Shrey Bhargava "Ah Boys to Men 4" audition (2017)
Following his audition for local filmmaker Jack Neo’s upcoming movie, Ah Boys To Men 4, local freelance actor Shrey Bhargava expressed his unhappiness towards the casting team’s request for him to be "more Indian". On 27 May 2017, Shrey expressed his thoughts through a Facebook post which quickly went viral and incited an online debate among netizens.
Shrey Bhargava is a local freelance actor, and has trained under Buds Theatre Company (Buds Youth Theatre Programme 2012), Singapore Repertory Theatre (Young Company Programme 2013-2015), Haque Centre of Acting and Creativity and The Improv Company. He is also the founder of Nightingale Films SG, a Youtube channel (Youtube channel) which uploads short skits and films.
Details of the incident
In Shrey Bhargava’s Facebook post (original Facebook post) dated 27 May 2017, he recounted the details of the casting incident, and included his personal opinions and thoughts on the issue of casual racism in Singapore. As of 23 January 2019, his original post has been shared 4,300 times, received 7,700 likes and 4,000 comments.
In his post, he stated that the casting team had requested for him to act as "a full blown Indian man", to which he replied that "not all Indians in Singapore speak with a thick Indian accent". Citing insistence by the casting team as the reason, Shrey mentioned that he had complied and performed a "fake Indian accent" against his own will. Shrey also mentioned that he "does not deserve to feel like a foreigner in his own country", and questions if the perpetuation of racial stereotypes should be accepted in film and media. He then appealed to fellow Singaporeans to reflect on the meaning of diversity, considering that Singapore is a multilingual and multiracial country.
The producers of "Ah Boys To Men 4" responded to the incident through an e-mail statement issued on 29 May 2017 to The Straits Times. They justified their actions during Shrey Bhargava's audition as a common process used by casting directors to "test the versatility of actors". They added that these processes "inspires directors with new ideas" and "helps the casting directors in the casting of future productions". The statement ends with a reassurance that the film's director, Jack Neo "...is acutely aware of race sensitivity and will be sensitive and careful when dealing with such a matter".
On 28 May 2017, Maxi Lim, who had acted in the Ah Boys To Men franchise wrote a Facebook post (original Facebook post) directly addressing Shrey Bhargava. Maxi Lim voiced his apprehension towards the authenticity of Shrey's dissatisfaction. He questioned that Shrey's post may have just been a self-promotion tactic. In his post, Maxi Lim cites previous cases in Shrey's acting career where he had spoken in a "thick Indian accent" for a role. Additionally, he claimed that Shrey privately messaged him before the audition to "put a good word" for him to the casting team. After Maxi Lim shared Xiaxue’s Facebook post (original Facebook post) criticising Shrey, Shrey allegedly privately messaged Maxi Lim again, saying that he was "surprised" and "disappointed" that Maxi Lim agreed with her views. Maxi Lim then asked Shrey to comment on his post for clarification, but Shrey declined his invitation to do so.
Local actor Mark Lee also commented on the issue in defense of the casting director. He stated that he is certain the casting director did not mean to be racist, and the request was made for practical and professional purposes. Mark Lee then reasserted that the Ah Boys To Men franchise is a comedy and "should not be taken too seriously".
Xiaxue, a Singaporean social media influencer and veteran blogger personally addressed the issue in a Facebook post (original Facebook post) dated 28 May 2017. Xiaxue stated that as an actor, one is tasked to play fictitious roles, and Shrey should have been able to fully understand that concept as an actor. She also asserted that the single instance where he was asked to speak in a "comical exaggerated accent" should not warrant such "hypersensitive’ behaviour".
On 29 May 2017, Xiaxue posted a video of Shrey Bhargava doing an Indian accent for a previous role on her personal Facebook (Facebook video). She also published another Facebook post, commending local actor Maxi Lim for his stance with regards to the entire incident. On 27 June 2017, Xiaxue also released a video titled "Ah Boys to Men 4's Racist Audition + Rampant Racism in Singapore?" (Youtube video) detailing her views on the Shrey Bhargava Incident.
Netizens banded into two camps, one in support of Shrey Bhargava’s views with regards to racial stereotyping, and another which criticises Shrey Bhargava’s lack of professionalism as an actor in handling the production team’s request.
Those in support of Shrey stated that more attention should be directed towards casual racism in Singapore, and commended Shrey Bhargava for speaking out against the portrayal of racial stereotypes in local film and media for comedic reasons. On the other hand, other netizens stated that it was unprofessional behaviour on his part for jumping to conclusions and assuming that the casting team was typecasting him on racial grounds.
Shrey Bhargava personally responded to the allegations made against him by netizens in a Facebook post (original Facebook post) dated 29 May 2017. He stated that the directions given by the casting director, "This time be more Indian" and "Make it funny", was not justifiable given that the original script given to auditionees included mainly Singlish phrases, which are "non-existent in the foreign Indian form of speaking". He then continues to explain that the casting director had mistook Indian stereotypes as the same as being Indian, and this mistake equated to typecasting. He ends the post by appealing to Singaporeans to "recognise the issue" of casual racism such as "reducing the minorities to racial stereotypes". Shrey Bhargava also challenged the statement issued by the producers to the The Straits Times, and requested for them to release his audition tapes.
On 31 May 2017, Shrey Bhargava was called by the police for questioning with regards to the intentions behind his post, as police reports were allegedly made against him. The Singapore Police Force responded to The Straits Times on 1 June 2017, and confirmed that "no criminal offence was disclosed" following the investigations they conducted. Shrey Bhargava wrote in an email to The Straits Times that he had shown the verbal abuse he received online to the police. The police instructed him to contact them should the situation worsen. They also suggested that he displayed more caution with regards to the content he posts in the future, to prevent any negative backlash against him.
Since the incident, Shrey had continued to produce and act in his own productions, under Nightingale Films SG. His videos often revolve around the main themes of race and nationality.
References / Citations
- Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from Shrey Bhargava’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/shreybhargava/about/?ref=page_internal
- Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from Shrey Bhargava’s Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/shreybhargava7/posts/10155441011724445
- Lui, John. “Actor's rant on racism draws flak”. The Straits Times. May 31, 2017. Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/entertainment/actors-rant-on-racism-draws-flak
- Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from Maxi Lim’s Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/ninjamaxi/posts/10158688967760332?__tn__=K-R
- Tan, Julia. “Budding actor angry over 'stereotype' audition”. The New Paper. May 30, 2017. Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/budding-actor-angry-over-stereotype-audition
- Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from Xiaxue’s Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/Xiaxue.sg/posts/10155445481037431
- Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from Xiaxue’s Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/Xiaxue.sg/posts/breaking-shrey-bhargava-newly-demised-acting-careerin-the-midst-of-the-ah-boys-t/10155448582492431/
- Tan, Audrey. Lim, Min Zhang. “Putting 'casual racism' in the spotlight”. The Straits Times. July 2, 2017. Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/putting-casual-racism-in-the-spotlight
- Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from Shrey Bhargava’s Facebook Profile: https://www.facebook.com/shreybhargava7/posts/10155447145534445
- Chew, Hui Min. Lui, John. Lum, Lydia. “Police say 'no criminal offence disclosed' after questioning actor Shrey Bhargava over Ah Boys to Men 4 Facebook post”. The Straits Times. June 1, 2017. Accessed on 23 January 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/actor-shrey-bhargava-questioned-by-police-over-viral-facebook-post