Goodness gracious me, Shrey


Sense and Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah


I am fascinated and amused by the Shrey Bhargava saga, not least because it has dragged in Xiaxue and, hold your jasmine minted breath, Chua Mui Hoong and Gillian Koh. What’s going on? Goodness gracious me (popular Indian stereotype cliché phrase)!

Many do know who Xiaxue, Mui Hoong and Gillian are. Xiaxue aka Wendy Cheng Yan Yan is that well-known web blogging enfant terrible whose image on Google has her showing two middle fingers at the viewer. And she has been showing them to Shrey the last one week.

Mui Hoong is the Opinion Editor of The Straits Times and Gillian is deputy director for research at the NUS’ Institute of Policy Studies. Both commented on Saturday (June 3) on the alleged racism episode and offered very rational views on how Singaporeans should handle the issue and get something out of it.

Shrey, a freelance actor, was not happy that the casting people for Ah Boys To Men 4 wanted him to put on a stronger Indian accent and exaggerated Indian mannerisms for his role as an Indian Singaporean soldier.  He felt insulted about the stereotyping and the “casual racism”. Xiaxue then waded in and started a no-holds-barred blogging war with Shrey, with her more or less whacking him for being a crybaby.  Actors do not whine, they do what directors ask them to do, they act, she said.

The Straits Times and the IPS have got to do what they have got to do. They have to do the politically correct thing, in this case, look at whether Singaporeans can rise above the noise here and start being more mature on the race issue and continue pushing the parameters  – as performers as well as audiences – in the arts.  Gillian’s observation was spot-on: “Not every controversy should end with a police report.” I agree.

And I also agree with Mui Hoong who said:  “People like Shrey, who braved opprobrium today to raise the racism issue, should feel content that they helped advance the discussion by bringing racism out of the closet.”

But Xiaxue’s loud slamming of Shrey should also be accepted as part and parcel of the same growing up process, no less. Public discourse leh.

As a former film critic, I totally share her point that movies are chockful of stereotypes: “If the story needs a stereotype it will have a stereotype. You think Christoph Waltz, an Austrian-German portraying a sociopathic Nazi, won the Academy Award by whining to the director about how he is very hurt that Germans are always portrayed as Nazis in film, especially when modern Germany isn’t filled with Nazis anymore and this is a painful stereotype? No he didn’t, because the story needed a stereotypical Nazi. So he did what actors do. ACT.” Touche.

Aspiring actors can do no worse than follow the late American actor Robert Mitchum’s approach to acting: “I turn up at the set, I look at the script, I act it out and I go home.”

And, yes, there was a time when second or third generation Asian-Americans were expected to put on a fake Asian accent when they appeared in films or on TV. But no more. Even Chow Yun Fat was “allowed” to speak passable English in a Pirates Of The Caribbean movie when he “welcomed” Captain Jack Sparrow “to Singapore”! And, of course, our own Chin Han speaks perfect English in Independence Day: Resurgence.

The West has moved on somewhat on the accent thing and race too in mainstream films. Idris Elba , a Black British actor, is being touted as the next James Bond.  And you tell me just what accents James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman have, if not the most acceptable and classic benchmark race-blind dictions?

Grow up. Don’t get into fits over imaginary slights in a creative arts world which must be given the space to perform and develop more naturally – without too many rules, unnecessary interference and wet blanket pressure.

So kudos, Xiaxue, Mui Hoong and Gillian. As for Shrey, I hope you will soon land a good accent-less role. Best of luck.

Lui Tuck Yew goes to Tokyo

A prevailing image the public has of former Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew was that of him taking MRT rides to get a feel of the problems facing commuters. It was a powerful one that showed a minister going right down to the ground to find out what was going instead of just relying on second-hand or third-hand accounts or field reports.

Unfortunately, his best was not good enough. Somehow, I believe he was not to be blamed entirely. The MRT’s inadequacy could be traced to a number of factors  – technical ones, inability to cope with a fast growing commuting population and perhaps wrong priorities like moving away from its core activity.

I thought he was a good minister and a humble one. And we should be happy that he has been appointed our envoy to Japan. As far as I can recall, the last former full minister to be given an ambassadorship was former Culture Minister Jek Yeun Thong to Britain way back in 1977.

Lui would be an excellent pointman in learning and getting feedback from the Japanese on how to run the forthcoming high-speed train to Kuala Lumpur.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.




    Just becos Shrey speaks English w/o an Indian accent, he assumes he is alrdy a true blue Sinkie who knows a lot about our society. He has forgotten we hv successful mainstream comedians like Gurmit Singh and Kumar. Even Gurmit has to make fun of ah beng contractors like Phua Chu Kang! Does tat mean Gurmit and the director are racists??
    I am sure Gurmit was told:
    Make yourself more ah beng, make it funny!

