Having read the novel by Shyam Selvadurai I can say with confidence that you are the best director to bring its warmth, humour and pathos to the screen. Do you agree?
I can’t say that I’m the best, but I seem to be the only one who has done it. It’s said that for over 29 years no director gave such an important story a chance to be seen and heard. I was especially surprised, and saddened, when Shyam told me that no Tamil director even tried to do so. I’m honoured to have been given this chance and tried to do my best to give it the space it deserves.
To be gay way back in the 1980s was not as easy as it is today. Sexual repression is not an alien subject for you. How much do you think our social norms and taboos have altered since you made Fire?
In some ways I do think we have progressed. But not enough. Homosexuality is still illegal in certain places, like Sri Lanka where Funny Boy is set. And there are so many who live in fear, just because they are being oppressed on the basis of who they love. With pride celebrations and social organisations, there’s definitely more of a dialogue today than there was years ago. But it’s a long way to go.
Fire was a radical film for the time that you made it. Now there are so many beautiful films on being gay like Call Me By Your Name and Falling. What do you think of films that deal with the subject. And where does Funny Boy fit in?
I loved Call Me By Your Name and Falling. Both very brave and well made. As are films like Moonlight and My Brother Nikhil. The more cinema brings such stories into the spotlight, the greater the dialogue. And that’s what the world needs to bring about change. Funny Boy to me is not just a coming of age story or about the ethnic conflict, but a tale of humanity , and the world needs more of that, don’t you think?
Absolutely. Tell me about your casting. Was it easy for you to find your protagonist?
Not at all. It took us a year to cast the film. We cast in Canada, London, Sri Lanka and New York. Shyam reached out to many people and groups in Sri Lanka to find actors from the community. We even reached out to other Tamil filmmakers like Lenin Sivam to play the protagonist. We did find some brilliant actors who couldn’t make it due family issues, inability to get a visa and financial issues since it was a small independent production.
How did you find Brandon Ingram?
We did many auditions and many weren’t the right fit. But what was really important to both Shyam and myself, was to get an openly gay actor to play Arjie. And we were so lucky that we found one who has brought so much vulnerability to the character.
In your vast amazing and diverse repertoire where do you place Funny Boy?
That’s hard to say. Each film has had its own place for me, and Funny Boy is definitely one of my favourites.
What are you working on next?
I definitely have some ideas in the pipeline but for now just focusing on the release.