When Singaporean actor-comedian
Rishi Budhrani saw an article on the
e-pay advertisement featuring Media-
corp celebrity Dennis Chew as charac-
ters of other races, he was appalled.
“There was only a snapshot of the
ad in the article, so I Googled the ad
to take a closer look. When I saw it, I
was like ‘alamak, not again, haven’t
we crossed this bridge before?’”
The advertisement by E-Pay, an
initiative by the government to roll out
electronic payment solutions in coffee
shops, hawker centres and industrial
canteens across Singapore, has been
considered by many as racially insensi-
tive for featuring actor Dennis in
characters of other races.
The actor’s skin appears darker and
he is wearing a lanyard with the name
“K Muthusamy” printed on the card.
He is also seen wearing a tudung
depicting a Malay woman.
Then Mr Budhrani thought: “Let’s
say they claim ignorance. But how
long can we play that card? How
much longer can we say ‘we didn’t
know’? I think every time something
like this happens, we get a little closer
to bubbling tensions, feelings erupting
and emotional riots.”
Many Singaporeans agreed that the
advertisement was done in poor taste.
It was neither entertaining nor funny,
said Mr Budhrani, 35.
“The making of the ad involved
E-pay, Havas, Mediacorp’s The
Celebrity Agency and the artiste him-
self. Are we saying that in these
layers, there was not one person who
wasn’t from the Chinese community?”
“There must have been a Malay, an
Indian or someone from another coun-
try who might have raised the flag and
questioned ‘are we sure we want to
put that much bronzer on this guy, are
we sure we want to call him
K. Muthusamy and make his face
darker than it is?”
E-payment firm Nets had engaged
creative agency Havas Worldwide for
the publicity campaign, which then
engaged Mediacorp’s celebrity manage-
ment arm, The Celebrity Agency, to
cast Dennis as the face of the cam-
paign. They have since apologised.
Mr Budhrani feels that, while this is
a case of Chinese privilege (where
since the Chinese population is the
majority in the country, the race has
the ‘privilege’ of portraying characters
of other races), everyone who was
involved should be accountable, even
if they are not Chinese.
“Does everybody just fall prey to a
system now because we thought ‘can
ah, should be okay, I don’t think
Singaporeans are so sensitive’.”
Mr Budhrani pointed out the “mul-
tiple forms, levels and layers of
“Racism in Singapore ranges from
the base level of innocent ignorance to
deliberate discrimination,” he said.
“Sometimes, it develops in this way
from the former to the latter. In that
aspect, we are actually quite a nu-
anced and sophisticated group of
To call out the racism in the
advertisement, YouTuber Preeti Nair
and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair,
created a rap video and titled it
The two minutes and 50 seconds
clip is a parody of a new single by
United States pop stars Iggy Azalea
and Kash Doll.
In the video, the siblings mock
Chinese over the “brownface” adver-
tisement and question if it is trying to
promote the app or stereotypes.
For Mr Budhrani, the video was “at
the very least entertaining”.
“Offensive, perhaps,” he said.
“The reactions were predictable.
When the Chinese hear the four-letter-
word, see the middle finger, the knee-
jerk reaction is ‘oh my god, this is
going to cause a racial riot, take it
The video indeed created an uproar
among Singaporeans. Some felt there
was nothing wrong with it, while
others condemned it and urged for it
to be taken down.
Ms Nair, who is also known by her
moniker Preetipls, and Mr Nair issued
a statement on their social media
accounts last Friday apologising “for
any hurt that was unintentionally
caused” by the video they created.
Their “apology”, however, closely
followed the wording of a statement
issued by the creative agency and
management company involved in pro-
ducing the e-payment ad.
On the same day it was posted
online, the Ministry of Home Affairs
slammed the statement, saying it con-
tained a “mock, insincere apology”.
“This spoofing is a pretence of an
apology, and in fact shows contempt
for the many Singaporeans who have
expressed concern at their blatantly
racist rap video,” the ministry said.
The next day, the siblings noted
that people were offended and they
sincerely apologised for it.
They said in a statement: “If we
could do it over again, we would
change the manner in which we ap-
proached this issue, and would have
worded our thoughts better,” they
said, claiming they “only wanted to
spark a conversation” on the portrayal
of minority races in Singapore”.
Home Affairs and Law Minister
K. Shanmugam said the rap video
aimed to make minorities angry with
Chinese Singaporeans and had crossed
“If it was something you didn’t like,
then you ask for an apology. If you
think it is criminal, you make a police
report. You don’t cross the line your-
self,” said Mr Shanmugam.
As a result of the rap video, news
broadcaster CNA removed Mr Nair
from its upcoming music documentary,
saying it will not associate with individ-
uals who intentionally create offensive
content threatening racial harmony.
Mr Nair had worked with Migrants
Band Singapore, a band made up of
foreign workers, for the documentary.
Mr Budhrani feels that removing
Mr Nair from the music documentary
“sounds like a stretch”.
“As a viewer, I would like to see his
work which he wrote for National
Day. He worked with migrant workers
to produce music. That’s a positive
While Mr Budhrani feels the rap
video is “necessary to raise aware-
ness” on the issue of racism, he feels
that there are other ways to do it.
As a comedian, he uses humour as
a tool to shed light on racially-charged
issues in Singapore.
“I like to hold up a mirror for the
audience, because I feel humour is a
great digestive. If by telling a funny
story that’s rooted in truth I can get
the audience to at least think about
who we are and what we are doing, to
me that’s a start.”
He feels that more conversations
should be held on the topics of race
“I’m no policy maker, but I do feel
that we sometimes end up in a posi-
tion of sweeping things under the rug.
That brews a lot of tension and you
may see it manifest in racially-charged
Mr Budhrani works regularly with
an organisation called Whitehatters,
which collaborates with the Ministry
of Culture, Community and Youth and
One People.Sg to hold open forums on
topics such as race and religion with
the aim to have candid and respectful
discourse to ask and answer difficult
questions and learn about how we can
“These sessions are sometimes
quite heated. However, I’ve seen that
participants walk away not with ha-
tred or prejudice but with a clearer
understanding, at least an initial seed
of effort to understand each other and
how their experiences, positive or
negative, fit into our bigger picture of
race relations in Singapore.”
Singaporean actor-comedian Rishi Budhrani.
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One man’s take on racism