Oscar glamour gone in a flash

I approached my first Oscars ceremony with great awe, only to awaken to reality that there is no way one can eat at the black-tie event and still look cool

The rented tuxedo is back with the tailor, where no wonton sauce may defile it nor kebab gravy ruin its sheen.

The fake leather shoes, purchased for the occasion, sit in a cupboard, where they await their next summoning.

The show programme, printed on thick fancy paper, is shelved.

I made it through my first Oscars ceremony.

Or, to be more precise, I made it through sitting in a chair in a hotel next to the theatre where they hold the Oscars ceremony.

Like you, I watched the whole ceremony - including the final 90 seconds that Hollywood has collectively drunk an ocean of vodka to forget - on a television screen.

The difference is that last Sunday night in Los Angeles (Monday morning here), you probably didn't have to watch television in black tie or gown (unless you share a crumbling mansion with a mad aunt who, jilted at the altar decades ago, now lives in a perpetual wedding fantasy, but she has wealth you covet so you play along with her delusions even as you plot her "accidental" death).


I was seated in a hall packed to the rafters with journalists, burbling a thousand different accents.

At my table at the back of the hall, far away from the stage where winners give interviews, I was wedged between the Irish and Chinese contingents.

I was surprised to hear that one Beijinger worked for a Chinese entertainment website rich enough to employ a permanent team of seven in Hollywood.

But I'm still trying to work out how Singapore ended up between Ireland and China on the seating plan.

Does the Academy throw dice? Maybe they rank by fertility rate.

I've since learnt that trying to work out the mysteries of the Academy requires a mastery of the dark arts of organisational behaviour.

This is an institution that has been dominated by the establishment for a long time.

The picture I am trying to paint here is that once one penetrates the mystique of the velvet rope, inside is a bunch of fallible humans who have a grip on the situation only if things go the same way they have been going since 1953, when the awards were first televised.

One cannot prepare for an event one thinks is impossible.

Last Sunday, the impossible happened - a heretofore rock-solid accounting firm mixed up the envelopes, and someone else displayed the photograph of a living person in the obituary section.

As recently as a month ago, I approached Oscar night with the awe of acolyte approaching the One Holy Temple, Hollywood Be Thy Name.

Cruise on the right hand, Denzel on the left, JLaw in the middle, with Emma and Ryan floating above, looking down with those warm, wonderful eyes.

The first sign that my faith might have been misplaced was right after I landed on Los Angeles.

My Lyft driver, on hearing why I was in town, let out a snort (I docked him half a star on the app for that).

He saw the Academy Awards as a gathering of out-of-touch millionaires.

"My granduncle is a member. He votes. He's 92," he said, adding he doubted if the elderly gentleman viewed any of the screener DVDs sent to him.

I was not going to let the cynicism of the native La La Lander get me down.

I had a tux and the town was my oyster.

Okay, so the night itself, spent in the Hall Of Sweaty Showbiz Scribes, was less than overwhelming. And it was not just the crush.

Before arriving, I received e-mail from the Academy about its strict black-tie dress code.

But I noticed that several journalists were sauntering about in plain business suits - oh, the affrontery! - and the free kebabs were a touch rubbery.

So I fashioned a bib of napkins to eat the kebabs and the fried wontons.

With a ring of paper tucked under my chin, like a poorly made dog cone of shame, I made it back to Singapore with ruffled shirt and cummerbund free of chilli or ketchup.

Come to think of it, I would say the bib-making marked the moment my awe was finally tempered by something approaching practicality, if not reality.

If there is one night to look fabulous, it is Oscar night. But that is just one night.

A wonton sauce stain, however - that stuff lasts forever.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Oscar glamour gone in a flash'. Print Edition | Subscribe