India-born Deepa Mehta, who has made Canada her home for a long time, has had to face disappointment with her latest outing, Funny Boy. It was submitted as Canada's Oscar entry in the International Feature Category, but has been rejected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, because the rule here states that more than 50 per cent of the dialogues must be in a language other than English. Funny Boy fails here, for its characters speak mostly English. Some of it is in Sri Lankan Tamil and the island nation's majority language, Sinhala.
Funny Boy will now be submitted in the Academy's Best Picture category.
Set in the time of the civil war in Sri Lanka – from 1983 to 2009 – between the minority Tamil-speaking population demanding a separate homeland, and the majority Sinhalese, Mehta's work explores homosexuality between two boys – when even the idea of it all was repulsive to most people. And with one of the boys hailing from the Tamil community, and the other from the opposite camp, things could not have gone but terribly wrong. But, yes, the Tamil boy's aunt is sympathetic to his sexual variance.
Mehta said in a statement: “Every step of the way on the Funny Boy journey has been an important one for myself and the Funny Boy team. The message of the book, written by Shyam Selvadurai, has always been one of resilience and courage. It seems as if the afterlife of the film follows a similar arc. Each time we reached an impasse, we pushed on leading us to something even better than we could have imagined.
“We were surprised that the movie was not able to compete in the Academy’s International Feature category, “but then were equally surprised and more than thrilled that Telefilm decided to support the submission of the film for Best Picture and other categories at the Academy Awards.”
Mehta has invariably chosen subjects that are radical in a sense. Her Fire (part of a trilogy) about lesbianism (although she said and said again that it was all about relationship between two lonely women, one of them played by Nandita Das and the other by Shabana Azmi) caused a huge furore in India – where even today, believe it or not, some people are firmly convinced that homosexual tendency is a disease!
Mercifully, Indian courts have decriminalised homosexuality. But then who is to reign in men with dogmatic views!
Mehta's third film in the trilogy, Water, ran into an equally huge mess. About Vrindavan widows and their wretched lives, the movie was set to be shot in Varanasi, when rampaging mobs disrupted the shoot. Both Das and Azmi essaying lead characters had even had their heads tonsured, and the whole team had to run literally for their lives!
This was incredible: the world is fully aware of the way Vrindavan widows are treated, but the mobs called Mehta's work as “anti-Indian culture”.
Eventually, Mehta had to shoot Water in Sri Lanka with Lisa Ray and John Abraham. I am sure Das and Azmi would have been better suited for Water.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and author of a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan)