4 March, 2024


Don’t Look Up: Sri Lankan Scene

By Bhadraja Mullegamgoda –

Bhadraja Mullegamgoda

Don’t Look Up starring Leonardo DiCaprio is an attractive cinematic capture which encapsulates consequences of market economy and prevailing gaps in social and political environment in this capitalist world. The plot of the movie runs with two levels of astronomers who are eager to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy the planet Earth while the world collides with different viewpoints.

The movie starts with a discovery of a planet killing comet by “Kate” (Jennifer Lawrence) crawling towards earth.

In the Sri Lankan frame, one could compare this comet to unforeseen political, economic, and social forces which could wipe-out the country in one day. The first discovery of these factors were made by various people and groups in the early to mid-19th century. For instance, in the 1930s, Donald Snodgrass had clearly stated that Sri Lanka required some structural reforms in her economy, specifically innovative diversification of each sub-sectors of the economy.  In the sphere of social improvement, a series of gaps in the social structure is clearly highlighted in the Soulbury commission report, 1945. Further there was a special consideration in the 1930s on the topic of granting universal suffrage, whereas some experts presaged it would be grave error which could lead to corruption, intimidation, and election of unworthy representatives, and they were in the view of literacy or educational tests should be imposed on par with ignorance of electorate. Even today, these are hot topics in the country, but made to the ground in the 1930s.

In the movie: When “Randall” ( Leonardo DiCaprio), presented his team’s findings to the president the feedback was “sit tight and assess”. For the reason that to identify the opportunities to increase the political popularity.

All these years, after granting democratic independence, Sri Lanka were sitting tight and assessing the current situation by every regime while at worst, assessing part comes with an integral role of political ideology on making politicians super rich. In today, the majority of politicians have direct and indirect pathways of making money through various kinds of business ventures, where someone could interpret today’s parliament as the “Unofficial Business Council of Sri Lanka”. Perhaps, this may be a one of major impact of capitalism coupled with power and deed. Once a great economy which had a potential to grow faster than our neighbors  (In 1930, Sri Lanka placed among one of top level Asian economies) now heading towards to a disaster. In 1956, when nationalist left-of-centre coalition led by SLFP came to power, they set up a planning council which undertook their work to draft a ten-year plan. To date, it was a one of comprehensive planning document prepared by a South Asian country. Major strategies were to develop export sector, utilize dry zone, improvement of productivity of non-estate agriculture, and industrialization. At present, Sri Lanka required a similar kind of blueprint focusing on real sector growth to overcome prevailing economic downturn. The sad part is that “we are back to zero once again”, where such document would include same materials discussed in 1956’s planning document with a new face of late 4th industrial revolution. Subsequently, many development agendas commenced during 1960s to millennium. Although, feasibility of these work is questionable when examine their impacts as a growth factor. One of major constraint that could be identified is the implementation gaps flush with conflict of interests. For instance, it is very interesting to study the changes of the development planning within the parameters of socialist and state capitalist bias.

Although, the country had gained some momentum with particular policies and other inherited factors. Even in the period of ethnic conflict, policy makers moved the economy partly to a right direction alongside global trends. Some of them were implemented (E.g. Apparel industry, ICT related activities) and some were not,( E.g. Knowledge-based society is one of  key thematic areas discussed during the first five years of the 21st century, although still we did not afford the privileges in terms of skill-based human capital). Mostly, livelihoods of Sri Lankan rural communities centered with natural resources in their areas (E.g. Agriculture and Tourism). This ecosystem has provided a safety net for these people. Agriculture is the next best option for the majority, specifically when they lose their primary or other sources of income. Similarly, the factor of “family” is also a major safety net for the majority in the country when they lose their nods in terms of income or other. But current extreme ideologies have set fire to these safety nets. E.g. Organic policy.

In the movie, the original mission to strike and divert the comet aborts with the discovery that the comet contains trillions of dollars of rare earth elements. They create an awareness among the population that this comet is the key-to-human future, which could create millions of jobs.

Specifically in the developing world, the creation of awareness is one of the most commonly used manipulation tools/strategies to divert the thinking of a society to hide the truth. If you carefully study the political campaign designed and implemented by SLPP in the last presidential election, they had used various techniques to attack the peoples’ mind to create a top-of-mind kind of brand awareness. This is why the new concepts like “social media councils” are established in particular countries who valued freedom and human rights. The main objectives of such approaches are to increase information literacy.

The Present Case

Many individuals describe todays’ downturn as a “Forex Crisis”, some argued that the country also faced similar capital and financial account problems in specific years. But the position and influencing factors are different at this time. In simple words, today’s downturn is a consolidated impact of long run inevitable challenges including fiscal imbalances, weak institutions, policy inconsistency and implementation gaps, and other micro-scale factors like injustice, corruption, inequality, discrimination etc. These accumulated weakening factors have just triggered the Forex Crisis. Moreover, COVID-19 related shocks have aggravated this situation.

Now the picture of this downturn is visible. Shortages of agro products, essential items, intermediate goods, and manufactured goods coupled with rising Forex crisis are escalating the prices. Further, the Government is pressurizing the real sector markets through various levels of controls, in turn this would create a huge deadweight loss in the markets and only certain groups will be benefited while the general public would be negatively impacted by this shift. Further, Monetary imbalances which are caused by wrong policy choices are also gradually flowing to the real sector through multiple channels, showing a grave danger ahead of this road. To make things worse, despite the uncertainty in global markets, both advanced and emerging economies are eager to set their policy measures aiming at pre-pandemic growth levels. Once these changes work their way through various channels, it would have multiplayer effects on our economy.

Just Look up

In the movie: world view is divided among three groups, people who demand destruction of the comet, who believe that mining the comet will create jobs, and who deny that the comet even exists.

Likewise, the country’s opinion is also divided into three categories, namely 1. People who call for corrective measures to prevent this downturn, 2. People who believe in a rosy picture of the prevailing process will eliminate this downturn, and 3. People who do not know even this economic downturn is exists.

The Don’t Look Up campaign originated to intensify Americans to pretend comet doesn’t exist, so the working class can live their lives without intervention to the objectives of elite class, who are thinking comet will be worth countless trillions of dollars, which will make them super rich.

At the moment, the Sri Lankan economic downturn is gently touching the ground. A good indicator is the perception of youth on future opportunities in Sri Lanka. If one carefully examines it, the majority are highly likely to think of an opportunity in a foreign country. If respective authorities, specifically political leadership, would not act quickly as possible, this downturn would certainly switch into a major economic recession which had never experienced before.

*The writer is a PhD student at University of Colombo, and could be reached via email at mpbhadraja@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Yes, the “comet of unforeseen political, economic, and social forces” has impacted Sri Lanka rather severely. But the ruling Rajapaksa dynasty is floundering. It is ethically and intellectually challenged to deal with this crisis of epic proportions. They are only capable of running after Gnanakka and Thirupathi seeking their own welfare and personal protection from the comet – making a mockery of their avowed commitment to Buddhism.

  • 3

    OMG…..that’s a really good movie, and so pertinent to the Motherland! Only difference is that the comet was a real tangible object that business community could have made good money off, ushering a golden age for the global Elite if the Americans had worked with the other countries like China, Russia and others. Sri Lanka’s comet on the other hand, is an intangible one of compulsive gambling on the money of the struggling Masses + foreign borrowed money, on a 0.00001% chance of clinching global currency via bear-traps, bull-trap, and crypto-currency. Motherland is doomed! :’(
    Everybody must watch that movie and see the parallels. Similar movie or commentary must be made for the Lankan Masses to watch and/or listen to or read, in same parody style as the movie.

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