For a young boy from a Tamil family in the Colombo of 1970s and 80s, Arjie struggled to understand why boys were not allowed to wear lipstick. Or why his preference to dress up as a girl than to play cricket with his brother made him ‘sissy’ or a ‘funny boy’.
If all that was not enough to make Arjie’s life difficult, the escalating political tensions between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese made the young boy realise what it meant to be a gay in a society and family that didn’t embrace differences outside of societal norms.
Not that things are any different for boys and girls like Arjie growing up in most parts of the world even today. Much like India, sexual acts between same-sex individuals was illegal in Sri Lanka in the 80s. It is a criminal offence even now in Sri Lanka. In fact, it is one of the 69 countries in the world that has laws that criminalise consensual same-sex acts.
So when Indian-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta set out to explore Arjie’s journey in her latest film, Funny Boy, based on the eponymous 1994 novel by Shyam Selvadurai, expectations were high.
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