- Ladies’ underwear and fetishes – exploring mental illness
This past weekend we finally managed to watch the highly talked about Underpants Thief (ජංගි හොරා). This title alone has propelled this film to instant stardom – leading up to actually watching the film we had brought up the words ජංගි හොරා and the equally hilarious translation of “underpants thief” several times in casual conversation.
We watched it at the Savoy Premiere (Roxy Cinema) – Wellawatte, which has turned into a hotspot for Colombo’s local film releases, but the film is now available in Anuradhapura, Rathnapura, Ambalangoda, and Maharagama.
The film is an adult drama film, with the Public Performance Control Board having granted permission to screen it with an “adults only” certification. This was likely due to the subject matter of content and mild nudity.
ජංගි හොරා is directed by veteran Sri Lankan filmmaker and Sri Lanka’s Filmmakers’ Guild President Somaratne Dissanayake, who is also well known for his critically and commercially successful works like Saroja (2000), Punchi Suranganavi (2003), and Sooriya Arana (2005), just to name a few.
The film was produced by Renuka Balasooriya, and stars Pubudu Chathuranga and Dilhani Ekanayake in lead roles along with Chinthaka Kulathunga and Buddhi Randeniya. The music was composed by Rohana Weerasinghe.
The story revolves around the film’s male protagonist who suffers from a specific mental illness. Psychotherapist Ruwan M. Jayatunge MD, who watched the film, wrote that, in his opinion, the illness is a possible fetish – specifically an attraction to women’s underwear. The story follows this main character, his relationships, and interactions, primarily with his brother’s wife.
Having watched the film with a live audience, the first thing we have to mention is that the tone of the film felt quite inconsistent, to such a point that the audience was slightly confused the majority of the time – wondering if we were meant to laugh or reflect. However, we were able to speak with some audience members who watched the film with us and they shared that they wonder if the tone was left ambiguous in order to keep the audience on their toes.
The film overall was quite unsettling and we feel that was intentional. However, despite the interesting subject matter, the portrayal of mental illness was questionable at best. The acting choices were basic, lacking in nuance. However, if we are talking about performances, a special mention must be made of the female lead Dilhani who did a truly fantastic job and really carried this film.
Visually, the film was just okay – although the underwear budget on this film must’ve been through the roof, and please note how we say “underwear” and not “underpants” like the film – where they awkwardly tried to shoehorn the word “underpants” into every possible occasion despite the fact that it is not the colloquially used term. There’s really no need to be doing this; we understand a catchy title and not needing it to be mentioned all throughout its dialogue.
While the attempt at addressing taboo topics should be admired, it is quite a shame that the way it was done was not more refined. While art does not always have an obligation to educate society, since there was an attempt after all to make social commentary, we would have liked to see a further exploration of the mental illness aspect. However, what we ended up getting was a lukewarm effort at best, but we will take what we can get.
It is no way a perfect film, and certainly not Dissanayake’s best effort, but it is still a great effort at exploring a topic that Sri Lankan society tends to shy away from, and therefore, we believe the film deserves an audience and we encourage everyone to go watch it.