A Singaporean Indian actor was told by the casting director of a new conscription-themed movie by Jack Neo, that he is “not Indian enough”. Actor Shrey Bhargava took to Facebook and said that he put up with the director’s request and felt “disgusted” playing the role of an Indian Singaporean with thick Indian accent. The actor wrote his thoughts about why the state propaganda movie emphasize the need to play on racism to create jokes, and questioned the morality of the Chinese Singaporean majority who find these jokes funny.
“So, I just finished my audition for Ah Boys to Men 4, and this is what happened inside the casting room:
After completing one full take of the audition script, playing a soldier with a Singaporean accent who spoke in colloquial Singlish, I was asked by the casting director to make it ‘a full blown Indian man’.
Now, I get it, casting directors give directions to see if actors can follow them, but really, asking me to be more Indian even after I performed the scene in a completely Singaporean way and talked as most Singaporeans would (even Indian Singaporeans)?
I said “but not all Indians in Singapore speak with a thick Indian accent”
And she just responded with “but that’s what we want. And make it funny.”
So I was told to portray a caricature of my race. I was reduced to my accent, because that’s what made it funny. That’s what they wanted for the film. Diversity in Singaporean film, I guess comes down to playing stereotypes so the majority race can find it amusing.
And also it seemed as though I was just not ‘Indian’ enough.
I wanted to decline to perform and say that they had the power to choose not to force an Indian accent on their Indian character, because that’d make them more authentically Singaporean, but I didn’t. I did it. I put on a fake Indian accent and performed and it felt horrible.
I left the room feeling disgusted. That I was seen by my country as nothing more than the color of my skin and the way they think I ought to speak. Most Singaporean Indians I know do not speak with a full blown Indian accent, so I don’t see why, a film, part of a franchise now known to be inseparably part of our national culture, needs to have an Indian character only if he is a stereotype.
I don’t know if I’ll be cast or not. And right now, that’s besides the point. I hope that whoever they cast will choose to stick to the natural Singaporean accent they have (which may lean towards Indian but doesn’t have to be full blown) instead of adopt a fake one just to feed the racist humor our country thrives on.”
The conscription-themed movie is the 4th series of the propaganda film “Ah Boy to Men”, and is sponsored and supported by the Singapore government. There has been an increase in conscription-based propaganda material recently due to increasing resistance against conscription among Singaporeans.