The director has been at the forefront of the fight against censorship. In fact, his movie ‘Death on a Full Moon Day’ was banned from screening but later released by the court after a legal battle…writes Sukant Deepak
There is politics of the personal and the country. Rewind to the situation in Sri Lanka when the economic crisis hit, and citizens were out on the street agitating and demanding some semblance of ‘normalcy’. Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage’s International film ‘Paradise’, which won the Kim Jiseok Award for Best Film at the Busan International Film Festival 2023 where it recently had its World Premiere, revolves around a tourist couple from India who are in the island nation that time and explores their struggles with societal, personal, and internal challenges.
“It is only through crisis that we reveal ourselves completely — and think about the concept of paradise, a space enveloped in so-called perfection. In ‘normal’ circumstances, it is only a tiny part of us that comes through. Not to mention, personal is political and vice-versa,” he tells.
Starring Malayalam actors Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran, the film has been presented by Mani Ratnam’s Madras Talkies. In fact, several members of the technical team also hail from India.
This filmmaker, considered one of the pioneers of the third generation of Sri Lankan cinema, has directed eight feature films and won major international awards besides enjoying commercial success.
Calling Chennai his second home, Vithanage smiles: “I have worked with Indians for the past 27 years. It was during the post-production of my second film that the collaboration started. While I have had producers from there, this is the first time that I am doing an Indian language film which has been shot in Sri Lanka. Collaborations are always enriching, something I always look forward to.”
Vithanage, who started doing theatre right after school stresses that the art form has been instrumental in shaping him as a filmmaker. He says besides other things, it has taught him how to work with actors.
“Theatre involves rehearsing with actors for months altogether. While we cannot do that in films, I have always enjoyed the process of actors coming into their characters. Every moment brings out an elusive truth. Finding that is the true challenge and a beautiful one,” he says.
The director has been at the forefront of the fight against censorship. In fact, his movie ‘Death on a Full Moon Day’ was banned from screening but later released by the court after a legal battle.
Considering he belongs to a generation that has witnessed two uprisings and a long civil war, he feels it is his right as an artist to talk about these tragedies. “That is my catharsis, so I have done three films on the war. Considering battles destroy humanity, the most human thing you could do is give dignity, to whoever it is. And that’s the most human act. With art, one can bring forth several layers. Whatever the repercussions may be, you must stick to yourself, although there is a need to ask oneself — ‘am I being truthful or just want to grab attention’.”
Talk about the fact that not much art has been made on the civil war in Sri Lanka, and he says most of the parties are talking from their point of view but not looking at the others’ perspective. “It is always easy to polarise on religious and ethical lines, but difficult to reconcile. There have been truth commissions in Sri Lanka but their suggestions have not been applied. One witnesses a continuous polarisation and hate. People believe that they are suffering because of the other person. So how can there be any reconciliation?”
Believing that film festivals are important not just for screening excellent cinema but also for precipitating conversations around it, he adds they must serve as a platform for young filmmakers. “Else, how will we identify them?”