Ihshan with Deepa Mehta and Assistant Art Director Gayan Madushan
It is a beautiful film and I want everyone to watch and learn our history
We have a lot of amazing actors here but their experience in film is minimal
Local directors need to stop casting their favourites and explore for new talent
I don’t see why people have to make a fuss about a film made by Canada, promoting filming in Sri Lanka
Deepa Mehta’s ‘Funny Boy’, a Canadian drama film shot in Sri Lanka, is to be released on Netflix today. Based on acclaimed writer Shyam Selvadurai’s book of the same title, the coming-of-age film follows a young Tamil boy who explores his sexuality.
His personal struggles however are depicted against the backdrop of the tensions building between Tamils and Sinhalese, on the cusp of the brutal three-decade civil war.
Ihshan and Shyam on the sets of Funny Boy
the film was named as Canada’s international feature film entry for the 2021 Oscars
Sri Lanka’s film industry had great but untapped potential, especially in terms of actors
‘Funny Boy’ deals with several controversial subjects. The book and the film offer rare insights to our island nation’s violent history as well as homosexuality. Unsurprisingly, it has attracted many criticisms even before it’s release since the film was named as Canada’s international feature film entry for the 2021 Oscars. Much has been said about the film, the cast, the criticisms and the challenges. Daily Mirror Insight spoke to young Sri Lankan filmmaker Ihshan Iqbal about what it was like behind the scenes of Funny Boy.
Second Assistant Director (AD) Vamsi Krishna Ihshan, Third AD Prasad Pereira & First AD Reid Dunlop
A career in film is not a natural choice in Sri Lanka, especially for those with no family ties or other connections to the industry. What was it that drove Ihshan towards the film, we asked. “All this started when I volunteered for the Colombo Film Festival in 2015. It wasn’t random but I would say it was the universe giving me a chance. I met a few like-minded people with whom I still collaborate, my Editor Trilan Shastri, and my Cinematographer
Sandaruwan Abeysinghe. My first commercial job was a TV commercial for a milk brand called ARLA. I got a call from Pearly Hanan, who wanted me to come and meet the Line Producer Lylie Almeida. They gave me my first job. Being hired as a Set Production Assistant, was something amazing where I got to learn about each department and what they were involved in,” Ihshan recalled.
Funny Boy isn’t Ihshan’s maiden involvement in international film. He has also worked on all three seasons of British TV series the ‘Good Karma Hospital’ and ‘Greed’ by Micheal Winterbottom. For five years, Ihshan has been slowly and steadily laying the foundation for success, working as an Assistant Director.
The team of Assistant Directors in Funny Boy was led by First Assistant Director Reid Dunlop, Second Assistant Director Vamsi Krishna & Third Assistant Director Prasad Pereira. “In ‘Funny Boy’ I was hired as the Second Second Assistant Director, which means I worked with the Second Assistant Director on the film. Having had 75 cast members on the film, my job was to get the actors ready on time for camera and assist on set,” he said when asked what his role was in the film. Asked about what shooting ‘Funny Boy’ was like in Sri Lanka, Ihshan said that it was always great to work here. “It’s always great to work in Sri Lanka because people take instructions well, and are very enthusiastic to be on set.”
The young film maker says among the best moments in filming ‘Funny Boy’, was one of his favourite scenes shot in Colombo. “There was a road scene filmed opposite the Dutch Burgher Union. So basically we made it look like 1983, meaning all the vehicles were propped to make it look like the days in the past. We had stopped the traffic on all sides to shoot the sequence, with the Police helping us. And to add to all that, it was raining cats and dogs. It was such a brief scene, but it was all hands on deck and we put in a lot of work,” he recalled. Ihshan is also proud of another scene with 300 extra actors depicting a refugee camp at a church, which he recalls was one of the most challenging moments in the production.
On the sets of Funny Boy
It is evident that Sri Lanka’s film industry had great but untapped potential, especially in terms of actors. Ihshan believes that despite their talent, most actors lack experience.
“We have a lot of amazing actors here but their experience in film is minimal. Unfortunately. If the local directors stop casting their favourites and explore for new talent, it will help empower new talent,” he opined.
Deepa Mehta is an acclaimed and Oscar-nominated director, only a few aspiring film makers are fortunate to work with. Asked of his experience in working with Deepa, Ihshan is full of praise. “Working with Deepa may as well be one of the best moments in my film career. She is a director who knows what she wants, in terms of everything! She knows to get the best performance out of an actor. And she is very resilient,” he added.
Not everyone, however, agreed on the outcomes of the film. The issue of casting Sinhalese actors in Tamil roles has been criticised widely, which of course the Director herself has reasoned. We asked about Ihshan’s take on the controversy. “The book was written in 1994, till Deepa Mehta took up the project, no one was considering to even talk about it. So I don’t see why people have to make a fuss about a film made by Canada, promoting filming in Sri Lanka, with Sri Lankan crew and cast,” he responded.
“It was addressing many issues, bolder topics had been discussed especially oppression in detail. In my opinion, I don’t think any Sri Lankan ‘Director’ will want to take that responsibility. It is a beautiful film and I want everyone to watch and learn about our history. Read about Black July and the Oppression of the minorities,” Ihshan urged.
Filming is not all Ihshan has been up to lately. He also hosts a unique podcast discussing his experience in the film industry. “Covid made me realise that I need to share the interesting parts of my film career. So I was inspired by a podcast by the cinematographer Roger Deakins called “Team Deakins”. I asked a few people whether they were interested to be a part of it. That’s where it all started,” he said describing Shooting Diaries with Ihshan Iqbal.
Asked what would be next in his bucket list, Ihshan simply replied “One Oscar Nomination for Best Achievement in Directing.”