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Duran Duran’s Video Locations in Sri Lanka

As one of the most popular bands during MTV’s early years, Duran Duran was a trailblazer in music videos, sparing no cost to create productions with elaborate storylines in far-flung, exotic locales. For their self-titled 1983 video collection, the band traveled to the other side of the globe to film three videos in Sri Lanka, where they shot some of their most iconic work: “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Save a Prayer,” and “Lonely in Your Nightmare.”* Taken on its own, “Prayer” was all but a tourism campaign for the island nation, showcasing some of its most renowned and grandiose sights.

The next time you’re in Sri Lanka, hit up these locations so you can pose like Le Bon and the posse of unrelated Taylors.

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Colombo

Throughout the mini-movie “Wolf,” the band members race through the streets and markets of the capital city on the hunt for their frontman. One source says that some of the after-dark shots were filmed at the Pettah night markets. If anyone knows the exact locations, please let me know.

The famous shot of Simon knocking over the table in “Wolf” is reported to have been shot at the Pagoda Green Cabin (88 Chatham St.), as were the closing shots with the reunited band.

Galle Fort

Galle is quite possible my favorite location in all of Sri Lanka, due to its stunning beaches and historic old streets and buildings. While the town extends beyond the walls of the former fort, the main action lies within, with a bustling art and dining scene and plenty of boutique hotels. One such stopover is the five-star Amangalla Hotel (formerly known as the New Oriental), where scenes for several videos were filmed: the opening shots of “Nightmare,” with the woman writhing in her bed; the band all gussied up in the bar for “Wolf”; and Simon dancing with the woman in red for “Prayer.”

At the end of “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” Le Bon finally catches up with his romantic quarry on one of the fort’s overlooks, while in “Wolf,” the band frantically searches for him in the fort’s streets as Simon meanders through the local bazaar.

According to the Duran Duran site, many of the beach shots in the three videos were shot at nearby Unawatuna Beach.

Kandy

The opening to the video for “Lonely in Your Nightmare” showcases famed Kandyan dancers, although it’s unclear whether the scene was shot in Kandy or elsewhere in the country.

Maha Oya

Although I haven’t been able to find anything to support the theory, I’m pretty sure the river seen in “Wolf” around the 1:16 mark is the Maha Oya, based on the fact Simon is seen with an elephant in the river and this is the one closest to Pinnawala (see below).

Simon falling through the plank on the rope bridge may have been a nod to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, although that film’s famous bridge scene was shot on the Mahaweli Ganga. Although I haven’t been able to verify which production was shot first (all signs seem to point to “Wolf”), Indy’s influence can’t be overlooked. In his autobiography, Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran, Andy Taylor himself described the plot for “Wolf” as “Indiana Jones wants to get laid.”

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Once upon a time, this orphanage was on the up and up, but when I last visited in 2019, rumors abounded that the new management was less than kind to its residents, so do your due diligence before you visit.

Pretty much any time you see a pachyderm, it was shot at Pinnawala. The most prominent scenes can be seen at 3:36 and 4:20 (heh-heh) in “Prayer.” Several sites report that a drunk Andy Taylor fell into a lagoon at the orphanage and fell ill several months later, causing him to be hospitalized during the band’s Australian tour dates. So if you plan to visit Pinnawala, please don’t swim in the elephant poo.

Polonnaruwa

You could spend days visiting all the ruins, stupas (sacred hemispherical structures that contain religious relics), and Buddhas that dot the landscape of this ancient city. The first time I visited, I was shocked that I’d never heard such a place existed. (An equally impressive ancient city, Anuradhapura, lies about two hours to the northwest, although it lacks any Duranish connections.)

The two most prominent locales featured in “Prayer” are the reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara (“rock monastery”), which measures more than 46 feet (14 meters) long, as well as the standing image to its left (seen at the 4:02 mark); and Rankoth Vehera (“gold pinnacled stupa,” seen at 4:33). Directly after the aerial shot, the boys can be seen playing guitar amid more Polonnaruwa ruins before journeying to one of the most awe-inspiring locations in the ancient city, the headless Buddha of Lankatilaka Temple that towers 41 feet (12.5 meters) over the band as they gaze up in awe.

Rankoth Vehera stupa in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya

On top of the UNESCO heritage site of “Lion rock” is where two band members can be seen around the 2:26 and 4:22 mark of “Prayer.” Should you decide to make the trek up, you’ll be rewarded with ancient cave paintings, an up-close view of the massive lion’s paws (all that remains of a long-lost goliath statue that once guarded the site), and stunning vistas that stretch for miles in every direction.

Taprobane Island

Around the 1:35 mark of “Nightmare,” lead singer Simon Le Bon can be seen looking out over the water at a woman on a small island in the doorway of what is now an upscale hotel but was once a private residence designed to be the owner’s personal Eden. The island is located just off the coast of Weligama, noted for its stilt fisherman, who can be seen around the 2:00 mark in “Prayer.”

Three stilt fisherman in Weligama, Sri Lanka

Yala National Park

Several sources cite the park as a filming location, but none mention which scenes. Based on my visits, I’d guess it’s the 2:05 mark in “Wolf,” when a young boy runs across the misty plains to wring water on the forehead of our suffering protagonist, who lies on a rock after all his tail-chasing. Yala is home to much of the country’s leopard population but, alas, Sri Lanka does not have any wolves.

 

*Note that there are two versions of “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” the more well-known having London scenes, while the other (the original) was shot wholly in Sri Lanka.

Thinking of visiting Sri Lanka? Check out some books to read before you go.


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