Lights, camera, bhangra! Singapore arts fest audiences get to play actors in Punjabi wedding film

Lights, camera, bhangra! Singapore arts fest audiences get to play actors in Punjabi wedding film

The Singapore International Festival of Arts’ unique Lizard On The Wall won’t just be a unique interactive experience, it will also be a chance to know more about a minority within a minority community. Its all-Indian main cast also highlights the presence of Indian actors in the scene.

SIFA 2017 (Lizard On The Wall)
Fancy taking part in a film shoot of a Punjabi wedding at SIFA 2017? Actors in the cast for K Rajagopal's Lizard On The Wall include (from left) Sharul Channa, Mayur Gupta, Shrey Bhargava, and Anvita Gupta. (Photo: Jeannie Ho)

SINGAPORE: Curious to know what happens at a Punjabi wedding? Harbour fantasies of acting in front of a camera? Audiences will get a chance to experience both in an unusual movie experience next week.

The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) is presenting Lizard On The Wall, a multimedia event that includes the public playing bit roles in the film of the same name, from Jun 30 to Jul 2.

Helmed by Singaporean director K Rajagopal, the film centres around the drama that arises from a Punjabi wedding, which is primarily inspired by events and characters in the critically acclaimed novel Inheritance by local author Balli Kaur Jaswal.

Those who sign up will play the role of wedding guests during any of the three shoot days scheduled next weekend at an undisclosed colonial black and white house. 

The three-hour experience will also include a tour of a series of art installations that offer insights into the main characters of the novel and film, before audiences plunge into a couple of hours of acting, singing, and dancing. Details about the event can be found on the SIFA website.

SIFA 2017 (Lizard On The Wall site)
The wedding shoots for the Lizard On The Wall film project will take place in this black and white colonial house that will only be disclosed to participants. (Photo: Jeannie Ho)

In the novel, the wedding of its troubled female protagonist Amrit is called off. But for the movie, the director reimagines it taking place.

“I’m interested to explore how the characters react and live through the wedding, and to have audiences have an interactive experience on a film set. The biggest challenge will be how to get them to participate and enjoy the experience, because filming can be a long-drawn process,” said Rajagopal, whose movie A Yellow Bird was shown at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The final film, which will be in English and Punjabi, is scheduled for release in September as the festival’s closing event.

Aside from the interactive element of the event, SIFA artistic director Ong Keng Sen added that it’s also an opportunity for the public to immerse in the culture of “not only a minority community but also a minority in the Indian community (in Singapore)”.

Just like in the novel, the film looks at the lives of members of a Punjabi Sikh family. It also features an all-Indian main cast — which seems timely given last month’s social media storm regarding minority representation in movies.

Coincidentally, the Singaporean actor at the centre of that controversy is now playing one of the main characters in Lizard On The Wall.

SIFA 2017 (Lizard On The Wall cast and creators)
From left: Actor Sharul Channa, set designer James Page (who'll be responsible for the installations), actor Mayur Gupta, director K Rajagopal, and actors Shrey Bhargava and Anvita Gupta. (Photo: Jeannie Ho)

Said Shrey Bhargava, whose Facebook post about his experiences auditioning for Ah Boys To Men 4 ignited the debate: “The conversation’s now happening and people are talking. I’m just excited to now be part of a film where we’re focusing on a minority community. We’re now coming to a time where we need to represent such communities and show that Singapore is so much more than what has already been shown.”

Reflecting on how the event had sent ripples through Singapore society, fellow Lizard On The Wall actor and stand-up comedian Sharul Channa said: “It was waiting to happen, because it has happened to every Indian actor. It was boiling, then it tipped over. People are more sensitive now. I’m going for auditions and they’re not saying ‘more Indian, less Singaporean’.”

Because of last month’s incident, making Lizard On The Wall takes on even more significance, she added.

“We have a director who is of South Indian origin taking a work of a writer who’s of Punjabi origin, highlighting Sikh culture — that in itself is beautiful. But you’ve now also got all these Indian actors, which highlights the fact that there are English-speaking Indian actors.”

But as much as the SIFA event can be a learning opportunity for the larger public, it has also proven the same for the director and cast members to understand the complexities of Singapore’s different Indian communities.

SIFA 2017 (Lizard On The Wall)
K Rajagopal's Lizard On The Wall. (Photo: Akanga Film Asia)

“We’re lucky to have people like Raja highlighting the fact that there are different minorities in Singapore. It gives more opportunities for Indian actors to come out; not only our South Indian friends but also North Indian friends and the different layers,” said Channa.

For the director, preparing for the film was also a chance to understand more about Sikh culture. “I come from another minority, which is the Malayalee, so it was very good for me to consult the Central Sikh Temple in terms of the ceremonies, to give the film its authenticity. Doing the research for this project, I’ve learned interesting facts about Sikhism myself.”

This kind of self-awareness in approaching the film’s subject matter also extends to how Rajagopal will be dealing with audiences coming to the set.

“There are certain sensitivities that I will take into consideration when I have other races on my film set doing an Indian film. When the non-Indians perform an Indian dance, I won’t get them to imitate exactly how it’s done. It will be a stylised dance so they won’t look silly.”

Source: CNA/mm