Humorous marriage of 'new' and 'old' Indians

We Are Like This Only 2 stars (clockwise from left) Sharul Channa, Rishi Budhrani, Subin Subaiah and Daisy Irani.
We Are Like This Only 2 stars (clockwise from left) Sharul Channa, Rishi Budhrani, Subin Subaiah and Daisy Irani.PHOTO: HUM THEATRE

The issue of integration is a sore point in Singapore, so HuM Theatre asks "new" and "old" Indians to laugh at their differences and embrace their similarities in We Are Like This Only 2.

"Indians are willing to laugh at themselves. You can get away with a lot of sensitive issues if you use humour," says the troupe's co-founder Daisy Irani.

We Are Like This Only 2, staged from Sept 1 to 4 and Sept 8 to 11 at the Goodman Arts Centre, is a sequel to We Are Like This Only, which was staged twice in 2013.

The earlier, forum theatre production was based on the experiences of Indians long established in Singapore, who were uncomfortable with the influx of Indian immigrants after the 2008 financial crisis.

Irani, 57, says: "At the time when we did We Are Like This Only, we did it because I was overwhelmed that Singaporeans were willing to speak out.

  • BOOK IT / WE ARE LIKE THIS ONLY 2

  • WHERE: Black Box, 90 Goodman Road, Goodman Arts Centre

    WHEN: Sept 1 to 4 and 8 to 11, 3pm (Saturday and Sunday), 8pm (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). The show on Sept 8 is sold out.

    ADMISSION: $38 from www.showtickets.asia

"Over the years, this outward show of emotions has ebbed, but maybe gone underneath."

The differences between the established and incomers shown in We Are Like This Only might seem superficial, such as "old" Indians preferring soccer to the cricket favoured by "new" Indians; or "old" Indians who become upset when "new" Indians break the taxi queue instead of waiting in line; or "new" Indians accusing the "old" of lacking initiative.

There continue to be rifts within the Indian diaspora here, which We Are Like This Only 2 tries to bridge by showing that Indians have been migrating to Singapore for decades.

Irani says: "We came as coolies, convicts, moneylenders, sepoys, the 'bazaar contingent' that came with Raffles. We came from different paths, we've made our homes here."

Her husband, Subin Subaiah, 64, the scriptwriter, says: "These comings and goings are not new. They've been happening for a long time. One lesson we have to learn is not to be too angsty about it."

We Are Like This Only 2 presents a series of sketches about migration from India to Singapore, with a cast of four, including the creators, playing multiple roles. There is the tale of how a convict was shipped off to Singapore more than a century ago, and another showing the arrival of Mr and Mrs Chettiar - from a community of moneylenders, played by Irani and Subaiah - equally long ago.

Irani and Subaiah also migrated here - they were born in Mumbai and moved to Singapore in 1991. He worked in a multinational bank and moonlighted as an actor, while she starred in Mediacorp serials such as Under One Roof, moving on to helm content production for the television studio. The duo became Singaporean citizens in 2004. Their two 20something children are citizens too.

Adding another generation's perspective is the second Singaporean couple in this cast of four - stand-up comedians Sharul Channa and Rishi Budhrani. Channa's parents moved to Singapore when she was a month old, while Budhrani was born and brought up here. Both were in the first play as well and wondered why there was such resentment against incoming Indians.

Budhrani, 31, says: "A few years later, we have a better understanding. Locals felt they had to fight to earn a place here with the Chinese and Malay. Now that they have a place, adapting by maybe learning Mandarin or Malay, they have to fight with the new Indians as well."

Channa, 29, says: "In this play, we're trying to show the cycle, that there are 'new' Indians, there are 'old' Indians, then there are the 'very old' Indians, and everyone goes through these stages as he lives in Singapore."

One way the play gets viewers to smile at the similarities as well as acknowledge differences is a sub-plot about a wedding between a "new" Indian and "old" Indian.

Budhrani says: "For the youth, it's about negotiating traditions with practicality and the feelings of their parents. The previous generation talks about holding on to roots and culture, but the younger people are more ready to compromise. They're like: 'Aren't people more important? Aren't relationships more important?'"

Irani says: "The nice thing about the wedding in the play is that you can see the differences, but people are still smiling."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Humorous marriage of 'new' and 'old' Indians'. Print Edition | Subscribe