Agam Darshi is at an exciting juncture in her film career, with one movie on Netflix and another set to shoot in Saskatchewan next month.
The filmmaker and actor stars as a supportive, cool aunt in Deepa Mehta’s Funny Boy, a new drama that explores the sexual awakening of a lad during the politically-volatile early 1980s in Sri Lanka, where the movie was filmed last year.
Darshi, who sometimes lives in Surrey with her family, jumped at the chance to work with Mehta, the Oscar nominee who co-wrote the Funny Boy screenplay with novelist Shyam Selvadurai.
“I hadn’t read the novel until after I was cast,” Darshi explained on the phone from Sechelt. “I had always wanted to work with Deepa, for a really long time, and she reached out to me to audition for the role, and I did that, a couple of times,” she continued. “The script was just so well written, I loved it, and the character Radha, I understood her right away, and I was really excited for the project. There were a lot of elements I loved, including the fact it was based on a book, and I’d never really done a period piece before.”
Funny Boy is streaming on the CBC Gem app, and hits Netflix on Thursday (Dec. 10).
Meantime, Darshi is preparing for a temporary move to Regina for filming of Indians in Cowtown, which she wrote and will direct. She also stars as Mona, a troubled writer who cares for her ailing father. When his health takes a turn, her three very successful siblings return home. “It’s a drama with a lot of moments of levity and humour,” Darshi said. “I like to call it a coming-of-age story a decade too late.”
The script, which she began writing in 2015, before the birth of her twin boys, originally involved a Sikh-Punjabi family that lives in Calgary. “Cowtown” is where Darshi once studied, following her formative years in England and other parts of Canada, with more recent time spent living in L.A.
”Indians in Cowtown is a working title right now, and we’re probably going to change it,” Darshi revealed. “We’re shooting it in Regina due to some of the connections we have to Saskatchewan, as a way to double for Calgary, and we’re also shooting some exteriors in Calgary, but now we’ve made the decision to just change the location (in the film) to Regina. It’s very complicated,” she added with a laugh.
Working with Mehta on Funny Boy has given Darshi insight into the art of filmmaking for her own turn behind the camera, come January.
“It was great – terrifying but also wonderful,” she said. “She’s a very powerful human, very smart and very charming. People are drawn to her and to her vision, and I think she has a lot of passion for what she does. When you’re in film, that’s the kind of people you want to work with.
“But her standards are high,” Darshi continued, “and what she expects from cast and crew are, you know – it’s intense. So you want to step up and do justice to this vision she has. So it felt like a lot of responsibility but it was also a lot of fun, and at the end of it I feel like I’ve made a great ally and a great friend.”
Darshi said Mehta showed her to never waver on vision for a film.
“Like, when you’re at the helm of this big ship, you really need to see what it is that you’re trying to get across, and you can’t compromise,” Darshi said. “There is a time when you can collaborate, yes, and bring people into the fold to make the vision stronger, but you can’t compromise. That was the biggest take-away from talking to Deepa and just watching her work.”
Funny Boy was supposed to do the festival circuit and have a theatrical release, but that’s not happening this fall or winter. With the film now on Netflix, it’ll attract plenty of eyeballs at a time when so many people are staying home.
On the flip side, the COVID-19 pandemic creates some issues for filming of Indians in Cowtown, Darshi said.
“It’s about troubleshooting and problems that you just have to solve, and you try not to give it too much space and time because it’ll drive you crazy,” she noted. “Making a film right now – I mean, there’s probably never an ideal time, you just have to do it, and the problem with putting it off is, who knows when we’re going to be free from COVID, the pandemic, completely free. It’s kind of now or never. But that being said, we have safety plans in place – testing, and temperature checks, masks and bubbles.”
Darshi’s parents live in Surrey.
“My husband and sons and I, we came up here from L.A. when COVID hit, after getting all these texts from friends and families telling us we should,” she explained. “We were living with my family in Surrey for a little bit, and now in Sechelt, where we wanted to be closer to nature and kind of removed from everything. We’re here until just the end of the year.”
Back in the early 2000s, Darshi worked as a host and reporter on a Shaw TV show with Surrey’s Atish Ram, and also co-hosted the annual World of Smiles telethon. Meantime, she was auditioning for parts on TV and in film, and co-founded Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival.
“Agam was always very creative and challenged herself immensely in every segment or characters she portrayed,” Ram recalled. “She wasn’t afraid of any role and always thought outside the box. A truly natural artist.
”Agam has struggled to get to where she is today and I’m extremely proud of her. Despite her enormous success she has always been grounded. I always knew she would follow her passion and fulfill her dream. Agam has and always will be my superstar.”
For the latest news about Darshi and more, visit her website, agamdarshi.com.