Singaporean Indian actor told at ABTM casting to be ‘a full blown Indian man’

By May 27, 2017Current

TL;DR – He was just not ‘Indian’ enough.

Popular local movie Ah Boys To Men is holding a walk-in audition this weekend for the fourth instalment. Produced and directed by Jack Neo, the movies revolve around Singaporeans and National Service.

Local actor and host Shrey Bhargava went for the audition on Saturday 27 May and after one take of the audition script, was asked by the casting director to be ‘a full blown Indian man’.

Here is his account of what happened:

In case you can’t read the Facebook post, here’s what it says:

So, I just finished my audition for Ah Boys to Men 4, and this is what happened inside the casting room:

After completing one full take of the audition script, playing a soldier with a Singaporean accent who spoke in colloquial Singlish, I was asked by the casting director to make it ‘a full blown Indian man’.

Now, I get it, casting directors give directions to see if actors can follow them, but really, asking me to be more Indian even after I performed the scene in a completely Singaporean way and talked as most Singaporeans would (even Indian Singaporeans)?

I said “but not all Indians in Singapore speak with a thick Indian accent”

And she just responded with “but that’s what we want. And make it funny”

So I was told to portray a caricature of my race. I was reduced to my accent, because that’s what made it funny. That’s what they wanted for the film. Diversity in Singaporean film, I guess comes down to playing stereotypes so the majority race can find it amusing.

And also it seemed as though I was just not ‘Indian’ enough.

I wanted to decline to perform and say that they had the power to choose not to force an Indian accent on their Indian character, because that’d make them more authentically Singaporean, but I didn’t. I did it. I put on a fake Indian accent and performed and it felt horrible.

I left the room feeling disgusted. That I was seen by my country as nothing more than the color of my skin and the way they think I ought to speak. Most Singaporean Indians I know do not speak with a full blown Indian accent, so I don’t see why, a film, part of a franchise now known to be inseparably part of our national culture, needs to have an Indian character only if he is a stereotype.

I don’t know if I’ll be cast or not. And right now, that’s besides the point. I hope that whoever they cast will choose to stick to the natural Singaporean accent they have (which may lean towards Indian but doesn’t have to be full blown) instead of adopt a fake one just to feed the racist humor our country thrives on.

Films play a very important role in shaping our ideas, perceptions and feelings towards social issues, our country and each other. It’s 2017 and it’s time for us to change. We cannot keep perpetuating stereotypes. We must begin to recognize that Singapore is NOT a Chinese country. We are multiracial, and multilingual.

We must recognize that and make films that reflect our reality. Films that discourage stereotypes and reinforce our one Singaporean identity. If films are made that have Indian characters that speak with normal Singaporean accents, then people will not be given a chance to believe that all Singaporean Indians speak in a certain stereotypical way.

I do not deserve to feel like a foreigner in my own country.

Anyway, I hope speaking out about this leads to some much needed discussions about what is right and acceptable in the media we consume and whether it’s time to re-evaluate what diversity means to us.

Whatever happened today reminded me of an episode from Aziz Ansari’s Master of None called Indians on TV, where Aziz’s character, Dev, faced the exact same situation. I wonder if I too should have been more adamant in not wanting to perform with an accent. Maybe I should have, and I chickened out. I have internalized the racism I have faced against me and it shows. But I’m working hard to reverse its effects. Hopefully this post is a step towards it.

Also, I was asked if I was local the moment I stepped into the audition room – I assume because I am a North Indian (and so not as stereotypically dark as South Indians, who are the majority within the Indian community here in Singapore) and also because of my regular international accent.

But mind you, I was wearing my Smart 4 all along…

This has since attracted over 1,888 shares on Facebook and more than 400 comments, with some siding him:

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Others, however, had a different opinion:

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The Editor

Author The Editor

Either busy trying to save the world, or poking my nose into other people's affairs.

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