Sharon Au mocking Indian accent at SEA Games ceremony

From ‘SEA Games: Host Sharon Au apologises for insensitive remarks during opening ceremony’, 6 June 2015, article by Lee Min Kok, ST

Former MediaCorp actress Sharon Au has apologised for her attempt at mimicking an Indian accent during Friday night’s SEA Games opening ceremony pre-show at the National Stadium.

…Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist Bhavan Jaipragas had accused Au of putting on a strong Indian accent to mock a young Indian girl sitting in the stands. He also said Au made fun of the girl’s name. Jaipragas detailed the controversial incident in a Facebook post on Friday evening, in which he called on Au and the organising committee to apologise.

“In an audience interaction segment before the start of the SEA Games opening ceremony at the National Stadium, emcee Sharon Au approached an Indian girl seated in the stands. The girl did not properly perform the act – saying aloud a line welcoming foreign contingents (others before her didn’t get it right too). Au, speaking into a mike and with the cameras trained on her, shockingly put on a strong Indian accent, and while shaking her head from right to left asked the girl: “What (Vat) happened? What happened?” he wrote.

Sharon Au is set to play Mrs Lee Kuan Yew in an upcoming musical, and here she is forced to apologise for putting on an Indian accent in front of an Indian kid, complete with unnecessary head movements. People have complained about thick Indian accents on radio and in plays, and anyone who takes Bollywood culture a step too far by going blackface at a Dinner and Dance are labelled downright racist. You also can’t buy a ‘Naan the Nay’ from Breadtalk without feeling that you’ve just ripped apart our social fabric.

Dick Lee didn’t have to say sorry when he did Indian impersonations in his song Mustapha. Maybe Jaipragas would have let it go if Au had put on a consistent Indian act throughout the entire opening ceremony, complete with sari, bhindi and song-and-dance too. I wonder if he has anything against the SEA games organisers calling a red-maned lion ‘Nila’.

The Indian accent is not the only one that you’ll need think twice before inserting in your comedy routine, even if you’re an ethnic Indian yourself. Michelle Chong’s domestic helper Leticia Bongnino was flamed too for her strong Pinoy accent, and the character has all but disappeared from the scene.  Yet,  chances are you may be spared from racism accusations if you do an exaggerated French accent or a PRC one. Someone I know gamely went full PRC during a dinner and dance skit, but no one threw duck wings at her or dunked her face in hotpot in disgust. People mimic bad American accents in front of Americans all the time, but no one calls them out for being ‘insensitive’ to American culture. If you mimic an American twang to be understood, you’re a poseur. If you mimic an Indian one, whether for practical purposes or comedy, you’re bloody racist.

As a public figure, Au should have known better, really. The kid may be too young to fully appreciate how she and her entire race were made fun of that day.  But if you ever need an example of epic grand stage levels of party-pooping, then look no further.

Devi’s heavy Indian accent

From ‘Don’t squeeze fun out of a person’s accent’, 8 Sept 2010, ST Forum online

(K Rajamani): AFTER watching the Fried Rice Paradise musical recently, I was disappointed that the producers made the actress playing Devi speak with an unusually heavy accent.

Singaporean Indians don’t speak in such a manner and as far as I am aware, Indians who come from abroad also don’t speak like that.

While I understand the producers need to make the musical funny, should a person’s accent be made the “laugh factor” in a musical that is meant to celebrate racial harmony in Singapore?

I feel that the producers could have done better research to reflect the races more accurately.

The concept of caricature is apparently lost on Ms Rajamani, for the only reason why we find accent mocking funny is because somewhere out there, sometime now or in the past, there are/were real people who talk the way exactly as we portray them to be for entertainment. I have never watched Dick Lee’s musical, but I’m sure there’s more in his mixbag of comedic tricks than relying on heavy Indian accents. Of course, poking fun of Indian accents and culture is not exclusive to Singaporeans, but to most countries with a substantial Indian diaspora e.g the British Goodness Gracious Me. Accusing non-Indian radio DJs of mocking it is one thing,  to call to arms over white men mocking it ‘blackface’ style is reasonable, but to complain about an Indian performer doing it is like berating Chinese men for manually slanting their eyes and wearing pigtails. For God’s sake, how many family-themed comedies do you know where actors speak like normal people? If exaggeration were the spice of life, I can’t imagine how bland the complainant’s existence must be.

