OTTplay Logo
settings icon
profile icon

Paradise: Roshan Mathew, Darshana Rajendran's Busan Fest Winner Indicts Callous View Of Sri Lankan Crisis

Set in Sri Lanka during the protests after the country declared bankruptcy in early 2022, Paradise follows a couple who are touring the island because it is the “best time”—everything is cheap.

Paradise: Roshan Mathew, Darshana Rajendran's Busan Fest Winner Indicts Callous View Of Sri Lankan Crisis
Still from Paradise

Last Updated: 05.40 PM, Nov 09, 2023


This column was originally published as part of our newsletter The Daily Show on Nov 9, 2023. Subscribe here. (We're awesome about not spamming your inbox!)


IN Prasanna Vithanage’s Paradise, there is a constant juggling of the past, present and future. Set in Sri Lanka during the protests after the country declared bankruptcy in early 2022, it follows a couple Kesav (Roshan Mathew) and Amritha (Darshana Rajendran) who are touring Sri Lanka because this is the “best time”—everything is cheap, and the country is need of all forms of income in any currency possible. Even as the country grapples with its present crisis, its history, both ancient and recent, informs the present and the couple appear as unrepenting bystanders at first and active incendiaries as moments pass. It’s a time when the police have no fuel for their cars, but the tourists’ driver Andrew obliges Amritha to take her across spots he identifies as real locations from the Ramayana. Vithanage sets the mood at the outset—the couple are callous and entitled towards Andrew and talk down to him. When a bunch of Ealam Tamil children run behind them to sell guava, the response resembles a popular meme. Despite all the talk of the country requiring income, they don’t buy. They take pictures of the children and move on.

Roshan is suitably brutish in his speech and body language, how he treats people under him. He is an aspiring writer-filmmaker who is waiting for the final approval from a streaming platform for his pitch. What is it? It’s an Indian adaptation of Squid Game, the irony not lost on us when a man like that is producing a series on class war and disparity. The takeaway from the original is clearly lost on Kesav. As soon as he arrives at his homestay, he asks for venison in a country battling for every resource. Paradise is a slow burn in which there is a minor story inside every character that is waiting to explode amidst all the chaos and tension of the crisis. While the conflict between the privileged couple and the struggling locals is already established, the real one begins when there is a burglary in the homestay and the couple’s lifelines—their laptops and smartphones are stolen at knife point.

Still from Paradise
Still from Paradise

So far, Paradise that was focusing on the couple, Andrew and the home stay staff (so much is conveyed in how Vithanage blocks the workers and Andrew, where he stays and dines), now begins to involve everyone around the village. The authorities come into the picture when Kesav threatens that he’ll contact the Indian high commission. Paradise is a latent mood piece, Vithanage has Rajeev Ravi shoot the country’s breathtaking vistas in both beautiful and terrifying fashion, the camera does a slow glide out of the car’s windshield to rest itself on a huge rock where Andrew claims Ravana landed with Sita. The Ramayana makes an appearance now and then in Paradise, but the film’s achievement is in how it disturbs its pretense of calm with the tensions that have been rumbling on the inside for generations. Vithanage trains his lens not on the larger crisis but on the everyday problems that annealed due to the crisis. The Ealam Tamils lived under the oppression of the Sinhalese dominated authorities even before the financial problems of the country and the bureaucracy that feels pressured by Kesav’s unthinking demands gives in only to prey on the weakest. Paradise is of course a misnomer; it conveys something that the myths and history speaks of but that which does not exist in a divided land, and a couple like Kesav and Amritha, the more prosperous but ungenerous neighbours who only exist to prey further on the imagined dreamland.

(Paradise won the Kim Jiseok Award for Best Film at Busan International Film Festival and had its South Asia Premiere at 2023 Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival)

Get the latest updates in your inbox