'Ah Boys To Men' saga: Shrey Bhargava wants race issue to be recognised

Ah Boys to Men. (Photo via The Hive Asia)
Ah Boys to Men. (Photo via The Hive Asia)

Local actor Shrey Bhargava has responded to criticism of his Facebook post regarding his audition for Jack Neo’s “Ah Boys to Men 4”, saying that the issue of reducing a minority to a caricature was not exclusive to the movie and that he was asking for it to be recognised as such.

“My intentions have never been to insult anyone or blame anyone. I repeat what I have said in my previous posts: this is not about who’s at fault,” he said in a Facebook post on Monday (29 May).

The 22-year-old actor had auditioned for a role in “Ah Boys To Men 4”, and was asked to perform as “a full blown Indian man”, which Shrey felt reduced the role to a caricature of his race. The incident led to his first post on Saturday, which drew varied reactions across the Internet.

Shrey said on Monday that he knew the team behind “Ah Boys To Men” had “no intention of malice”, but had acted due to “habits that they may be oblivious to”.

“It’s not their fault. And it is not exclusive to ABTM. It’s a larger issue. I’m asking for the issue to be recognised and steps be taken for us to from now on be a more conscious society,” Shrey said in his post.

Blogger Xiaxue took aim at Shrey’s original post over the weekend, calling him “Hypocrite of the Year” for his previous stand-up performances and skits involving accents, including an Indian one, which she had compiled into a video.

“I have no issue with accents, or performing accents,” Shrey said in a response on the post. “However, everything else you are saying here (on the post) is doing nothing else but to paint me in a untrue and horrible light.”

In his own post on Monday, Shrey said his issue was not with using accents, but the context. “Focusing on the use of accents and whether that is right or not, and whether I think that’s right or not is detracting from the real conversation about racial stereotyping of minorities in film,” he said in his post.

Former actor weighs in

Maxi Lim, an actor in the “Ah Boys To Men” franchise, also commented on the incident after having shared one of Xiaxue’s posts.

“You mentioned you put on a fake Indian accent, performed, felt horrible and left disgusted. There were times I knew I messed up an audition or perhaps felt unfair about certain requirements and left feeling not good. But did I take it all up online? This simply reflects your lack of professionalism and putting the race card into the picture is so wrong,” Lim said in his post on Sunday.

Shrey responded to Lim’s post, saying, “The issue here is that this form of ‘racism’ is implicit, internalised, institutionalised and ingrained. And this is the entire point. It is not consciously malicious. It is a phenomenon people are oblivious too.

“This is why I don’t hold them responsible for being unaware of it. But it does not make the phenomenon okay. And it is apt that we begin to take action to become aware of this and change the way our society functions.”

While there was more criticism from some corners of the Internet for the actor’s post, some have also voiced their support. Singer/songwriter Sezairi Sezali tweeted on Sunday that “racism has layers and levels”.

“Don’t be defensive when someone calls you racist, listen to what they have to say. Help,” he said.

The Ministry of Funny, in a Facebook post on Sunday, commented on what they called “casual racism” by pointing out how one of their videos mimicked Shrey’s depiction of events at the audition. Others, such as Munah & Hirzi, responded to the saga with humour.

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