Doubtful comedy | Daily News
Ms Janice

Doubtful comedy

At the Liberty Cinema last week, I watched “Miss Janice”, a Sinhalese movie, offered as a comedy, a slapstick. The plot leaves no room for imagination.

A middle-aged man is summarily fired from a commercial establishment, as we presently learn, for committing fraud. In a subsequent dialogue he justifies the crime, he stole money from his employer in order to “assist” his family, consisting of a son, a daughter and his wife.

At no time in the movie is his family portrayed as desperately in need; they lead relatively comfortable lives, in a middle-class house, a plump stay-at-home wife, if somewhat nagging in her ways. The grumpy wife with a sharp tongue is a common theme in local movies, same as the inevitable “Hamu Mahathmaya”, a well-endowed man wholly occupied in causing trouble to the less endowed. Rarely in our films is the characterisation of the elite (“Hamu Mahathmaya”) convincing; the traditionally powerful man, supposedly rich, is often trivial and insipid in the portrayal.

The filmmakers attempt to give him a certain sophistication, achieving only a gross caricature: in culture, in posture, and apparently, there is no superiority, he only mocks the concept of a social hierarchy.

Shamelessly unscrupulous

Our middle-aged man’s son, perhaps in his late teens, though not employed, gets about on a powerful motorcycle, with some style, casually chic. His daughter, who is ‘going for classes’, is not wanting in teenage hip either.

Fired from his job, the main character (the middle-aged man) turns to a close friend, who is shamelessly unscrupulous (As the story unfolds we learn that the hero is no more scrupulous, although of a milder make-up). The friend suggests a ruse, as a way of finding employment. There is a well-to-do widow, a “Hamu”, looking for a manageress for her domestic establishment and also to act as a guardian for her young daughter.

Why doesn’t our hero impersonate a woman and by that deception get the job? Very conveniently, the friend’s wife is a make-up specialist, she could manage a convincing transformation of the elderly man to ‘Ms. Janice’, an elderly woman.

Persons with means are trusting, even naive. The widow is taken in by the charade and after some haggling hires Ms Janice for a monthly salary of Rs. 35,000 and she/he (Ms Janice) moves into the mansion and is asked to share the bedroom of her charge, the Hamu’s daughter. Meanwhile, the mother (the Hamu), is looking for a suitable marriage for the girl and there is an arranged visit by a prospective bridegroom. But it is too late, unknown to both mother and Ms Janice, the cupid’s arrow has already done its work, the girl is in love. With whom? Ms Janice’s son!


What does Janice do when he learns of this liaison, the moral crisis of his employment? He so arranges that the heiress, who he was duty-bound to protect, elopes with his own son!

For good measure, the filmmaker repeats the theme. There is this wealthy widower who chances upon a photograph of Ms Janice and is smitten by the mature “woman”. He courts ‘her’, laying bare his soul, his disappointment with his only son, who he will disinherit. A tantalizing prospect, this clown’s wealth is there for the taking! Schemes are hatched with his unscrupulous friend to dispossess the fool in the love of his possessions. Enter then the fool’s son, a physical ‘culturalist’, in a powerful four-wheel vehicle, with some unsavoury looking men, to warn Ms Janice- ‘keep away from my father you scheming woman’!

Yet another stunning revelation. Janice’s daughter has a secret lover. Who else but Mr Muscles, whose father is besotted with Ms Janice! Again a moral crisis, Janice resolves it to the maximum benefit of his family. He advises the fool to make up with the son and of course, pass on all his wealth to the young man. Matter, of course, the young man marries Janice’s daughter!

Obvious dunce

Ms Janice is a comedy; the purpose of a comedy is to make the audience laugh. While we laugh do we suspend judgment, can art ignore life? True, this is only a story, but a story that is ultimate, ignoble.

A weak man, fired from his job for committing fraud, assumes a female identity, Ms Janice, to commit further frauds on a widow and later a widower. We witness the facile betrayal of a widow’s trust; she employs him, lets him in her house and entrusts her daughter to his care. The widower, an obvious dunce, falls for the “female” charms of Ms Janice. Before the fool could uncover the masquerade, that the object of his passion is a middle-aged man, things are arranged beneficially for the Janice family.

The moral; there are no ethics, mendacity pays, family interests come first. A slapstick that leaves you drained of all moral sense; flawed men, with little good in them.