Industry professionals weigh in on Shrey’s ‘Ah Boys to Men’ audition experience

Marcus Goh
Contributor

Shrey Bhargava’s Facebook post about his experiences auditioning for “Ah Boys to Men 4” have drawn widespread responses from Xiaxue and other influencers.

He was even questioned by the police on Wednesday (31 May) regarding his post after police reports were made.

But from an industry standpoint, how does his experience stack up? We spoke to several actors and directors to get an idea of what auditions are like from different perspectives.

All part of the job

“The casting director is just doing what he needs to do,” said actor Fir Rahman. “Why would you feel offended, stereotyped? It’s not a serious role.”

“I wouldn’t be offended if you asked me to speak with a particular Malay accent, like how Singaporean Malays would speak. Myself, I would speak very colloquial Malay. I’m not offended by that. I’m proud of it. That makes us special, Singaporean Malays.”

The 36-year-old Malay star of “Apprentice” and “Lion Moms” went on to explain that in the audition process, actors are sometimes required to do a variety of performances so that the production crew can assess their suitability in the role.

“If I’m asked to jump down from the second floor for casting, as long as all the safety aspects are covered, like a safety mat and harness, then I’ll jump. They just want to see how I jump.”

However, he drew the line at requests that would go against religion and ethics.

“Of course, you don’t do what’s against your religion or against something that’s not right. Like if you ask me to eat pork [for an audition], as a Muslim, I won’t.”

N. Mohamed Yahssir, a local Indian director and executive producer, explained that “from a director’s perspective, we will always ask our actors to try different accents, different styles. So we can change our perspective on the characters”.

“That’s a very common practice in the industry all over the world,” he said.

Yahssir, who has directed 13 Vasantham telemovies, shared an example of why the casting process could be very broad in its coverage.

“If he’s playing an officer in a romantic comedy, you’ll need to see the romantic part of it. But when he dons the uniform, it’s different. If you have a macho looking guy who looks like a top cop, but can’t perform romantically, that won’t work,” said the 34-year-old.

“So auditions are very crucial to test out the performances of an actor, from all 360 degrees. Whether it’s used in a show later is the director’s call.”

Nothing wrong if it adds value to a character

“As an actor, if the director deems that the character requires an accent to make it funnier, then that’s fine. I don’t see anything wrong with that,” said local Indian actor J Arvind Naidu. “If it adds value to a character, trying to play a character with an accent, not necessarily a Singaporean Indian, then there’s nothing wrong.”

“Like typecasting a Chinese as an ah beng. It’s a stereotype,” the 36-year-old actor said. “But if it adds value, as an actor I don’t find it offensive,” he said.

“But if they stereotype all Singaporean Indians as having accents, then that’s wrong.”

Having been in the industry for over 20 years, working on dramas and comedies for Vasantham, Arvind shared that he had only encountered a similar experience once.

“It was when in I was in the SAF Music and Drama Company, it was a mother and son performance. I played the son. We have done an accent. But at that time when we did it, it was to make it funnier. These two characters always speak with an accent. But this was done 12 to 14 years back. After that, nobody has ever asked me [to put on an Indian accent].”

Not necessarily a reaction to being rejected

“The way many people see it is that ‘aiyah, he screwed up his audition and didn’t get the role and that’s why he’s whining about it online’. To me, it’s an extremely dismissive attitude to take,” said actor Joshua Lim.

The local Chinese actor, who has starred in “Code of Law” and the “Ah Boys to Men” musical, felt that Chinese privilege might be the reason why Shrey’s experience has been viewed negatively by many.

“What was a bit disappointing for me was that there seemed to be more people who were dismissive of Shrey’s incident,” said the 32-year-old. “To me, it seems like a lack of empathy for him and what he went through in the audition room. My personal take is that his experience was that he went into the audition room as someone of the minority race.”

“It’s not about racism. It’s not about whether it’s a comedy. The issue is not to make a jab at Jack Neo or a casting director. I see it in the same way as Ebi Shankara. The race has been reduced to a certain stereotype to appeal to a mass audience.”

The casting process

Actors are rarely told immediately whether they are accepted or rejected at auditions, especially if the executive producer is not present at the casting process. They’re given an audition script to perform from, and the casting director will usually let them have several takes until they’re satisfied.

Experienced casting directors will know to ask the talent to deliver the performance in different ways, especially if the director or other members of the production crew are not present.

The audition is recorded and then later reviewed by the executive producer, and sometimes the production team as well.

Besides the performance of an actor, several other factors also determine whether an actor ultimately gets chosen or not. In many cases, it’s whether the actor has the right appearance, or look for the role. A less versatile actor may be chosen for a comedy simply because he looks comical.

Other stakeholders, such as investors or higher level executives, also have a strong say in who ultimately gets cast.

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for Police & Thief, Incredible Tales, Crimewatch, and Point of Entry. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

Related links:

‘Ah Boys to Men 4’ producers speak out over alleged race issue during audition

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

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