June 12, 2024

Sri Lankan auteur Prasanna Vithanage is back at the Busan International Film Festival with thriller “Paradise,” which is in the Jiseok competition.

The film follows Indian couple – streaming content producer Kesav (Roshan Mathew, Sundance 2023 series “Poacher”) and blogger Amritha (Darshana Rajendran, “Hridayam”) – who are on vacation in Sri Lanka during the country’s ongoing economic crisis. They are the victims of a robbery and find themselves in the thick of the agitations.

The economic crisis in Sri Lanka began in 2019 and was exacerbated during the Rajapaksa family’s regime, leading to a state of near-total collapse and bankruptcy by mid-2022. The crisis had a knock-on effect on the film and TV industry as well.

“The thought behind the story was formed by two factors. The people’s uprising against the Rajapaksa family. There was shortages of essentials. People were in the streets demanding gas, electricity, fuel,” Vithanage told Variety. “Same time, after working on a historical film, “Gaadi – Children of the Sun” [Busan 2019], I wanted to make a film on relationships in the present day. I believe how we behave in a relationship defines us. I thought that combining these two factors would give me an opportunity to probe facets in both.”

The “Paradise” shoot was a stimulus for the ailing Sri Lankan film industry. “The Sri Lankan film industry was paralyzed by the economic crisis. This investment was a godsend. Many people in the industry got job opportunities because of the film. But, during the production, the country’s inflation rate hit 65%. The prices of vegetables and other essentials were soaring. Fuel was rationed. But we were able to make the film within the budget estimate,” Vithanage said.

The film is written by Anushka Senanayake and Vithanage and the cast also includes Mahendra Perera and Shyam Fernando. It is produced by Anto Chittilappilly for Newton Cinema, the outfit behind Don Palathara’s “Family,” which won much acclaim when it premiered at Rotterdam earlier this year.

“We founded Newton Cinema with a philanthropic vision in mind. Our mission is to support films that can serve as catalysts for positive social change and to back immensely talented filmmakers whose stories demand to be told. This commitment makes us exceptionally selective about the films we choose to produce,” Chittilappilly told Variety. Chittilappilly met Vithanage in Sri Lanka in 2020 when he visited the country for the production work related to another film.

“I was deeply impressed by his filmmaking style and finesse. Above all, he is a dream director to collaborate with, embodying the very best of what a production house like Newton Cinema seeks,” Chittilappilly said. “Upon reading the script of ‘Paradise,’ we were instantly captivated by it. We foresaw a riveting, fast-paced film that would keep audiences on the edge of their seats, their eyes transfixed to the theater screen. The film delves into various facets of human nature and is not only supremely entertaining but also boasts a high level of aesthetic excellence.”

The film has found some high level support. Revered Indian filmmaker Mani Ratnam has boarded “Paradise” as a presenter. Next up for the film is a theatrical and streaming release for which Chittilappilly is seeking buyers. Plans for a 2025 Oscar campaign for the film are also underway.

Meanwhile, Vithanage is working on an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s 1866 short novel “The Gambler.” The filmmaker had earlier adapted Dostoevsky’s 1876 short story “The Meek One” as “With You, Without You” (2012). “I am fascinated by his characters and how he reveals the human psyche,” Vithanage said.

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