representation of sexuality, romance and relationships. By changing the genders and sexual orientations of certain characters, Cooray transformed Shaw’s heterosexual couples into Gay and Asexual couples.

“Even in the 21st century, we seldom see Same-Gender Marriages and Relationships depicted onscreen with the kind of complexity and nuance that Opposite-Gender Marriages and Relationships are. That is definitely something that I wanted to accomplish with The Billionaire, while also emphasizing the beauty of Chaste, Asexual Romances and Marriages that are entirely devoid of Sex” Cooray notes.

The 116-minute film was directed by Michael Philip, whose production company in Canada partnered with Mr. Cooray to produce the film. Others in the cast, in addition to Gehan Cooray, include Jordan Belfi from the hit Hollywood TV series 'Entourage', Randy Wayne from 'The Dukes of Hazzard', Davi Santos from the popular 'Power Rangers' TV franchise, and 5-time Emmy Award winner Heather Tom from 'The Bold and the Beautiful' and 'The Young and the Restless'. Having creative control over the film, Mr. Cooray presided over each Picture and Sound session during post-production at Warner Bros. in Burbank, California.

With a panache reminiscent of Classic Hollywood Films, THE BILLIONAIRE brims with a blend of good old-fashioned British humor, and a sophistication that is often lacking in romantic comedies today. The themes of Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion have also always been very close to Gehan Cooray's heart, from a sociological standpoint, while also embracing the Classical 'Representational' Acting Styles of Old Hollywood actors like Greta Garbo and John Barrymore, from an artistic standpoint.

The film is scheduled to be released in Los Angeles by the Laemmle Theatres on the 12th of February 2021, provided L.A cinemas are allowed to reopen by then, while Ceylon Theatres will release THE BILLIONAIRE in Sri Lanka thereafter. Having studied cinema at the best film school in the world at USC, of which the great George Lucas himself is an alumnus, Mr. Cooray is adamant about not streaming the film online until it has been seen on the big screen, the way feature films have always been meant to.

To have won a coveted award at a prestigious industry festival like the Burbank Int'l Film Festival (BIFF) for his very first feature was itself a major milestone for Gehan Cooray. To have been able to submit his film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), and to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) all on his own, having made the film eligible for Oscar and Golden Globe Awards consideration - as an individual Sri Lankan American independent filmmaker - without using an intermediary like a distribution company in L.A, is a feat practically unparalleled.

Regardless of the final outcomes as the Oscar and Golden Globe Awards season unfolds, these singular accomplishments of Gehan Cooray in Hollywood are cause for Sri Lanka as a whole to take pride in the country's very own, as Mr. Cooray continues to put the land of his birth on the map of the global entertainment industry.

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