A critique of the way politicians are sold to voters through media campaigns, Jayantha Chandrasiri (“Fire and Water”) incorporates some of the exciting freshness of new Sri Lankan cinema in offbeat second feature, “Guerilla Marketing,” but, disappointingly, allows its modernity to be continually jerked back to conventional drama. The anti-realistic elements, including innovative dance numbers that jump out of nowhere, seem to spring from Chandrasiri’s background in avant-garde theater. A silly, star-crossed love triangle, however, lowers pic’s tone considerably and will make it a much harder sell on foreign exotica markets.
Hot-shot idea man Thisara, convincingly limned by Kamal Addaraarachchi as an arrogant clown, works with his modern wife Rangi (Sangeetha Weeraratne) in an ad agency run by his juvenile love Suryama (Yashoda Wimaladharma.) When he lands the presidential election campaign for candidate Gregory Mahadikaram (a delightfully larger-than-life Jackson Anthony), he manufactures a dynamic leadership image out of Gregory’s unsuspected talent for modern dance, a lead-in to several exuberantly staged production numbers.
The pivot of the campaign, much appreciated by the candidate, is hiring actors to systematically spread “100 fascinating rumors” about him through the populace. But the strain of concocting so much fantasy ends with Thisara falling victim to the schizophrenia which, one imagines, must be an occupational hazard. The asylum he’s committed to offers a stage for much eye-rolling and more dancing.
There’s nothing very new in the theme of misleading advertising used for the worst possible ends, but writer-director Chandrasiri whips it up creatively as he applies it to Sri Lankan politics. It’s too bad he can’t shake off a misplaced urge to also hit the notes of traditional melodrama, both in tracing the roots of Thisara’s madness, and in the tender feelings he nurses for good girl Suryama (far too sweet and tradition-bound in Wimaladharma’s interpretation to convince as a hard-driving businesswoman.) As the ad man’s ballsy wife who’s not about to put up with any romantic rethinking, Weeraratne anchors the cast in a recognizable, if not very sympathetic, role.
Ruwan Costa’s lensing has some very well-done moments, notably with Channa Wijewardana’s ironically charged dance numbers, where traditional drum beats and modern steps blend headily with composer Premasiri Khemadasa’s contemporary sounds.