By Rochana Jayasinghe –
The Covid-19 pandemic has, in more ways than one, caused colossal shifts in social realities, and just as in instances of other similar upheavals, artistes have taken to funnelling their creative energies through many a form and media. Film, in particular, has been a useful and expressive tool by which the disintegration of illusory perceptions has been wielded by artistes.
Udan Fernando’s A Covid Honeymoon is one such form of art, and it is based on a true story of a couple having spent two months in isolation in a Singaporean hotel room amidst Covid-19 restrictions. Throughout a span of 22 minutes, he delineates the progression (or rather, regression) of this couple’s relationship while in isolation. Once the opening scene has sufficiently shown the tension-ridden communication between the couple, we are taken through the film’s opening credits which are embedded in a long shot through clouds, symbolizing a plane ride. The significance of this is twofold; on one level, it represents Sanduni’s and Rashmin’s trip to Singapore, and on another, it evokes the flight from Singapore to Sri Lanka two months later, on which Fernando himself learns the story of this ill-fated ‘honeymoon’. What then follows is essentially an extended flashback elaborating on the couple and how they get to where they are.
What was of personal interest was the visual (and auditory) handling throughout the film which complements the plotline and incidents taking place. Though the filming had taken place in Sri Lanka, clips especially like that of the speech of the Singapore Prime Minister enable a vicarious experience of the spatiotemporal context in which the film is set – the early rise of Covid-19 in Singapore when it was not as serious an issue in Sri Lanka, owing to which, assumedly, Sanduni and Rashmin travel to Singapore in the first place. This speech functions almost as a narrative of its own when the couple’s actions in the cooped up room, start to symbolically resonate with the Prime Minister’s voice and actions. This speech then gradually recedes into another voiceover comprising that of a news-reporter in Sinhala and certain clips in Sinhala which at the time, featured prominently on Sri Lanka media and social media alike. Against this vocal landscape is a short rendition of the couple playacting with their temperature ‘guns’ (infrared thermometers) as real guns, which I thought was a clever device in metaphorically depicting the danger of the virus and its impact.
The background music too, functions as a propeller of the narrative. We learn that Rashmin plays for a band – his guitar has made its way to Singapore along with the couple, and towards the end of their stay, the guitar, slipping out of tune, displays evidence of excessive usage sans proper care, with at least one string sticking out. While Rashmin plays out of tune, the background plays a more skillfully rendered guitar instrumental piece, which perhaps serves to echo what the music may have been before, and could have been if not for the pertaining circumstances. It is at this point that we are privy to the disintegration of the couple’s relationship, with the onset of suspicion, jealousy, and annoyance at each other. The two types of music sharing the same audiovisual space, represents both the relationship’s heyday as well as its collapse, be it temporary or permanent. At the end of the film however, when the film returns to the present, it is hinted that this collapse may only be temporarily.
While such manipulation of visual and background effects, is quite clever, the plotline falters at a certain point. What seemed a little confusing was the exaggeratedly sinister representation of the hotel owner. From the beginning, the viewer is made to feel that the hotel owner’s actions have a much larger, negative, and direct role to play in the climax of the film, and it was a little disappointing that it did not transpire so. There seemed to be a disproportionately long time allocated to the dialogue concerning the hotel, which makes the viewer believe that its content has a direct role to play in driving the plot, but it is not the case. Of course, the dinginess of the hotel room they end up with, does have its impact on the relations of the couple, but the secrecy seemed a little inflated. While Chandana Prasad Suriyarachchi’s portrayal of the character is skilled in terms of the menacing effect it produces, the point of that portrayal is not addressed in the plot– unless it was supposed to symbolize the broader threatening circumstances the couple eventually find themselves in.
The rendition of Sanduni and Rashmin as an inter-class (and inter-racial, but I believe there is no highlighting of it in the film) couple and their financial struggles, and later their own emotional and relationship struggles, is quite boldly portrayed by Antoinette Thilakshini Rathnayake and Xavier Kanishka. The other technical aspects too, as mentioned before, are eloquently brought out by the team comprising Sameera Weerasekara, Lahiru Kanishka, Marlon Jayans, Mananuwan Rupasinghe, Lahiru Kanishka and Yoshitha Perera under the masterful steering of Udan Fernando. Overall, the team creates a film that could perhaps be regarded as an early work of art in the genre of pandemic art in Sri Lanka.
*Rochana Jayasinghe, University of Peradeniya