Agam Darshi Talks About Funny Boy In A Interview
Agam Darshi Talks About Funny Boy In A Interview
Agam Darshi was born on December 23 1987 in Birmingham England. When she was three she moved to Montreal with her family. Agam was raised all over Canada and now resides in Los Angeles, California. Agam has worked internationally and has garnered numerous awards, working with illustrious directors like Ava Duvernay (DMZ), Deepa Mehta (Funny Boy), and Jason Katims (County).
Agam is a recipient of the illustrious Film Independent Project Involve Fellowship as a writer, as well as the Whistler Film Festival Praxis Screenwriter’s Lab. She was named one of the Stars to Watch in 2016 at Whistler Film Festival.
In 2017 Agam returned to the stage with the one-person show she wrote entitled, KAUR at the Railtown Actors Studio to sold-out audiences. As an activist for race equality in media, Agam Darshi co-founded the INTERNATIONAL SOUTH ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL (VISAFF). The festival focuses on ‘bridging the gap’ between South Asian talent and mainstream audiences, by breaking stereotypes and expanding North American views on South Asian culture.
In her spare time, Agam is an avid traveler and a lifelong vegetarian.
You have such an amazing profile. You are an actor, writer, and director. What attracted you to such a competitive industry?
I think at the end of the day I see myself as an artist. I started out as a photographer, and I love theatre, and somehow I ended up doing the film, and now I’m directing. In the end, it’s all different elements of the same thing: art. I don’t think much about the competition. I love stories and storytelling. And I think the story is really powerful.
I feel really lucky that I get to have a career that allows me to do this work.
Agam, you have recently worked in the film Funny Boy. The film is releasing some times in December. Tell us more about this film.
The film is based on a book by Shyam Selvadurai called Funny Boy. It’s about a young gay Tamil boy who grows up in the civil war of the 70s and 80s in Sri Lanka. It’s a beautiful epic book that turned effortlessly into a thoughtful screenplay, and now such a relevant movie. The book was written in 1994, and it’s wild that it’s still relevant today. The entire cast and crew did a wonderful job working on this film. It was a work of passion for all of us.
How was your experience working with Deepa Mehta?
She is a legend. She’s so smart, and loves and protects her actors. She had a fantastic direction. She would suggest thoughtful choices to us, that helped make the scenes come alive and our characters deeper and richer.
What role do you love the most in real life? Actor, writer or director?
I love them all. I can’t choose. I feel so lucky that I get to do all three. Acting is fun, and it’s immediate and cathartic, and it’s such a privilege to be able to be a vessel to play another character. But I love the isolation of writing. I love living in my imagination and putting my deepest, most honest feelings on paper. And I really love the collaborative nature of directing. I being surrounded by smart, talented people, and bringing them together to tell a story. I hope I never have to choose from.
Please talk about your role in the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival and how do film festivals help independent films?
I cofounded VISAFF ten years ago because I wanted to help create a platform for South Asian artists. I wanted a place for our stories to be told, but mostly an avenue to bridge the gap between us and mainstream audiences. Me and Patricia Isaac handed the torch off to Mannu Sandhu a number of years ago, and she is now the director of the festival and has elevated the festival to new heights. It is proudly referred to now as one of North America’s biggest South Asian film festivals. I am very grateful to her.
How has worked with Deepa Mehta influenced you as a director and actor? Any specific moments you can reflect on during your time shooting with her?
Deepa is a force of nature. She taught me not to compromise my vision. To listen to my gut. To make the films I want to make. As an actor, she taught me to not fall into the trap of melancholy which all actors love to live in. It’s not about tears it’s about resisting the tears.
Have any of Deepa Mehta’s films made an impression on you? And what about those film(s)?
Bollywood Hollywood was the first Deepa Metha film that I watched and it was one of the few films about South Asians in the west. And that had a great impression on me.
But I really love Earth. It’s about the partition which is part of my own family history.
