Sharon Au mocking Indian accent at SEA Games ceremony

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.