Comedians Kumar and Sharul Channa discuss their upcoming show Disco Sheela and other Indian Superwomen
Your show features women from different walks of life. What kinds of backgrounds have you chosen, and why?
Sharul: It is about Indian women, but women across the board go through similar issues. There are four characters in this show. There's Disco Sheela. The show is named after her. The other three are Aunty Sunita, Malini and Mumtaz. These four women are from different walks of life and age groups. Aunty Sunita is 63. Her husband has passed away, and her kids have married and left the home. She's dealing with change and insecurity. Malini has two kids and she wants to get back to work. Well, you know how hard it is to go back to work in Singapore. The pay inequality is high. The show is not only talking about being an Indian or an Indian woman, but it's also being a Singapore Indian person.
Kumar: Every race goes through the same kinds of problems. It's not just women; it's men as well, but Sharul has to play a woman. You might recognise your own daughter in one of the characters; a young girl in denial about the fact that she's Indian. She only wants to make friends with Chinese people, and because of the pressure, she dresses up like a Korean. Disco Sheela is living her life. She goes to clubs. Aunty Sunita is trying to change. She goes to the community centre and takes up yoga to keep herself occupied. She's the old-school type like my mother who thinks that her children are going to take care of her, but she doesn't realise that children get married and move out. She is beginning to understand that's the generation now, so she needs to do something about her life now. Malini married at the age of 23. She has two children who are all grown up. Her husband has a successful career as a lawyer. Now at 43, she wants to return to the workforce. It's hard to find a job at 25, and being Indian makes it even more difficult!
Sharul: It's very documentary theatre-style. It has a storyline and conflict, but not necessarily a resolution.
Could tell us a little bit about the music involved in the play?
Sharul: I really connect with the flute, and who would be better than Raghavendran Rajasekaran who is such a fantastic flautist. Each character gets her own theme music before she goes onstage as well as within the monologue. All elements of theatre come together: music, comedy and acting.
Kumar: There's never a silent moment. There's always something happening throughout the whole show.
How did you come up with the names of the characters?
Kumar: We thought through it, except for Disco Sheela, which Sharul came up with.
Sharul: I wanted to call her Disco Shanti, but there is an actual famous person in the South Indian film industry called Disco Shanti, so we couldn't use it. Disco Durga was too religious, so I came up with Disco Sheela. My godmother's name is Sheela. It's pretty neutral, and we are not pushing any religious agenda.
What attributes should a superwoman have?
Sharul: It doesn't have to be gender-specific. Kumar, for example, goes to work, takes care of the house, does the cooking and looks after two dogs. He is very responsible. He's a superwoman! Does that mean there are no challenges? Of course, there are. Everybody has problems, and despite having issues and difficulties, everybody is a superwoman. Don't feel the pressure to be perfect because nobody is.
Kumar: Everyone wants to be perfect, but nobody is. All of us have our own flaws, and we work on our flaws. My idea of a superwoman would be someone who accepts themselves. If you can come to terms with yourself, you'll get rid of all the nonsense around you ultimately. You'll filter them out, and you'll have exactly what a woman needs: that perfect group of people who support you and the lifestyle that you choose to have. Don't choose to be something that's not you. You don't have to carry a Gucci bag if it doesn't represent who you are. Some people can carry a Gucci bag, but it still looks like it's from Bugis Street. Style cannot be bought; fashion can. Sharul looks like she's wearing Dolce & Gabbana, but it's actually Mango. I look like I'm wearing Zara, but it's actually from Johor Bahru. Singapore is always talking about expanding, but we are building the wrong things. We're expanding to build condominiums, but we're not expanding people's minds. We're worried about how many people have Diabetes and how to kill the pigeons. We're not worried about mental health.
How would you describe the life and experience of an Indian woman in Singapore?
Sharul: It's like an onion. There are layers. You try to peel one and there's another one. We're very layered people. We come with a lot of different experiences. We are not the stereotypes that we have been portrayed to be on television shows, selling peanuts with a strong Indian accent. They need to understand that if a Chinese person doesn't have to wear a cheongsam on national television just because they're Chinese, an Indian person does not have to wear a sari just because they're Indian.
What kind of portrayals and roles would you like to see Indian women in?
Kumar: I would like to see them as CEOs of companies. I recently performed for a bank. It blew my mind when I found out the CEO was a Filipino. Filipinos are so stereotyped in Singapore as domestic helpers. I want to see Indians and Malays not being stereotyped. We need to move out of that perception, but the class divide is becoming worse now. Raffles Girls School's girls will not mingle with ITE students. They only hang out with their own cliques, and ITE students feel the inferiority complex.
Let's do a series of rapid-fire questions, based on your favourite things. Greatest Indian dish.
Sharul: Murugan Idli.
Greatest Indian song.
Sharul: 'Thilana Thilana'.
Kumar: 'Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai'.
Greatest Indian movie.
Sharul: Ram Lakhan (1989).
Kumar: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). I still cry every time I watch it.
Greatest Indian actor.
Greatest Indian actress.
Sharul: Deepika Padukone.
Kumar: Madhuri Dixit.
Greatest Indian city that you've visited.
Greatest Indian book.
Kumar: I can't read.
The greatest woman who you admire.
Kumar: Ellen Degeneres.
Sharul: I like Ellen as well.