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Beyond the footlights: A peek at event life from the other side of the curtain

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 26 September 2017 00:00

By Shyam Hettiarachchi

In the world of local entertainment it is almost impossible not to have heard or seen the work of Imran Saibo and his company Funtime, as in almost three decades of entertainment his work has served as an example that has been followed by many of those who followed his pioneering footsteps into the arena of entertainment both public and corporate. Fondly referred to by some of those in the industry as the Godfather of Colombo’s entertainment world, Imran describes himself as an introvert hiding behind an extroverts mask. Who then is the real person, and what is the secret of his success, to keep churning out the ideas and concepts he does and to do it differently each time around, which undoubtedly takes a lot of imagination, creativity and hard work!

Our conversation took place in his studio apartment in Colombo, a nondescript building from the outside but once you step into it you could be forgiven for imagining yourself transported to anywhere in Europe. Shelves overflowing with books seem to surround you, abstract prints hang on the walls and the soothing sounds of a trumpet float down from the top floor (I later discovered this to be a Chris Botti CD being played over the speakers).

“Let’s get one thing out of the way first,” he said, as I armed myself with pen and pad to make my notes. “I am not an event manager, event coordinator or event supplier, I am for the want of any other title an event producer, someone who dreams up concepts, ideas and scenarios and turns them into reality.”

“Has a university education, especially one in the field of economics, in which you hold a Bachelor’s Degree helped you in the field you are in now or do you think it was simply a waste of time?” Imran’s ever present smile began to appear at this first question of mine. “Education can never be a waste,” he said. “In fact it never stops. Economics can help you in business, but reading, watching movies, the theatre, they all contribute to opening your mind, your imagination and allowing you to create. Knowledge in any form is a good thing and experience can be an even better teacher. For example a client would approach us with the idea of having a fine dining experience for their customers, how would my colleagues and myself conceptualise a fine dining experience if we haven’t experienced it ourselves? We have 500 or more people in a room for almost three hours and if we cannot give them an evening to remember then our objective and our clients is not achieved. To do this we must be able to get into the customer’s shoes and see feel and hear what he would experience before he experiences it.”

“With almost 30 years of entertainment behind you what would you consider your proudest moments or achievements?” Once again the smile surfaced; “I have a very bad memory when it comes to shows,” he said. “It’s just that I finish one and get on to the next one, but some things do stand out. As a matter of pride personally and for the local entertainment in this country I considered it an achievement when Galileo an airline reservation and ticketing engine based in Dubai called us to produce an event for their logo change in Dubai! Not only was the tech flown out of Colombo but the local artistes as well, and it all came about simply because the head of Galileo had attended a local event in Colombo produced by us for Emirates. For an overseas organisation to call us in without any local agency involvement, well, I consider that to be a high level of praise and confidence not only in our abilities as event producers but in the talents of our performers. Needless to say we wowed them that night and came away with our reputations intact. There have been other shows as well; a six hour nonstop event at Trafalgar square in London, Nicole Scherzinger of Pussycat Dolls fame in the Maldives and many more, not all of them come to mind right now.

At this juncture we were interrupted by the appearance of a rather large mastiff that had decided to join us; “Meet Jeeves!” After the introduction and a cursory sniff Jeeves stretched himself out on the floor and went back to contemplating life. “Why Jeeves?” I asked, and pat came the answer, one that I should have been able to predict; “That’s one of my favourite fictional characters right out of the Jeeves and Wooster books penned by PG Wodehouse.”

“You are by your own admission an avid reader; any favourite authors?” “PG Wodehouse, James Herriot, Ken Follet, David Baladacci, Sidney Sheldon, Richmal Compton, Frank Richards and I collect comics; not a very intellectual list I know,” he said laughing . “But reading for me is a form of escapism and I prefer to choose where I want to go.”

“It has been said that you have contributed to the careers of many of the local stars of today; would you like to tell us a little more?” The smile becomes a grin, “Let me say all the artists I know have got to where they were purely on their own merit, but I can give you some snippets on where their association with Funtime didn’t do them any harm. The band Misty for instance saw its beginnings at the Cinnamon Lake then known as the Trans Asia. I remember Rajitha looking for work after his stint in the Maldives as a two piece band; we were at that time looking after the entertainment at the Trans Asia and we hired him for the lobby with his guitarist. Rajitha used to play keyboards and sing and I soon realised that his was a wasted talent hidden behind a keyboard, so we had a brief chat and agreed on adding on a drummer, keyboardist and guitar player while he got out in front and did the vocals. From there we moved to the library where the name Misty was born. We took him on gigs overseas with the band and as a soloist and the rest is history. Bhathiya and Santush or B&S as they are known toured all over the world with us, in fact I remember standing on the streets of London and coaching them as to what to say for their first international interview with BBC Asia. BBC had approached the PR company looking to get an interview with any of the artistes performing with us and at this time we decided B&S would be ideal for this. Asanka Sahabandu actually worked at Funtime and during his short stint with us we came up with the song “Mala” which got him into the public eye, and that association still continues. Monique who now sings with the Gypsies, I heard her singing at the Hilton karaoke bar and immediately got her onto the Funtime bandwagon. She performed at numerous gigs as a solo artist for us before she joined a band. Wildfire I discovered singing at the JAIC Hilton Pub, with the combination of a shrewd marketing campaign culminating in an open air show at the St. Josephs College grounds the legend of Wildfire was born, Sharmain Willis I discovered through Facebook and the list goes on. We even created the much touted “Fusion” dance form with Channa Wijewardena who in my opinion is the greatest ambassador we have for eastern dance in this country, at first criticised by traditionalists and now followed and imitated by almost everyone.”

“One final question, in this year what would you consider the best shows you have pulled off, or what gave you the thrill you seek in producing these events?” The answer came back almost as fast as the question; “That’s an easy one,” he said. “Without doubt it would be the Red Carpet Affair and the Magic of the Movies both of them created and conceptualised in the style of dinner theatre , for a high end invitees only audience who loved every minute of it, featuring unique performances by a gamut of artistes. My only regret was that we couldn’t take these shows to the general public since the time and effort involved wouldn’t have made practical sense.”

With that I said my farewells to Jeeves and my host and stepped back into the real world of traffic and tooting horns, after having had a sneak peek behind the curtains at the man who though he may not realise it, is responsible for many of the innovations we see today on our entertainment stages. All in all a morning well spent.

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