I also really appreciate Heaven on Earth. It’s honest and powerful.
But I would say Funny Boy is my favorite!
How were you cast for this role? What was it like when you auditioned?
I had met Deepa at an event and despite my nerves, I went up and said hello. I had always wanted to work with her and felt that I had to connect with her. We began talking and she asked me to send my demo to her assistant. So I did. I didn’t hear anything until a year later when Deepa connected with me and asked me to read for Radha in Funny Boy. I hired an acting coach and taped myself and got the role!
Was this your first trip to Colombo / Sri Lanka? What was your experience like and how was the filming welcomed with the locals?
Sri Lanka is an extraordinary country. It’s geographically so beautiful and quite clean. And the people are kind. The locals embraced us but we weren’t allowed to speak about what we were doing there. Funny Boy is controversial since homosexuality is still criminalized and we didn’t want to jeopardize the film.
Deepa Mehta often brings up topics of sexuality and South Asian culture (and during critical historic moments!), this relating to the topic of homosexuality. Not sure the question here yet… — But this is a topic that is still underrepresented in South Asia in general. How will the film’s subject be welcomed in Canada, or with other South Asians? I realize this subject is very nuanced in acceptance and not.
Canadians embrace this story completely. It really moves them, and Canada is very forward-thinking that they’re open and excited to see a film like this being taken on. And all the South Asians I’ve met love the film and welcome it with open arms. It is exciting to see that a film like this resonates and is needed.
What did you do / how did you prepare for this role when you were cast?
I understood Radha easily. I understood her heart and her desire to help Arjie and her point of view. What was more challenging was the history of the character’s family, the accent, etc. I worked hard, learning about Sri Lanka, Black July, and the atrocities that Tamils faced. I learned about upper-class Christian Tamils from Colombo, who lived differently than the Tamils in Jaffna for example. So I tried to get as specific as possible. I worked with a dialect coach as well. There was a lot that went into preparing for this role. I also lost close to 18 pounds!
What are your views about the Bollywood film industry?
I think Bollywood is a lot of fun. It’s a great fantasy. And I have watched Bollywood films over the years. But I’m more attracted to art films, and North American films because this is where I grew up. Bollywood doesn’t feel like a place where I would belong, to be honest. Whereas I see value in trying to make a place for me in Hollywood.
There are several independent film producers in North America of Indian descent. Even though filmmakers struggle for the funding, but you think there will be an American version of Bollywood in the next decade?
I don’t think so. I think the type of film that is produced and watched in a country, is very much tied to the people. I think India needs Bollywood because they need fantasy. I love India, but it’s a polarizing country. There is such great beauty in the form of the people, geography, architecture, spirituality, and history. But there is also such great ugliness, in the form of poverty and inequality. I think the fantasy of Bollywood is a beautiful escape from the complex and sometimes difficult realities that a lot of people live within India. In North America, life isn’t as polarizing. We don’t desire fantasy as much. In fact, we love realism.
Tell us about the most satisfactory moment during your career in film.
I feel lucky, I’ve had a lot of amazing moments. I did a one-woman show where I played 15 characters. I felt so satisfied artistically after it because it was so hard but the show was so well received.
Funny Boy, working with Deepa, and then four months later working with Ava Duvernay on DMZ were both huge highlights for me too. And now I’m directing my feature film debut called Indians in Cowtown, where play the lead character of Mona. I feel very creatively fulfilled.
What is a daily routine for you as a filmmaker?
Every day is different. These days, after I drop my boys at daycare, I’m answering emails, making shot lists, setting up interviews with my publicist, flying to various cities for shoots or scouts. I haven’t been auditioning much lately because I’m focused on my feature, but every so often I’m taping an audition. It’s very busy, but a lot of fun!
Some words for your fans and about your film Funny Boy.
It’s a film that comes from the heart, and one that we put a lot of care into. It’s a really important and relevant film that needs to be seen and understood by the masses and that is the goal. I’m very proud of it.