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Part of Singapore's Causeway Exchange Program, Malaysia's DMR Productions and Serious Comedy Studio's Indian Lawyers casts light on cultural stereotypes.

Theatre Review (Singapore): Indian Lawyers by Serious Comedy Studio and DMR Productions

Presented by DMR Productions and Serious Comedy Studio, as part of the Causeway Exchange Program between Singapore and Malaysia, Indian Lawyers ran at the Arts House @ The Old Parliament from 23 to 26 August 2012.

Created, written, and directed by Santhira Morgan, who also served as narrator, Indian Lawyers is about a Chinese gangster (Tan Ee Kean) who’s accused of murder and then specifically seeks out his Indian lawyer friend (Siva Shanker Charles) to defend him, believing that Indians have an ability to twist and turn words, a.k.a. “speak Indian”, which will help in defending him against the accusation of committing a crime he actually committed.

Through a series of flashbacks, we see how the Indian lawyer, even as a law student, manages to turn an innocent hair found in a cup of coffee into free packets of food, just by threatening to sue the coffee shop owner (Vijaymanisegar) over the hygiene of his worker (Hafez Nasruddin) and establishment.

In a twist of fate, when the Indian lawyer defends his Chinese gangster friend in court, it is the very same coffee shop worker who ends up being the prosecution’s key witness in the case. By “speaking Indian”, the Indian lawyer successfully turns what is initially the coffee shop worker’s sworn testimony that he is 100% sure it is the defendant who committed the crime, to the poor worker admitting that he’s only 30% sure. The defendant is set free.

In the end, as Santhira Morgan takes the stage to finish his narration, he admits that this tactic of attacking a witness’s testimony and account in order to develop some doubt is a technique employed not only by Indian lawyers, but by all lawyers. However, culturally, when an Indian lawyer does this, he is immediately labelled as someone who does so because it’s ingrained in him/her to “speak Indian”.

The play was interesting as it actually took us into a courtroom to show how a defence lawyer would turn testimonies around in order to cast doubt. Also, the slapstick humour was especially well presented by both Vijaymanisegar who played the Indian coffee shop owner and Hafez Nasruddin who played the wimpy and meek coffee shop worker turned key witness. Both thespians’ over-the-top portrayals well suited the comedic nature of this play.

However, Siva Shanker Charles, who played the Indian lawyer, came across as a bit of an over-actor as he occasionally shouted his lines out, without much variety of expression. A more subtle approach, with layered expression, would’ve better served the gravitas of his role in this comedy.

Also, I found Tan Ee Kean’s performance problematic, as he was clearly over-acting throughout, and his enunciation and pronunciation needed a lot of work. Most of the time, it was very difficult understanding him; I suspect English might not be a language he regularly speaks or is comfortable handling. If Tan employed bad enunciation and stunted fluency because he was playing a gangster, that was a miscalculation, as this gangster is supposedly an ex-law student, so it would’ve made more sense for him to speak perfect English.

The script is decent, but I would’ve liked to see more humour and wit in the dialogue, as opposed to having the comedy rely too much on the slapstick moments. Also, the slide presentation going on at the side was very useful at times, but during the courtroom scene, when the slides served as “narration”, it bogged the performance down a little as the audience didn’t need that to understand what was going on.

The production made very good use of the set, as the small space in the Art’s House’s Blue Room was transformed seamlessly from a coffee shop to a courtroom with minimal props. The Arts House @ The Old Parliament was an intimate setting, most suitable for such small independent productions.

The theme of the play – about cultural stereotypes especially in the eyes of Indians who seek a legal career – was well presented, and well received, and overall the humour held up well through the whole performance. I would like to see more of these Malaysian plays make their way to Singapore via this Causeway Exchange program, because as much as we are different, it seems that we’re all the same when it comes to making cultural assumptions.

About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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