The Academy Awards might not be until April, but Funny Boy, Canada’s Official Oscar Entry for Best International Film, comes out soon to get you ready for award show season.
Funny Boy is the story of Arjie Chelvaratnam (Brandon Ingram), a member of a wealthy Tamil family who grows up in Colombo, Sri Lanka during the 1970s and ‘80s. Young Arjie (Arush Nand) likes to paint his toenails and dress up like the bride rather than the groom, but his family, specifically his conservative father (Ali Kazmi), discourage his “funny” behaviors. Only Arjie’s Aunt Radha (Agam Darshi) encourages him to be true to himself. However, when Radha is unable to follow her own advice and moves away, the story shifts to Arjie at 17. At school, Arjie meets his first love Shehan Soyza (Rehan Mudannayake), and if familial disapproval of Arjie’s homosexual relationship is not enough, Shehan is also Sinhalese.
The Sri Lankan Civil War between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) and the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan government rages in the background of Arjie’s love story. Tension rises to the point where Arjie and his family’s wealth can no longer protect them and Shehan and Arjie’s relationship becomes impossible.
Based on Shyam Selvadurai’s novel of the same name, Funny Boy offers a tender queer coming-of-age story set in a divisive and violent time in Sri Lanka’s history. At first glance, the movie is notable for its colorful set design which transitions between the picaresque Sri Lankan beaches and the violent streets of Colombo. The contrasts between the scenery also represent Arjie himself. As the self-proclaimed “grand diva,” Arjie joyously dawns red lipstick and a feather boa in his youth but must later hide his homosexuality to not anger his family.
Yet, Arjie is never apologetic for his affinity towards “girly” things. As a child, he questions his parent’s objections to his innocent behaviors. At 17, he acts as he wishes and opts to keep that side of himself hidden. Arjie’s story becomes universal in his questioning of the social structures and violence around him. He wonders why he can’t do feminine things or why a Tamil cannot be with a Sinhalese if they are not hurting anyone.
Selvadurai co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar-nominated filmmaker and director of Funny Boy Deepa Mehta. They illuminate the dissonance between self and society not only through Arjie but the characters around him. Particularly, we see a shift in Arjie’s mother Amma (Nimmi Harasgama), who quietly supports the Tamil Tigers and increasingly doubts her conservative husband. We even get a sense of Radha’s character arc although she is abroad for half of the film.
Though Funny Boy centers on queer topics, it is also about love and war, and the question of whether they can exist simultaneously. If you’re already prepping for award season or want a break from Christmas movies this winter, consider adding Funny Boy to your watch list.
Funny Boy will premiere on Netflix on December 10.
Photo Credits: ARRAY