Soosthi by Kushan Weeraratne gets off to a great start, but starts meandering soon and fizzles out in the end
It may not be quite right to call Soosthi a biker movie. But, after Motorbicyle by Shameera Rangana screened in 2016, this is the second youth-oriented movie to focus on bike-riding youth, their frustrations and aspirations.
Would anyone call Motorcycle Diaries by Walter Salles, based on the epic motorcycle journey undertaken by a very young Ernesto Guevara and his friend Dr Alberto Granado across Latin America a biker movie?
Probably not, but it has one essential ingredient of the genre – the riders are rebels at heart, at odds with the system.
It won’t be quite right to call either of these movies offshoots of The Easy Rider, the 1968 cult classic in which two young men (Henry Fonda and Dennis Hopper) set out on the Hippie trail on two cruiser bikes.
Neither is The Easy Rider the source of all biker movies made since. The Wild One (1953, directed by Laszlo Benedek) precedes it. But it is no coincidence that both our biker movies too, have an element of lawlessness written into their scripts and characters, whether their makers were influenced by the Easy Rider tradition or not.
"The starting premise is excellent. Malaka and Soosa, two young people bent on committing suicide, meet each other on a rooftop. They decide to postpone the suicide for one week and set out to see the country in a borrowed motorcycle"
The trouble is, while Soosthi (Directed by Kushan Weeraratne) gets off to a great start, it starts meandering quite soon and fizzles out in the end.
The script is loaded with dialogue which can be an actor’s despair, especially the long-winded sentences that Malaka (Kalana Gunasekara) has to churn out, conveyor belt fashion, in the scene at the waterfall.
The starting premise is excellent. Malaka and Soosa, two young people bent on committing suicide, meet each other on a rooftop. They decide to postpone the suicide for one week and set out to see the country in a borrowed motorcycle.
From the start, the disgruntlement of the two with the country’s politics, and much else is obvious. They dream of migrating to France (A haven to a widely differing gallery of many similarly disgruntled characters, among whom one can count both the illustrious and the notorious, from poet William Wordsworth to 1920s American artists and writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Pol Pot, Ayatollah Khomeini and Somawansa Amarasinghe).
Since the two ‘would-be-suiciders’ in Soosthi can’t beat the system, they get their adrenaline from hating it. In the Easy Rider, Wyatt and Billy aren’t haters. They are gentle characters who willingly live outside the system and their journey is an inward search looking for answers to an inner spiritual confusion. Their rebellion is quiet and the drugs they smoke are only a means to an end.
"The movie is full of pleasing liberal political ideas – ethnic harmony, yearning for democracy"
In Soosthi it is Malaka who introduces Soosa (Samanalee Fonseka) to marijuana on the way. But that whole episode looks out of character as far as she’s concerned.
Socially and as well as morally, she seems a notch above him, and the joint doesn’t really work as a leveller of social barriers here. She has a conscience while his character makes you wonder whose side he is on. She has a reason for running away from home. He shows none. He lies to a friend, borrows the bike for one evening and vanishes without a trace for a week. When it runs out of fuel, he abandons it on a hilltop. Soosa is romantic. He is not, he merely reacts to her, he is not sexually aroused (it’s Soosa who takes the initiative and kisses him), and it’s very hard to understand this character. It is even harder to like him.
Malaka’s character reminds of us Michel, the anti-hero of Breathless, Jean Luc Goddard’s 1960 movie about a criminal who kills a Policeman and escapes in a stolen car with his American girlfriend.
But Soosthi’s Malaka is neither here nor there. He isn’t a criminal, only anti-social.
The ending suggests that he is a con. The final scene (in which debut actress Dishney Rajapakshe has a cameo role) is a repeat of the start. Whereas Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is charming and likeable, this character looks and acts so awful that we can’t understand why Soosa decided to spend a week with him in the first place, suicidal as she might be.
The movie is full of pleasing liberal political ideas – ethnic harmony, yearning for democracy and corruption-free good governance, a better quality of life for everyone – but the behaviour of Malaka makes us wonder how he would turn out to be if he ever become a politician. Goddard’s Michel, though a criminal, is redeemed by his love for Patricia. Soosthi’s anti-hero has no such redeeming qualities.
"Malaka is neither here nor there. He isn’t a criminal, only anti-social. Ending suggests that he is a con"
On the positive side, this movie avoids the embarrassing sex scenes so typical of our ‘new wave’ movies, often no better than crude home-made pornography. It attempts with some success to capture the scenic beauty of the island (include the austere colour harmonies of east coast beaches). But this movie’s shot composition is limited in scope.
Whether one calls it a biker movie or not, the story is about two people constantly on the move on a motorcycle. That kind of story begs long shots with stunning vistas and aerial views. But all we are seeing are close-ups and medium shots much of the time.
It was a mostly youthful audience at the premiere. Judging from reactions, Soosthi might be a hit with youth audiences, but this is a biker movie which doesn’t go anywhere.
Samanali Fonseka brings some depth to her character, but Kalana Gunasekara can’t do that because his character has no depth. W. Jayasiri is superbly comical as Soosa’s outraged father, and Maureen Charunee has little to do except stare in a stupor for much of the movie, and finally put her husband in his place with an outburst.
The soundtrack meanders along with the storyline, without giving us a single melody line you can take home. Honestly, someone should figure out a way to get this clueless duo to France, but they should be put on separate flights. There’s no way this couple can take off together.
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