Review: Funny Boy

Brandon Ingram in Funny Boy

Funny Boy is the particular story of one Tamil boy in Sri Lanka during the 1970s and 80s. Around him, the larger political events between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese erupted into a 26-year Sri Lankan Civil War. This film is available on Netflix.

A “funny boy” is a gay boy in this story. It was illegal in the 70s in Sri Lanka to be gay. Played as a young boy by Arush Nand and a 17 year old by Brandon Ingram, we watch the struggles of Arjie as he grows up. He’s so different from his brother and sister. He wanted to wear lipstick and a sari, sing and dance. His father (Ali Kazmi) urged him to learn cricket, be less girly.

Nimmi Harasgam in Funny Boy
Arjie’s mother

His mother (Nimmi Harasgam) understood him a little better, but didn’t know how to protect him from his brother and sister, his father, and society outside the doors of their luxurious family estate.

Agam Darsh in Funny Boy
Aunties are the best

Arjie’s most understanding relative was his Auntie Radha (Agam Darsh). She lived in Canada and had come back to Sri Lanka to marry a Tamil Canadian man she didn’t like.

While visiting, Auntie Radha and Arjie worked together on a play, where Radha met a Sinhalese man she did love. A relationship between two such people was doomed from the start.

Later, Arjie at 17 would find his own first love among the Sinhalese as well – a boy from his literature class, Shehan (Rehan Mudannayake). Shehan told him they were normal. He said there were others like them. He shared his love of Davie Bowie with Arjie.

The closer the story moved to the 1983 riots, the more clear it became that the Tamil population was not safe, even rich Tamils like Arjie’s family. Some of his family members joined the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group fighting for equality. Arjie’s family needed to leave the country. Why do people never leave when they should? Why do they always stay too long?

This story about so many kinds of oppression and repression happening all at once is based on a novel by Shyam Selvadurai. The film was directed by Deepa Mehta and co-written by Mehta and Selvadurai. It was filmed in Sri Lanka and Toronto. Funny Boy featured dialog in Tamil, English, and Sinhalese.

There was so much here, so much to unpack. The film felt very long to me, although it was actually only 1 hour and 49 minutes. Ethnic and religious wars are never sensible, and this one didn’t make a lot of sense to me as it was told in the movie. However, the human emotions of love, fear, anger, joy, and pain were clear. That’s what gives the film its heart.

I enjoyed the great 80s pop music, but especially appreciated when the song from Flashdance was featured. David Bowie and The Police are nice, but reminders of Jennifer Beals can never be wrong.

Poster for Funny Boy

Here is the trailer. Notice the film is distributed by ARRAY, which amplifies voices of people of color and women filmmakers.

Have you seen this film? What did you think of it?

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