Written and submitted by Natasha Christopher.
Growing up in an English speaking family in the comfort of my home in Kuantan for 18 years, I’ve had my fair share of judgmental people who are really mean to me for my lack of understanding or the inability to speak my mother tongue language, which is Tamil. Words like “Stop speaking in Tamil, don’t disgrace your community” are some of the feedback I’ve gotten.
Even in Mamak places, the “Anneh” would look at me, horrified and mind blown that I can’t speak Tamil. #ohmykaduvale
One fine day, my brother tagged me in a Facebook post by my friend who was seeking an Indian talent for a video. It took me a while to even go up to my friend to request additional info about it. But, in the end, I was like ‘screw it’. If it happens, it happens, as long as I tried. I gave my contact so the person in charge could get back to me and let the rest unfold.
A week later, I got a WhatsApp message from the producer of the video. To be honest, I just simply “hentam” and applied to be a talent in a production shoot. Not knowing which company this was, I got a shock when I found out that it was MGAG, a famous Malaysian site that produces funny videos and memes. Next, I was required to send an audition casting video with lines which I have not seen yet.
I almost fainted knowing that I needed to speak in Tamil throughout the whole video. Acting has been an interest of mine but speaking in my most broken Tamil for the whole of Malaysia to see? I hesitated. However, with full support from my close friends and family who told me to just try it out, I eventually sent my audition video with the most cringey ass Tamil articulation and let fate handle the rest. A few days later, I got a text message back again from the producer and told me that I got cast as the heroine. That feeling when I first knew, I was like “OMG is this my Henry Golding moment?”. Of course, I was being a little dramatic but you know what I mean.
Feeling shocked, I was thinking hard of the other times I was picked on or refused to speak in Tamil to others. Yet here I am, about to embarrass myself in front of the entire Malaysian audience. However, I knew the opportunity given was too hard to resist. And so, in the spirit of stepping out of my comfort zone, I went for it and had one of the best experiences in my life.
The team in MGAG and my fellow co-stars were all super friendly and ever so patient to an amateur actress like me. I’ve learned a lot about how the slightest facial movement can deter a shot, knowing your angles and eventually, just having fun! The amount of support and love shown by my loved ones was all the praise I needed to move forward in life. Besides that, I now know why actors/actresses get paid a lot; it’s not easy!
Although my articulation in the Tamil language was what it would look like if a Caucasian tried to speak it, I am super glad I did it because there are many people out there who are too afraid to do so.
I’ve gotten a few comments from the video from strangers saying that my Tamil was so bad, ‘what an “Indian banana”’, and all these types of bashing:
To be honest, it used to bother me a lot back then but now it didn’t. It actually made me feel even more proud of myself. If you told my younger self to act in Tamil, I would have laughed it off and said no on the spot.
These comments only showed and proved how Tamil shamers would react to a non-Tamil speaking person like me on a regular basis. Yet, we are still patient and move on with our lives.
But, on the other hand, some people got the whole concept of the video and understood the hassle we had to go through.
It’s not like I don’t want to speak in Tamil. If I had the opportunity to grow up speaking in Tamil or even Mandarin or Cantonese, I would be so happy. But things don’t happen the way you want it to be and that’s totally fine. Every day is a learning process; it’s up to you if you want to acquire the knowledge.
There are tons of people out there who feel insecure about speaking their mother tongue language because of language shamers. So for you non-believers who can’t grasp that some Malaysians can’t speak in their mother tongue, perhaps go easy on them next time, or you can always educate us on how to say certain stuff in that particular language instead of belittling us. That, my friend, is how we all can live in a united Malaysia.
I sincerely hope I have inspired many people to just be brave no matter what your flaws are, and no matter what people may say about you. Always stay true to yourself and at the end of the day, #layanje.