'Funny Boy': Meet Brandon Ingram, Seema Biswas, Agam Darshi and the rest of the cast of Canada's 2021 Oscar entry
The main cast playing Tamil characters in this Deepa Mehta film are mostly Sinhalese (Sri Lanka’s majority population) and North Indian -- which has evoked protests from the Tamil diaspora who have complained of 'cultural erasure'
Set in Sri Lanka during the 1970s and 1980s, 'Funny Boy' explores the sexual awakening of its young protagonist Arjun "Arjie" Chelvaratnam as political tensions escalate in the country between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. Even though the film is Canada’s 2021 Academy Awards entry for Best International Feature Film, the controversy around casting has dogged 'Funny Boy'.
The main cast playing Tamil characters are mostly Sinhalese (Sri Lanka’s majority population) and North Indian -- which has evoked protests from the Tamil diaspora who have complained of 'cultural erasure'. In the earlier screenings of the film, it was pointed out by critics that several cast members do not speak Tamil properly and haven't got the accented Colombo English quite right.
For a film where one of the central narrative push comes from the language politics of the island nation, this is understandably problematic. After early screenings, director Deepa Mehta in November 2020, re-recorded some of the Tamil dialogue in sessions directed by Tamil-Canadian, Lenin M. Sivam. They also dubbed over Seema Biswas with the voice of Tamil filmmaker, Sumathy Balaram, and coached Pakistani-Canadian actor Ali Kazmi to enunciate Tamil properly for his dialogues. So when the film comes to Netflix on December 10, hopefully, the Tamil dialogues will sound authentic. Find out about the actors who play the main characters in 'Funny Boy'.
Brandon Ingram is Older Arjie
After being a target of his father’s and society’s disapproval all through his childhood, 17-year-old Arjie aka Arjun is careful and closeted. And so he behaves until he becomes a student at a rigid British-style public school and falls in love with a fellow male student called Shehan Soyza, who opens up his heart and helps him realize that it really is okay to be true to one’s nature. Brandon Ingram, who plays the older Arjie, was a theatre actor in Sri Lanka who was openly gay — something that impressed Deepa Mehta, who found it brave as Sri Lanka currently criminalizes same-sex conduct. 'Funny Boy' is his first feature film, and will be followed by a second film titled 'Public Domain'.
Arush Nand is Younger Arjie
The younger Arjie, who is called "funny boy" by his relatives for his "girlish tendencies" is played by Arush Nand. Nand has been acting in the Hindi film industry, popularly known as Bollywood. He has starred in films like 'Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran' and 'Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior'. Nand is also a voiceover and dubbing artist. He has lent his voice for films like Disney’s 'The Lion King', Netflix’s 'Raising Dion', 'Locke & Key', and 'We Can Be Heroes'.
Nimmi Harasgama is Amma
In her late-30s, "Amma" is the spirited mother of Arjie and his two siblings. Feeling trapped in her family life of sacrifices and compromises, she succumbs to her more passionate instincts and falls in love with the much younger, Jegan, a man who has dangerous political affiliations. Nimmi Harasgama, who plays Amma, is a Tamil-Sinhalese British-Sri Lankan actor. Her performance in the Sinhala film 'August Sun' won her the Best Actress award at the Las Palmas International Film Festival and the Vishwa Keerthi, the highest arts award in Sri Lanka. Nimmi is currently a series regular on 'The Good Karma Hospital' on Acorn TV and Amazon Prime. She can also be seen on the Netflix series 'Requiem' as Detective Alice Brenton.
Ali Kazmi is Appa
Ali Kazmi plays Appa, a self-made man in the early 40s. As the owner of a posh beach resort, he is both an elite and a minority Tamil businessman in an increasingly hostile world. Both conservative and rigid by nature, Appa is bound by the conventional rules set by his mother and the society around him. He disapproves of Arjie's feminine tendencies and later also condemns the violence unleashed by the Tamil Tigers. Ali Kazmi was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and he now lives in Toronto, Canada, where he went to Film and Drama school, starting his career from scratch. He has starred in director Deepa Mehta's film 'Beeba Boys' and other Pakistani films like 'Superstar', 'Baaji' and 'Lal Kabootar'.
Agam Darshi is Radha
Playing the role of free-spirited Radha, Arjie's paternal aunt, is Radha. Arjie first acceptance for who he is comes from Radha. But Arjie also realizes how society punishes those who are different when he sees the backlash to her affair with a Sinhalese man, Anil. Darshi is an award-winning actress and filmmaker who has been cast in Ava Duvernay’s pilot 'DMZ' for HBO MAX, as Mia Franklin, working opposite Rosario Dawson. She recently won her third Leo Award for her film 'Unkept'. She has starred in numerous TV series such as 'Sanctuary' on SYFY, 'The Good Doctor' on ABC, and 'The Gifted' in The CW.
Seema Biswas is Ammachi
Seema Biswas plays "Ammachi", Arjie’s grandmother whose traditional views are followed by her son, Arjie's father. She is against Radha's affair with a Sinhalese man and appalled by the feminine tendencies Arjie exhibits. Biswas is known for Shekhar Kapoor's 'Bandit Queen', Netflix's 'Leila', Deepa Mehta's 'Water' and 'Midnight’s Children' and numerous Bollywood films like 'Khamoshi' and 'Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa'. She has won the Best Actress National Award, India's most prestigious acting award.
Rehan Mudannayake is Shehan
Shehan is a 17-year-old upper middle-class Sinhalese boy, brought up by the help and a largely absent father. Arjie's first love, Shehan is confident about who he is and his own sexuality and helps Arjie embrace his homosexuality. Mudannayake is primarily a filmmaker and 'Funny Boy' is his acting debut. A former Chevening Scholar at University College London, his films have screened at multiple international festivals.
Shivantha Wijesinha is Jegan
Shivantha Wijesinha plays Jegan, a 23-years old firebrand who feels deeply about the Tamil cause. Jegan is one of Appa’s much younger, hard-working employees. He soon becomes a boarder in Arjie’s house and he and Amma are drawn to each other. Amma is increasingly disillusioned by her husband's cowardice and supports Jegan's affiliations with the Tamil Tigers, an armed liberation group. Wijesinha is an actor and producer, known for 'Death Trail', 'Entropic', and 'My Little Nut'.
'Funny Boy' premieres on Netflix on Thursday, December 10.