December 8, 2020
“I reached your aunt’s place only 30 minutes before the riots began. Everyone on our lane ran inside their homes, shut the windows and doors, turned off the lights, and hid. Your aunt had given all the valuables to their Sinhala neighbors to keep safe, but the neighbors didn’t invite us in. So five of us crouched together behind some furniture, with jars of chili powder clenched in our fists as our only defense. We sat there for what felt like hours and then realized — they must have missed our house because we were the last in the lane, just before the train tracks.
“I’m telling you, magal [daughter in Tamil], God saved us.”
So when Deepa Mehta’s newest film Funny Boy depicted those same riots on screen, I watched with awe and heartache — it was the first time I saw the traumatic experiences my parents faced firsthand visualized in a mainstream Canadian film. The film took my mother back to Colombo at the start of the 26-year-long civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority, stemming from colonial-era grievances. Official numbers of the dead and missing remain unknown to this day, but the United Nations estimates 40,000 civilians were killed in the final stages alone.
Even before its release, Funny Boy has attracted controversy: upset that the film did not cast enough Tamil actors in lead roles, diaspora groups have called for its boycott and withdrawal as Canada’s Oscar entry for best international film. Though the performances in Tamil are weak, Funny Boy is an otherwise beautifully-made film that touches on an important piece of history rarely given any due in mainstream cinema. For this reason alone, it deserves to be seen.