In 2022, on the day that Sri Lanka declares bankruptcy, an Indian couple arrives in the country for a vacation. Kesav (Roshan Mathew) and Amritha (Darshana Rajendran), who are accompanied by tour guide Andrew (Shyam Fernando), find a red carpet laid out for them that isn’t available to the locals.

Seen from the safety of their tourist vehicle that is running on precious fuel, the seething anger of the Sri Lankans at their government’s capitulation appears distant, until it isn’t. At the hotel, Amritha welcomes a candlelight dinner: “Oh, that romantic!” The reply of the staffer Shree (Sumith Ilango) – “Power cut, madam” – is gently ironic as well as unwittingly prophetic.

A theft transforms a holiday into a nightmare – and a discovery. Just as Amritha begins to see her surroundings differently only after her phone goes missing, Prasanna Vithanage’s Paradise urges us to look beyond its deceptively simple plot. While Kesav is incandescent at the robbery, Amritha questions the speed with which investigating officer Bandara (Mahendra Perera) is mopping up suspects.

Paradise creates a delicate balance between its study of a marriage, Sri Lanka’s troubled sectarian history, and the nation’s connection with the sacred geography of the Ramayana. Apart from a few scripting contrivances, Vithanage’s screenplay, written with Anushka Senanayake, is a thoughtful portrait of human nature revealing itself under pressure.

The multi-lingual movie – with dialogue in Malayalam, Sinhalese and English – is the acclaimed Sri Lankan director’s first release in India. Several Indian technicians have worked on Paradise – cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, editor A Sreekar Prasad, sound editor Tapas Nayak, and music composer K.

Vithanage previously cast Indian actor Anjali Patil in With You, Without You (2018), a loose adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella A Gentle Creature. The text guiding the morality play in Paradise is the Ramayana, portions of which played out in present-day Sri Lanka. Rather than a literal interpretation, Vithanage dips into the rich history of approaching the epic from different directions.

Amritha’s spotting of a deer is as real as her faith in her husband’s judgement is slippery. Amritha and Andrew have different readings of the Ramayana, which especially comes back to haunt Amritha. Paradise is being presented in India by Mani Ratnam, whose Raavanan (2010) similarly reinterpreted the Ramayana from the perspective of its supposed adversary.

Rajeev Ravi’s unobtrusive framing and A Sreekar Prasad’s quiet editing contribute to a sober – and sobering – drama. Lead actors Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran turn out excellent performances, with Rajendran especially thoughtful in portraying Amritha’s growing awareness of what is actually at stake.

The shape-shifting Sri Lankan actor Shyam Fernando is also very good as witness as well as conscience-pricker. Paradise is epic in scope but intimate too, laying out the unravelling of a country as well as a marriage.

Paradise (2023).

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In ‘Paradise’, an Indian marriage is tested by the Sri Lankan economic crisis