“They say Ravana is in slumber,” says the tour guide-cum-driver. “He will arise and save Lanka one day.” At another moment, the visitor asks the guide, “Do you think when women face problems, they cry and wait to be rescued by a man? In the Jain Ramayana, Sita fought Ravana face to face, and Rama was her charioteer.” In Prasanna Vithanage’s Paradise, his first Malayalam movie, which won the Kim Jiseok award for the Best Film at the Busan International Film Festival, the Ramayana is a constant undercurrent. In the movie, filmmaker Kesav (Roshan Mathew) and blogger Amritha (Darshana Rajendran) holiday in Sri Lanka during the 2022 crisis. There is no electricity, no gas, prices are at an all-time high but tourists bringing in much needed revenue are welcome. Vithanage, a pioneering Sri Lankan filmmaker, had the idea when a documentary filmmaker couple from India visited a resort, St John’s Bungalow at Riverston, Sri Lanka, to retreat for a week before separating for good. “But they had such a good time that they chose to stay together,” laughs Vithanage. Then Covid struck and as the mood darkened, Vithanage thought of looking at the crisis through a couple that has nothing to do with the trouble. “How this relationship opens up, unravels, becomes the story, and a functioning marriage becomes fragile is the story,” says Vithanage. Who is Ravana and who is Rama, becomes the question. “The Ramayana belongs to all of us in Southeast Asia. It is a story about the meaning of life, defining what is right and wrong at a time when everything is grey,” he adds. Darshana, as the woman who begins the film as an onlooker, but then rises and expresses herself, and Roshan, as the middle-class professional, indifferent to events around him, play their parts well. EH Carr said history is a dialogue between the past and present. For Vithanage the dialogue continues.
The Coach in Action
He’s been Hrithik Roshan’s coach since Kaabil (2017), worked with Sonam Kapoor on Neerja (2016), and directed Sushmita Sen in seasons one and two of Disney+Hotstar’s Aarya (2020). Vinod Rawat, an FTII acting graduate, (2006-2008) has also acted in a few films but the crowning glory of his career in Mumbai came when he went back to his roots in Uttarakhand for his first film as director, Pushtaini. Son of a government driver, Rawat grew up in Delhi, studying at Kendriya Vidyalaya in INA. But for his first film, which is being showcased at the Jio MAMI Film Festival, he goes back to his father’s village, Someshwar, and his aunt’s village of Bageshwar. Like Jayant Digambar Somalkar in Sthal, he drafted his entire family into the movie, with his sister and brother-in-law playing themselves in what is an utterly moving tale of self-discovery and forgiveness. Rawat has has several avatars before this one—he sold computer peripherals in Nehru Place and Laxmi Nagar in Delhi, worked at McDonald’s at Saket and Lajpat Nagar, and worked in Kshitij Repertory before taking Rajkummar Rao’s advice and going to FTII. Rao, incidentally, makes a cameo appearance in Pushtaini. Rawat is 41 now, and says he understands the meaning of patience. “It’s been slow and steady. Success came late but there was no need to panic.” Rawat’s film is filled with honest emotions, the result of working with untrained but spontaneous actors. “My aunt was more concerned about feeding her cows and goats than about being in the movie,” he says, laughing. He’s just back from Sardinia, Italy, where he was with Roshan while shooting two songs for his next film Fighter. “There is a reason for why he is where he is,” says Rawat, who travels with him on shoots. “His discipline, hard work and focus are things I have to learn from.”
Scene and Heard
Taapsee Pannu could have comfortably gone on with her star-making roles in Mulk (2018) and Thappad (2020) but she chose to become a producer, in order to create more stars the film industry could bet on. She produced the recent Dhak Dhak, a motorcycling adventure featuring four fabulous women, Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanjana Sanghi. Not one to stay quiet, Pannu has been vocal about the industry practice of releasing small movies like Dhak Dhak without adequate promotion and then dumping it on streaming, but not without recovering the film’s cost. She believes it is a disservice to cinema and will only end up extending the monopoly of the existing pantheon.