Paradise Review: Beautifully Realised Drama Is Beyond Masterful

A still from the film

Unswerving in its grasp of both philosophy and psychology, Prasanna Vithanage’s Paradise is a masterly evocation of the frailty of ‘man’ when faced with a crisis. A nation totters on the brink of economic ruination, a relationship drifts into a grey zone and both morality and humanity are put to the test in rapidly worsening circumstances.    

Paradise, written by the veteran Sri Lankan director in collaboration with Anushka Senanayake, is an astute, incisive drama that centres on a marriage buffeted by events unfolding in the world outside. But it isn’t just another ordinary tale of marital discord set in a “paradise” lost. Paradise is an unblemished amalgam of multiple layers of consciousness, ranging from the timeless to the instantly tangible, from the hoary to the contemporaneous.

Winner of the Kim Jiseok Award at the Busan International Film Festival, Paradise had its South Asia premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival on Sunday.

Produced by Anto Chittilappilly’s Newton Cinema, presented by Mani Ratnam’s Madras Talkies, shot by Rajeev Ravi, edited by A. Sreekar Prasad and scored by composer K (K Krishna Kumar), the Roshan Mathew-Darshana Rajendran starrer makes liberal use of Sinhala, Malayalam, Hindi and English as languages intermingle in a beautifully orchestrated interplay of cultures, interpretations of mythology and intonations.

Vithanage’s exquisite film it is an all-out exploration of turmoil within and turmoil without in a nation sitting on a powder keg. Public anger is at its peak and, as events take a disconcerting turn, a young Malayali couple on a Ramayana tour of Sri Lanka to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, accidentally run into the eye of the storm.        

Amritha (Darshana Rajendran), a blogger, and Kesav (Roshan Mathew), a filmmaker, are in the island nation two months after an economic downturn has triggered despair and disquiet all around amid shortages of essential commodities, fuel and electricity. What the couple encounters spans from the personal to the political, and from the intimate to the existential.  

Kesav, based in India’s financial capital and awaiting a decision from a streaming platform on a project that he has pitched, is on tenterhooks. The couple’s trip to Sri Lanka, now cheaper to visit than at any other time, is to help the man take his mind off the professional imponderables he is exercised over.

It all seems to be smooth sailing as their driver and tour guide Andrew (Shyam Fernando) takes them to spots where crucial events of the Ramayana are said to have occurred and fills them in with a wealth of mythic stories. They are then driven to a bungalow perched on a hill in the middle of a lush forest.

Trouble erupts in this idyll and sets off a discomfiting chain of events that sends the couple, like the nation they are touring, into a tailspin. Amritha and Kesav react differently as matters escalate quickly. The choices they make lay bare the workings of their minds.

The screenplay relies far less on words than on gestures and meaningful silences and expressions – the two lead actors are brilliantly understated. Much is left unsaid, a lot is articulated between the lines, and the underlying meanings of actions and reactions reveal themselves in all the opacity that humans are capable of when they are intent on self-preservation.

Vithanage’s layered examination of human behaviour is especially striking because he deals here with individuals who have no control over what is happening to them and around them. But Kesav thinks that his life, career and marriage are all poised for a turnround. The world, he seems to feel, revolves around him and that he has everything in control.

Amritha, sensitive and attuned to the beauty that she is surrounded by despite the upheavals that threaten the tranquility of the location, is acutely aware of the line that separates what is right from what is merely expedient. Within the marriage, the clear clash of ideals leads to a silent battle that ends explosively, and literally at that.

Besides Andrew, who sleeps in the driver’s quarters, the tourist bungalow has two other occupants – the caretaker Shree (Sumith Ilango), who has a hunting gun although he himself isn’t a meat eater, and the cook Iqbal (Isham Samzudeen), who revels in humming Hindi film songs as the night wears on in the woods.

Paradise is a beautifully realized drama about a nation, an economy and a people pushed into an abyss by the misgovernance of a political clan. Its repeated references to the Ramayana – Sri Lanka has over 50 sites that are associated with the Hindu epic – and the mass unrest in the nation serve as a backdrop for a story of two tourists.

Central to the film are a midnight robbery, a theft of precious belongings, a police investigation led by Sergeant Bandara (Mahendra Perera), the arrest of three men for a crime they may not have committed, custodial torture and brewing discontent. And there is a Sambar deer that becomes a bone of contention.

Of course, Vithanage, best known for Death on a Full Moon Day and August Sun (both which are about people grappling with the repercussions of civil war and ethnic violence), isn’t given to simplistic, judgmental delineation of characters.

The conflicting signals that he seamlessly weaves into the Paradise narrative without seeking to make anything too obvious is meant to spark questions more than provide answers. In fact, the apparent answers that the film points towards – many of them are in response to questions related to gender, to Ravana, Lord Rama, Sita and the Agni Pareeksha she was subjected to – are only suggestions and not last words.  

The storyline abounds in intriguing ambiguities as Vithanage approaches the problems that Amritha and Kesav encounter as they try to find a way around the crisis. They are led further and further into a quagmire in the process.  

The man is pragmatic to the point of being self-serving. The woman’s moral compass, in contrast, is intact. So, the issues that they grapple with are emotional, ethical and marital and the gap between how they view the world and what they want from it is a yawning one.

The two leads deliver impeccable performances that are marked by restraint and quiet power. Roshan Mathew is an epitome of poise even as he plays a man who appears to be amiable on the face of it but, when push comes to shove, has no qualms about making questionable moves. He modulates the shifts to perfection.

Darshana Rajendran is the core of Paradise. With her eyes alone she conveys a whole of world of emotions – joy, fear, doubt, agony – with minimal effort. Hers is a performance of astounding and enriching clarity.

The film is about a world floundering in a deep hole and in need of healing, but in his Paradise, writer and director Prasanna Vithanage ensures that nothing is amiss. It is beyond masterful. 


Roshan Mathew, Darshana Rajendran, Sumith Ilango, Shyam Fernando


Prasanna Vithanage


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