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.