Paradise Movie Review: Rashomon and Ramayana In This Deftly-Performed Drama

Minimalism in messaging is a highlight of the filmmaker's style, one that makes Paradise a film that keeps shapeshifting as we recollect particular scenes and expressions
Paradise Review
Paradise Review

Director: Prasanna Vithanage

Screenplay: Prasanna Vithanage & Anushka Senanayake

Starring: Roshan Mathew, Darshana Rajendran, Mahendra Perera, Shyam Fernando, Sumith Ilango, Azher Samsoodeen

Available in: Theatres

Duration: 95 minutes

A confession scene set towards the last few minutes of Prasanna Vithanage’s ironically titled Paradise defines the ambiguity of its text. At once, you believe everyone is telling their truth even when the film has given you reasons to suspect otherwise. It ends with Ammu (an excellent Darshana Rajendran) asking her guide, a man named Andrews, if she was right in doing what she did a few days ago. The question is as good as the one that’s put forth to us as viewers and we remain in doubt, trying to justify her actions for her.  

It’s the sort of ambiguity we wrestle with when we catch ourselves travelling through this “paradise” from Ammu’s vantage. On paper, she has arrived in Sri Lanka with her partner Keshav (Roshan Mathew) to celebrate a personal milestone, and their arrival presents Keshav with the news of a highly lucrative Netflix deal. And yet you find glances and micro-expressions that suggest that their relationship is hardly the paradise it appears to be.  

In a quiet scene that is set around a beautiful candle-lit dinner spread, you notice how a gunshot disturbs Ammu (notice how gently Darshana’s mood dictates the tension of this scene), even as Keshav and the staff go about their night nonchalantly. When the same scene gets an echo much later, the masks have already come off and Keshav finds it fit to crack a joke (“Oh dear”, he says), mocking Ammu’s fondness for a deer.   

Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran
Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran

This gets you to ponder about the film’s parallels with the Ramayana, as they try to complete the Ramayana trail with Andrews as their guide. If the Agni Pariskha was meant to prove Sita’s purity after Lanka, you find a similar suspicion in the way we see Keshav repeatedly asking Ammu if she had locked a particular window that may have led to a burglary. But given the many scenes set in front of mirrors (especially the shaving mirror), you wonder how many faces of Keshav’s one must see to re-imagine him as Ravana. 

You get a sense of this ambiguity even in the way both Ammu and Keshav notice the bits of reality that come to disturb their notion of a paradise. We find Ammu to be sympathetic to the plight of Sri Lankans as they deal with the financial crisis. We see her stopping to ask questions about the protests and their concerns, even as we see Keshav limit his experience to work calls and meetings. She seems prepared for the Ramayana trail too having already read several versions of the epic. As for the obtuse Keshav, this very trip is nothing more than a steal deal facilitated by the crisis, an act of charity Sri Lankans must be grateful to him for. 

A still from Paradise
A still from Paradise

The crime around which the film is set becomes a catalyst to expose wounds that have always been part of their relationship, while it also exposes us to the volatile situation in the Island nation brimming with communal tension, police brutality and corruption. In a throwaway dialogue, we see a police officer asking a cook if he’s Muslim just by tasting a piece of meat the latter has just cooked. A scene later, the same officer describes a caretaker simply as the “darker one” going on to elaborate how he is “one of them.”

This one statement ties together the four characters that turn into a silent team within Paradise. In what appears to be an ego battle between Keshav and the Sinhalese police officer, we find the cook, Andrews, Shree (the Tamil caretaker) and Ammu to be those that are severely affected as minorities often are in battles. 

It is this minimalism in messaging that remains a highlight of Prasanna Vithanage’s filmmaking style and one that makes Paradise a film that keeps shapeshifting as we recollect particular scenes and expressions. You find the same minimalism in Rajeev Ravi’s frames, as well as with K’s music, often leaving all the interpretations to us for further reading. 

Darshana Rajendran in Paradise
Darshana Rajendran in Paradise

With brilliant performances all through, including an excellent Mahendra Perera, and Roshan Mathew in one of his most complex characters, it’s a film that reminds you of how tiny aspects of one’s personal space expose their politics in times of duress.  

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