El Bongnino

From ‘Hang Loose’ 24 June 2010, article by Germaine Lim in New Paper

PARODY breeds contempt.

The cast of the Channel 5 satirical variety show The Noose, now in its third season, is known for its exaggerated accents and comedic impersonations.

But some local netizens are unhappy over certain characterisations, particularly actress Michelle Chong’s depiction of female foreign worker Leticia Bongnino.

The charge: That Chong’s “fake pinoy accent” is “racist”.

Not a fan, but the Noose is essentially accent porn. Strip away the mockery and you have a run-of-the-mill hit-or-miss current affairs satire. Sometimes even the Malay actor exaggerates the Malay accent, which nobody seems to have a problem with, but if a Chinese exaggerates a Honkie accent, it becomes derogatory. Michelle’s impersonation is pitch perfect and it’s painful to know that honing your craft in what’s a linguistic impossibility for most people not only goes unappreciated but labeled a hate-crime. Maybe the pinoy community is still bitter that their favorite Orchard Road hangout has a gaudy retail behemoth built over and under it, which probably explains why they’re spending more time in front of the TV and complaining about the plight of domestic workers. As if the hot water scalding and bully-torture by employers isn’t enough, now they’re making fun of our language! More accent oversensitivity here.

Indian accents

From ‘Why pick on Indian accent for cheap laughs on radio?’ 7 April 2010 ST Forum

The (Class 95 FM) deejays seemed to find it very funny to mimic the way Indians speak (during Harvey Norman traffic updates). And they have done it lots of times.

In fact, for most of Singapore’s modern history, radio deejays who are not of Indian descent have enjoyed doing mock-Indian accents on English radio.

The defining factor is that I have never heard radio deejays on English stations mock Chinese or Malay accents.

Bold assumption, but it’s highly unlikely that the Chinese/Hongkong accent was never mocked on radio. Think of all the ads poking fun of kungfu masters or Confucius dispensing wise words. And is Ravi Veloo suggesting that it is fine if an Indian exaggerates the Indian accent but not other races?If laughs were cheap they would soon wear themselves out, like cross-dressing. Accent mocking, the bread and butter of comedy whether you like it or not, is here to stay.  Unlike the scourge of mispronunciation, accent mimicking is relatively harmless.


What would Veloo think of ambassador to local music Dick Lee nonsense lampooning of the accent in the Mustapha video at 2:45?

And you don’t hear Chinese complaining about Chandhi Chowk’s mutilation of the kungfu culture either. It also doesn’t matter which race does it, as evidenced by the immortal parody that is Mind Your Language.

More accusations of discrimination over pastry here

Rojak accent

From No rojak accent for me 13 August 2004 Forum ST

I would tune in to the BBC World Service instead of listening to our local DJs putting on a fake ‘ang moh’ accent to sound posh or hip in the case of American English

And, I can improve my Mandarin listening to Chinese radio stations instead of cringing at rojak American and British English that some ‘high-class’ Singaporeans use on air

Fake accents

From Why do some who return from overseas sound so non-Singaporean? 26 July 1996 Forum ST

I avoid many of our locally-produced TV5 programmes because of the fake and exaggerated American accents of many of the commentators such as Leong Lai Yee and Jasmine Tan on News5

How does one live in a country for 20 years, go overseas for three or four, and come back sounding totally non-Singaporean?

SIA Singlish

From Speak plain and simple English 26 March 1984 Letters to ST

On a recent SIA flight from Brunei, the passenger in the aisle seat next to me asked for a newspaper. The trainee stewardess replied. “All finished one already!” I was amazed at the standard of spoken English.

Some stewardesses, however, feel they have to put on an up-market slang. Why can’t they just speak plain, clear, simple English , instead of horrible slang?

‘All finished one’ is not just broken English, but broken Singlish


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