Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Who is Singaporean?

A new play examines the divide within the Indian diaspora here and lets the audience have its say
By Corrie Tan, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2013

She is arguably most recognisable as the garrulous advertising executive Daisy Mathews from the hit Singapore sitcom, Under One Roof.

But what exactly makes stage and screen actress Daisy Irani, 53, Singaporean?

The co-founder of local theatre group HuM Theatre, who was born in India but came to Singapore more than 20 years ago, is directing a new play that tackles this question.

The forum theatre work, titled We Are Like This Only!, will run at the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box from Feb 26 to March 3.

It wrestles with issues of integration in the Indian diaspora, such as the divide between "Singaporean" Indians and "Indian" Indians. The script is written by Indian playwright Gauri Gupta.

Irani tells Life! that once, in a conversation with a friend, she was told: "Oh, you won't understand, you are not a Singaporean. You're not born and bred here."

She says: "How far back does one need to go? What does that make me? Does that mean I will never be accepted as a Singaporean? What is the chance you'll give to a poor Indian guy who's been here for only three months? You're already writing him off."

Irani and her husband Subin Subaiah, 60, who works in a multinational bank here, became Singapore citizens in 2004. Their two children, both in university, are also citizens, and her son has gone through national service.

It places Irani in the unique position of being able to view the hot-button issue of immigration through multiple lenses - as a Singaporean and also as a foreigner.

In forum theatre, the audience gets a chance to take part in the action by providing possible solutions to conflicts and problems encountered on stage.

It is the first time HuM Theatre is attempting this genre of theatre, having previously staged family-oriented dramas such as Rafta Rafta (2010) and Prisoner Of Mumbai Mansion (2011).

Irani says that this new project is one that is "daunting and challenging", especially given how contentious the topics of overcrowding and immigration have become in Singapore.

"You mention the White Paper (on Population)," she says, "and people hit the roof."

Together with Irani, actors Rishi Budhrani, Siva Palakrishnan and Sharul Channa will play common stereotypes of local and immigrant Indians in a series of vignettes that will run for about 45 minutes. Irani's husband, Subaiah, who is also an actor, will be moderating the post-show discussion and debate.

From the politics of envy to a fear of breaking the rules, the ambitious production aims to give difficult issues a comic touch, while never compromising on the importance of the discussions at hand.

Irani says: "Because the subject is so sensitive, it evokes very strong emotions. And then what happens is that you are taking this and you are trying to do what is even more difficult - trying to make it a comedy which is not making light of the issue, but trying to make people see: Are these perceptions of one another justified?"

The title of the production, We Are Like This Only!, comes from the colloquial response to the problem of differences in India. It can be interpreted as "I can't change, so get out of my face!" or "I'm sorry, this is me. Please accept me for who I am."

The production is supported by the National Integration Council, which was set up in 2009 and hopes to encourage integration among Singaporeans and new immigrants.

Irani is not expecting any concrete answers from the production - she simply hopes that it will be a safe space for audience members to air their views and discuss issues that will not be going away anytime soon.

She says: "It's a learning journey. There are so many different, different sides, and obviously we are not expecting a solution. The only thing you could try to expect is a bit of understanding."

No comments:

Post a Comment