Acclaimed Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage’s Paradise, which stars Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran in the lead, is being screened at the 28th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). The film starts off gently, and slowly escalates to unsteady ground when a couple’s anniversary vacation goes awry. In an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times, the director sat down to talk about his process of writing Paradise, charting the history of the central relationship through a minimalist lens and why film festivals matter to him in more ways than one. (Also read: Paradise review: A marriage is put to test in Prasanna Vithanage’s tightly controlled drama)
Paradise marks your first Indian feature film. How long was this film in preparation. Talk to me about this journey.
This journey began when I made my first co-production with India in 2008, during Akasa Kusum, which was co-produced by A. Sreekar Prasad. We were in talks to work on a screenplay then also. I had completed the screenplay for Rajeev Ravi before this film, based on Booker Prize nominated novel Narcopolis. So, the preparation was always there- while I was doing Sri Lankan films, in collaboration with Indian artists. Almost all of the productions were Indian co-productions. So, then I got an invitation from actor Anjali Patil, who acted in my film With You, Without You. I wrote the screenplay for her… so it came with both the practicality and the investment. We had creative differences about the script, after which came Newton Cinema. So, to trace it all, I have been doing co-productions, and it was in the corner of my mind so to say, and then came an offer. It was a lot of factors coming together at the right time.
Paradise has been travelling to several international film festivals all over the world. What has been the experience like for you, interacting with the audience.
Film festivals are special. The spirit of it matters the most, and I am happy when my film is being screened with such great films. The young audience especially, coming from so many various parts of the country; they have so many questions… as a filmmaker it always feels gratifying when they come and say that I liked your film. That it had an impact on me. More than that, I am very happy that the film is able to touch the emotional core somehow. For me it’s not just about how they react, its also about finding out about their aspirations. I have even promised to some that I will work with them if they come up with something interesting! So it works in both directions I feel.
Talk to me a little bit about the history of the central relationship portrayed in Paradise. A lot is left unsaid, and there are but little moments that give away the details…
So, when I am working on a script I start from the character and their bond. Before talking to the actors, in the writing stage itself, I had a clear idea about the character’s upbringing and their geographical details… as well as their professional and personal relationship. When you know these details, it is kept in the background. In the exposition of the story, you need a certain remark that unleashes these details. For instance, when Amritha (Darshana Rajendran) is blogging, her husband (Kesav, played by Roshan Mathew) says, ‘Why don’t you continue your book?’ She continues with the blogging after he leaves. She does whatever she wants, in a way. She was an aspiring screenplay writer… but her life has now become under his shed. So I like these minimalist approaches- its not only about how less it is. Less is more.
I found one scene very interesting, where Amritha tells her husband not to kill the deer. The embedded reflection on Sita and the Ramayana, is so subtle. Talk to me about those decisions in the script…
Everything was on the script. Nothing was improvised in the situations, except one in the police station later. Rest of it, the aspect of the tour- they are not for Ramayana. He didn’t way to stay in Mumbai. The timing was also important. For me, Ramayana here works in a structure, where she uses the subtext to say something about what she witnesses. Not directly, but she feels it somehow. For instance, when she says about whether the tour guide still believes that Sita needs to be saved. She has had a disagreement with the husband, and he has moved away. The power politics is what the Ramayana brings into the present. I wanted to capture how the mythology, which is being used nowadays for so many purposes now… how its still very much alive and present. (smiles)