- Fans and fellow artistes weigh in
BY Venessa Anthony
Representation matters; whether you belong to a different culture or race, or even with regard to your sexuality. The book-turned-movie Funny Boy released last year (2021), features a crucial representation focusing on a gay love affair set in a tumultuous Sri Lanka. The movie is based on Shyam Selvadurai’s book of the same name.
Although the movie, directed by Deepa Mehta was set in and featured Sri Lankan actors, Funny Boy wasn’t available on local streaming platforms due to various reasons. Recently, it was announced that the movie will be screened in local theatres soon, which sparked some excited chatter and some discourse as well, as Mehta has even previously addressed in interviews. The actors in the film too, expressed their surprise in finding out the film is to be screened locally. After months of attempting to host underground screenings, the film is finally available to the people that need to see it. The movie is screening at Scope Cinemas and PVR Cinemas One Galle Face. Tickets can be purchased via their respective websites for anyone interested.
Brunch had a chat with a few people who’d already seen the movie on whether this was a welcome move.
Mehta has previously said that there was some brickbats about the movie from Canadian Tamils, who criticised that the gay lead was not played by a Tamil but by a Sri Lankan Burgher; feelings which were resonated within the Sri Lankan Tamil community as well, but it seems as though it was simply a matter of language and the pandemic that kept the movie away from theatres. In a recent interview with Indian news and media website First Post, Mehta shared that the pandemic and closure of movie halls didn’t help. “The fact that it was in Sinhalese, Tamil, and English didn’t help either. And Netflix India passed on it very quickly,” she had stated on record.
‘The film highlights themes the local film industry shies away from’: Actor Ashan Dias
In conversation with local actor Ashan Dias, he shared that he had the privilege of being invited to a screening of Funny Boy last year. He told us that while he hadn’t read the novel, so far as he could tell, the story was set in the 70’s and early 80’s, a turbulent time in ethnic tensions in the country. “It touches on several issues including said racial tensions, and struggles with the search of and acceptance of one’s identity within the socio-political framework, but also in a more personal level with each character,” he noted, adding that acceptance of oneself and acceptance of others the way they are becomes quite complicated when everyone is struggling with a common larger issue while dealing with their own demons.
When talking about why the story holds an important message, he stated that these struggles and complications are brought out so well in the way the story is told, so much so that the empathy we feel for the characters very quickly turns into sheer frustration at what they have to go through, and that is one of the largest testaments to the success of this film.
This is why he interpreted the entire film to be about joy; regardless of the very dark and scary history-altering events that were unfolding, and in spite of the underlying hopelessness and desperation in the face of so many issues, he believes that Arjie sets a tone of irrepressible joy and maintains it right throughout the film.
Commenting on the time it took for the film to be approved to be screened in the country, Dias shared: “If you take the average time that a film that’s made here takes to get released, I don’t think this is too long at all; I think it came out quite quickly.”
Overall, he shared that it was visually and technically a beautiful piece of storytelling, strengthened by some amazing, heartfelt performances by a wonderful cast and added that it is so important that movies like this get shown in Sri Lanka. “A lot of things we shy away from discussing in this industry are seen in this film. The local film industry keeps copying and recreating the same themes and stories, instead of things that are actually hard to talk about,” he added.
He also commented that he is grateful to Deepa for the deep joy and the resulting hope he felt through Arjie, through Funny Boy.
‘We need to see different people and their stories reflected in the things we watch’: Lulu Wijayasekera
We also spoke to movie enthusiast Lulu Wijayasekera on her thoughts about the movie. She shared: “I, personally, thought it was fantastic. I hadn’t read the book so I didn’t have any preconceptions about the movie. It was beautiful to see the story unfold albeit slightly jarring with such a traumatic backdrop.”
For Wijayasekera, representation undoubtedly matters, when it comes to movies with similar underlying themes being shown more often in Sri Lanka. “We need to see all kinds of different people and their stories reflected in the things we watch,” she said, adding that just because a certain setting or theme of the movie is dark and speaks of events that we, as Sri Lankans tend to hush and converse about only in whispers, doesn’t mean that the newer generation mustn’t be educated on what went on back then.
When speaking about the oddly long time the movie took to be shown in the country, despite being available in other countries, she commented that it was a double whammy of Covid-19 restrictions and maybe a hesitancy to embrace the journey of this Funny Boy. “I’m just glad it was finally screened here in Sri Lanka. It was absolutely bizarre that half the world had seen it before we got to,” she noted.
‘This story should be told for people to grapple with reality, to relate, to understand, to accept’: Filmmaker Yashodara Kariyawasam
Filmmaker Yashodara Kariyawasam shared that she thinks these films should be shown all over the country. “Our culture right now, as rich as it is, is poor. It rarely understands the ways of life and constrains people into preconceived notions which are more of a one-size-fits-all box.” In her opinion, movies are an art of storytelling. This is why she firmly believes that stories about topics such as this need to be told for people to grapple with reality, to relate, to understand, to accept.
Commenting on the time it took for a film of this nature to be shown in Sri Lanka, she shared that Sri Lanka is slow to move with the times. This slow nature, she explained, is not only seen in the entertainment industry. “As a nation we are slow to embrace change. I guess that’s why,” she commented.
‘Careful thought has gone into bringing Shyam Selvadurai’s popular novel to life’: PR Executive Anuki Seneviratne
We also reached out to Public Relations Executive Anuki Seneviratne, who hasn’t watched the movie yet, but shared her perspective from a reader of the book. She told us that the book explores all that is stigmatised in Sri Lanka, even more when captured against the landscape of the civil war. “From the snatches of the clips of the movie that are on YouTube, I can tell that careful thought has gone into bringing Shyam Selvadurai’s popular novel to life. The book ended way too abruptly in my opinion,” she shared, on why the movie has received so many acclamations.
She also said that showing such movies in Sri Lanka could go two ways. “One offers a much needed glimpse into what it feels like to be ostracised from society. The other transports one back into the grisly horror that once was the Sri Lankan civil war, one that the nation has engraved into their minds forever,” she shared.