Deepa Mehta opens up on the long-awaited release of Funny Boy in Sri Lanka: 'It's coming home'

As Funny Boy releases in Sri Lanka, Deepa Mehta opens up on film, its casting controversy, and her upcoming projects

Subhash K Jha January 28, 2022 11:35:14 IST
Deepa Mehta opens up on the long-awaited release of Funny Boy in Sri Lanka: 'It's coming home'

Deepa Mehta Is On Cloud 9. After more than a year of its global release her film Funny Boy about a boy growing up gay in Sri Lanka, will open in the country where the lovely film is set. Deepa tells Subhash K Jha why she just can’t stop rejoicing.

Deepa, Funny Boy getting released in Sri Lanka is a huge victory for you and all of us who supported the wonderful film. What are your thoughts on this breakthrough for the film that belongs to Sri Lanka?

I am so thrilled that Funny Boy is going to be released theatrically in Sri Lanka. To be followed as the opening film of the only LGBTQ festival in Colombo. It’s a big deal that it’s coming home, to be seen by the very folk who inspired Shyam Selvadurai’s novel Funny Boy. A novel that explored the nature of prejudice, whether sexual or racial.

Are you happy with the way Funny Boy was received across the world? If you had to change anything in the film, what would it be?

I don’t think any filmmaker can be totally satisfied by the way their films are received. I am no exception. Though not a total ‘love-in’, the film was really well received by critics. As the release was on Netflix in English speaking countries, I have no clue about its box office. However, I do know it ‘trended’ for ages.

With the praise came the brickbats?

Yes, there was some brickbats about it from the Canadian Tamils, who criticised that the gay lead was not played by a Tamil but by a Sri Lankan Burgher. Akin to saying that why is a Muslim playing a Hindu or why a Hindu is playing a Sikh. My favourite quote these days is one from Bertolucci Brecht the brilliant German playwright “Art is not what mirrors reality, rather a hammer that shapes it”. Would I change anything in the film Funny Boy? No, not a thing!

Why do you think the film remains inaccessible to Indian audiences and what is the solution?

Well, 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.

Way back in 1996 you made one of the most relevant LGBTIQ films Fire. So many years later while the world celebrates alternate sexuality through significant films, India's track record in the genre remains abysmal. Why do you think sensitive films on the gay community are not made in India?

No clue. Though one of the finest films I have ever seen about the trials and tribulations of being gay in India was Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh. Also, Onir’s My Brother Nikhil was excellent.

Deepa Mehta opens up on the longawaited release of Funny Boy in Sri Lanka Its coming home

Deepa, your career as a filmmaker who delves deep into societal prejudices is beyond impressive. What makes you do what you want to and say what you want to say, even if it gets you repeatedly into trouble?

Well, I guess I must be a sucker for punishment!

How have the last two years of the pandemic and lockdowns, been for you? How has your life and lifestyle changed?

It’s been frustrating on many levels. Mostly on a social one; the disparity between the rich and poor has never been so heartbreaking. The search for vaccinations, oxygen, hospital beds felt like the end of the world. My mother in Delhi is convinced we have seen the advent of kalyug. Our immortality has never been so evident.

What are you working on now? And which are the recent Indian films you have liked?

I am working on the script of one of my favourite novels Burnt Sugar, also known as Girl In White Cotton by Avni Doshi. It’s a superb, dramatic book about mother-daughter relationships. With any luck, we should be shooting in Pune this fall.

And the movies and serials that you liked?

I loved Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple. Some series come to mind: The Family Man, Maharani and Delhi Crime. Streamers are great for series I think. However, nothing beats the experience of seeing a film in a movie hall. It’s the commitment to invest two or more hours to see a film outside the comfort of your own home. The knowledge that nobody can push the infernal ‘Pause’ button. That’s the joy of watching a film in a cinema.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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