Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

Funny Boy : a tender queer love story set in a time of war


Having just reviewed Jon Garcia’s excellent drama about a relationship set and filmed in the COVID Lockdown, we are beginning to realize his title Love In Dangerous Times could have also be used by a whole multitude of other movies.  Especially ones with an LGBTQ story lIne.

For example Funny Boy is a coming-of-age story of a gay Tamil teenager who falls in love with a schoolmate against an uneasy political background what would develop into the Sri-Lankan Civil War. It is directed by the prolific Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta  whose 1996  film FIRE caused controversy  for being  one of the first mainstream Bollywood films to explicitly show homosexual relations, and the first to feature a lesbian relationship.

Mehta co-adapted  queer Sri Lankan/ Canadian Shyam Selvadurai best selling novel which had won the prestigious Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction. 

The story starts when  8 year old  Arjie (Arush Nand) the youngest in a large wealthy Tamil family who run a luxury beach resort is teased endlessly by seemingly everyone for being effeminate. His only support is his young free-spirited Aunt Radha (Agam Darshi) who has just returned home to tie up the loose ends of her arranged marriage to wealthy Tamil suitor from Canada

However in the meantime she falls for a Sinhalese boy in her theater group.  To her Grandma (Seema Biswas) the Matriarch of the family, this is such a disgrace that Radha is instantly banished to a remote part of the Island.   

Although the Sinhalese make up the majority of the population, when the  ruling British Colonials  left what was then known as Ceylon, they had appointed a minority Tamil in charge.  The Tamils  in turned had adopted the Brits heavy handed treatment of the Sinhalese who they considered inferior.

When teenage Arji (Brandon Ingram) was enrolled in the best (and snobbish)  private school in Colombo, he was picked on as  much for being a Tamil, as well for being suspected of being gay.  Against all this, like his favorite Aunt he disregarded his family’s conservative views and fell in love with Shehan (Rehan Mudannayake) a handsome Sinhalese boy.

There is a very touching scene when Arji is about to finally lose his virginity and is on the bed with Shehan and with his big innocent eyes asks ” What do we do know?”  

However they take one too many risks and are discovered in fraganti by Arji’s parents, with his father exploding, but his quiet more worldly mother trying to defuse the situation.  Little do they know that very shortly this will all take second place as the Civil War edges closer.

Before that happens there is another ‘relationship’ to deal with. The family have a young relative  Jegan (Shivantha Wijesinha) to cone stay with them.  HIs parents are concerned about his ties to the Tamil Tigers, a militant guerrilla group.  Whilst Arjis father agrees to take him in because he is family,  his mother  confesses to the youth her admiration for the Tigers and, by extension, for himself

Mehta sets the tale agains a lush Sri Lanka and the  oversized mansions the wealthy upper class lived in waited on hand and foot by an army of servants.  That is except for Sheehan whose enormous dilapidated temple like home was occupied by only him and one attendant.  His father was away serving in the army. so Sheehan’s bedroom decorated by posters of the likes of David Bowie were the only references in the film that reminded us  that we were actually in the 1980’s.

Against a background  that was about to undergo violent changes, this heart-string-pulling romance looks not only so beautiful, but subtly signals that this would be a part of a new evolving future.    Kudos to both young actors for such pitch perfect performances that helped guaranteeing that this will be considered one of the best queer love stories of the year 



Posted by queerguru  at  14:51

Genres:  coming of age, international

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