Actor's rant on racism draws flak

The Ah Boys To Men franchise has been hugely popular with Mandarin speakers.
The Ah Boys To Men franchise has been hugely popular with Mandarin speakers. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Actor Shrey Bhargava talked about his Ah Boys To Men 4 audition on a Facebook post, which has been shared more than 4,300 times and has generated more than 1,400 comments.
Actor Shrey Bhargava talked about his Ah Boys To Men 4 audition on a Facebook post, which has been shared more than 4,300 times and has generated more than 1,400 comments.PHOTO: SHREY BHARGAVA/ FACEBOOK

Indian Singaporean actor Shrey Bhargava alleged on social media that he was asked to portray a caricature of his race during an audition

Production company mm2 Entertainment on Monday responded to a Facebook post by an Indian Singaporean actor alleging that in an audition for the upcoming Ah Boys To Men 4 film, he was asked to give an exaggerated and demeaning portrayal of an Indian character.

In an e-mail statement to The Straits Times, the producers said that "it is not uncommon during auditions that casting directors decide to test the versatility of actors".

The statement, sent on behalf of mm2, director Jack Neo's J Team Productions and other producers, went on to say that such testing "inspires directors with new ideas" and "helps the casting directors in the casting of future productions".

It added: "Jack Neo is acutely aware of race sensitivity and will be sensitive and careful when dealing with such a matter."

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The Facebook post by actor Shrey Bhargava last Saturday, about how he was asked to "portray a caricature" of his race, has been shared more than 4,300 times and has generated more than 1,400 comments.

I've been told that I cannot be paired onstage with another Indian host because that would be one Indian too many. I was told that to get ahead in dramas on TV, I would have to play the funny Indian lady in a sari.

SINGAPOREAN TELEVISION HOST ANITA KAPOOR on her experience with racism

 

The majority of the commenters slammed the actor for "complaining about the slightest thing" and "using flawed logic because Chinese play ah bengs".

Bhargava, 21, did not reply to queries from The Straits Times, though he has posted rebuttals and clarifications and has kept his Facebook page open to comments.

Singaporean television host Anita Kapoor, 46, says she has faced her share of what she calls "casual racism" in her line of work. She does not know Bhargava.

"I've been told that I cannot be paired onstage with another Indian host because that would be one Indian too many. I was told that to get ahead in dramas on TV, I would have to play the funny Indian lady in a sari," she says.

When she hears such things, her reaction is one of disbelief.

"It is such a shock to the system that it is happening. You are trying to have a professional moment and it's confusing when someone asks you to play up or play down who you are," she says.

Singaporean film producer Justin Deimen, 31, who is of Indian-Dutch descent, does not know Bhargava, but applauds the actor's courage in addressing the issue of stereotyping in Singapore films.

"We are a multiracial society and we should not be relying on stereotypes in our films," he tells The Straits Times.

"It was a risk for him to speak up and he would not have said it unless it was something he felt needed to be said... This use of racial stereotypes in Singapore comedy was a conversation that was going to happen sooner or later."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2017, with the headline 'Actor's rant on racism draws flak'. Print Edition | Subscribe