  2. I would think if the role was for an Indian from India, or the character was a boy from India etc – then putting on a strong Indian accent would be more understood.

    Role as I understand was for a young local NS boy – and for any person who has spoken to local Indian Singaporeans, you would they do not speak with an Indian accent.

    Prerogative of the director/producer to request an Indian accent or any accent for that matter – hey, it’s their movie after all.

    But clearly either they are totally ignorant about how local Singapore Indians spoke (maybe no Indian friends?), or they just didn’t care and wanted to go for cheap mass market laug.

    Would any self-respecting director/producer ever ask a Local actor to be ‘more Chinese’ by requesting for a Beijing accent? I guess not…

    Maybe racist is too strong a term, but methinks the reality hovers somewhere between that and ignorance.

    • Babu, u talk too much fucking rubbish. U singaporean or new sinkie?? U watch the Noose comedy on Channel 5 or not?? U know who Alaric Tay is or not?
      He has to speak English with a northern chinese accent. And FYI in case u r a new sinkie, our local chinese are of southern chinese ancestry. And we are NOT less chinese just because we dun speak with a Beijing accent!! Just like an Indian is no less Indian if he dun speak like one from Delhi.
      Otherwise, i would call u a racist!

    • Shimon Keng – Alaric’s role was a China guy who was a newscaster on the Noose – of course he will speak with a China accent. And really dunno what you about – why would a local Singaporean speak with a Chinese accent? Did you actually grow up in Singapore? If you can’t comment without being rude, better just shut up.

    • Babu Ram
      According to u, Shrey is supposed to portray a local indian boy in ABTM4 audition, so Shrey should speak like any Singaporean boy does i.e. no thick indian accent. And according to u, IF Shrey is portrayed as a new immigrant indian boy, then it shd be OK to hv a thick Indian accent in a comedy, and therefore it is NOT OFFENSIVE to local indians, even if it may offend the sensitivity of non-local Indians ???
      By extension of ur fucking logic, then local comedian Alaric Tay portrayal as a china born English newsreader with a funny accent is OK in Singapore even if china-born chinese here are offended?

    • My logic is sound. Comedy and satire have always used stereotypes and accents as tools of the craft – we should be mature and chill enough to handle that, if done appropriately.
      Personally, I’m not offended if a director seeks to protray a character from India speaking with an India accent – that would not be inaccurate.

      On the flip side, I would feel it would be quite inaccurate for a director to portray a local Chinese character as speaking with a China accent – which would be quite odd, and I would question whether the director even knew how local Singaporeans spoke.

      That’s what’s I feel here in Shrey’s case – if they asked someone to put on a think Indian accent for a role that was supposed to be portray a local Singapore boy, I really don’t think they knew anything about local Indians either. OK, have said my peace on this topic already – have a good evening; and do try not to be rude in responses.

    • Babu Ram
      So ur silly logic of “accuracy” is that it is OK to offend one group of people as long as another group of people is not offended.
      Btw, Shrey portrayed 2 characters in the audition—- one w/o accent and one with accent. The final indian character in the movie could be one who is a new immigrant recruit, not necessarily a local boy.

    • I can only speak on information that I have seen in the public domain – if it’s not officially out there, then I can’t take anyone’s word on it.

      In any case, if a role was intended to portray an Indian immigrant, than Yes, I feel it is not inaccurate for that role to have an Indian accent.

      I really don’t get what is your point; you have just been rebutting without adding anything new. You also seem to be very keen on creating a negative conversation – by introducing ideas and thoughts that were not said. So I gather you are a troll. Nothing further with you.

  3. Why make a mountain out of a molehill? Why the fuss? Stereotyping is not racism lah. “The Noose” was one of the most successful comedy TV series in Singapore because they make use of well-stereotyping of various characters to bring them to live and we are able to laugh at ourselves. If stereotyping is considered racism, then how to make a “Leticia” (the Philipine maid), “Babrella” (the SPG), “Esmond Wan Mo Peh” (the minister), “Jojo Jogek” (the Malay reporter), “Nicholas Le Fong” (the taxi driver), “See Yan Yan” (the typical Ah Soh). Kumar (the stand up comedian) is Indian what, he damn racist but in the name of entertainment, nobody complain what. Ask Shrey watch “Mind Your Language” and ask him is it racism or good entertainment lor. If Shrey cannot act or refuse to act what is required of him, then just shut up and move on, just don’t stir up racism.