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Why Deepa Mehta made Funny Boy

December 02, 2020 19:54 IST

'There are so many who live in fear, just because they are being oppressed on the basis of who they love.'

IMAGE: Brandon Ingram and Rehan Mudannayake in Funny Boy.

Deepa Mehta's Funny Boy has been selected as Canada's entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.

An adaptation of Sri Lankan novelist Shyam Selvadurai's 1994 novel by the same name, it deals with the subject of homosexuality through its protagonist, Arjie Chelvaratnam.

The film is slated to release on December 4.

"For over 29 years, no director has given such an important story a chance to be seen and heard," Deepa tells Subhash K Jha.

Having read Shyam Selvadurai's novel, I can say you are the best director to bring its warmth, humour and pathos to the screen.

I can't say that I'm the best but I seem to be the only one who has done it.

For over 29 years, no director has given such an important story a chance to be seen and heard.

I was especially surprised, and saddened, when Shyam told me that no Tamil director even tried to do so.

I'm honoured to have been given this chance and tried to do my best to give it the space it deserves.

To be gay back in the 1980s was not as easy as it is today. Sexual repression is not an alien subject for you. How much do you think our social norms and taboos have altered since you made Fire?

In some ways, I do think we have progressed.

But not enough.

Homosexuality is still illegal in certain places, like in Sri Lanka where Funny Boy is set.

There are so many who live in fear, just because they are being oppressed on the basis of who they love.

With Pride celebrations and social organisations, there's definitely more dialogue today than there was years ago.

But there's a long way to go.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Deepa Mehta/Twitter

Fire was a radical film for the time you made it in. Now there are so many beautiful films on the subject like Call Me By Your Name and Falling.
What do you think of films that deal with homosexuality? Where does Funny Boy fit in?

I loved Call Me By Your Name and Falling. Both are very brave and well made.

As are films like Moonlight and My Brother... Nikhil.

The more cinema brings such stories into the spotlight, the greater the dialogue.

And that's what the world needs to bring about change.

Funny Boy is not just a coming-of-age story or about ethnic conflict.

It is a tale of humanity, and the world needs more of that, don't you think?

Tell me about your casting.

It took us a year to cast the film.

We cast in Canada, London, Sri Lanka and New York.

Shyam reached out to many people and groups in Sri Lanka to find actors from the community.

We even reached out to Tamil film-makers like Lenin Sivam to play the protagonist.

We did find some brilliant actors who couldn't make it due family issues, inability to get a visa and financial issues since it was a small independent production.

 

IMAGE: Brandon Ingram and Rehan Mudannayake in Funny Boy.

How did you find Brandon Ingram?

We did many auditions and many weren't the right fit.

But what was really important to both Shyam and myself was to get an openly gay actor to play Arjie.

We were so lucky that we found one who has brought so much vulnerability to the character.

In your vast amazing and diverse repertoire, where do you place Funny Boy?

That's hard to say.

Each film has had its own place for me, and Funny Boy is definitely one of my favourites.

SUBHASH K JHA