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Pick Of The Week: Tales from a foreign land

LiveMint logoLiveMint 31-08-2017 Sohini Sen

People say music doesn’t know any language. Nor does it understand borders. This is why a film festival themed around a particular music genre sung in a different language can still be appreciated by the audience in India, says Kester Tay, first secretary (political), Singapore high commission.

The high commission has chosen musical genre Xin Yao as the theme for the Singapore Film Festival’s fourth edition, to be held at the Siri Fort auditorium over three days, starting Friday.

This particular genre of Chinese pop music broke into the Singapore music space in the mid-1980s and found a huge following among school- and college-going children. Xīn, an abbreviation for Singapore, and yáo, for song, is characterized by clean acoustics, with only the guitar for company.

“The genre hit a high in the 1990s and is currently going through a revival, with many artists singing covers of the more popular songs. These simple melodies are usually themed around feelings of first love. The movies in the festival will show typical Singaporean families, their struggles, and how this genre played a role in their lives,” says Tay.

The festival will be showing two films on Xin Yao. That Girl In A Pinafore, which opens the festival tonight, is a coming-of age tale centred on a group of teenagers and their dedication to Xin Yao. On Sunday, viewers can watch The Songs We Sang—a documentary about the origins and impact of Xin Yao in Singapore.

‘That Girl In A Pinafore’ (below) deals with Singapore’s popular Xin Yao music scene.

“In a way, I felt Xin Yao represented the quintessential ‘Singaporean dream’, which one can say doesn’t exist any more. Or dreams are something one has to set aside, in exchange for economic prosperity and stability in Singapore,” says Yee Wei Chai, director of That Girl In A Pinafore.

On Saturday, two Singaporean films that were shown at the Cannes Film Festival will be screened. Apprentice was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The film, by Boo Junfeng, is set in a prison, where a prison guard and an executioner meet. A Yellow Bird by K. Rajagopal, screened in the International Critics’ Week section the same year, focuses on a Singaporean-Indian man who has been released from prison and tries to find his family.

Rajagopal, who makes films with a uniquely Indian perspective, says: “Over the years, the influx of foreigners has made a strong impact on Singaporeans. Sometimes even creating a sense of discomfort. However, I must say that Singapore, being a multi-racial society, has had the privilege and the ease to accept these similar yet different and diverse cultures quite easily.” He is confident that the film will resonate with Indian audiences as it deals with issues of identity and space in a diverse multi-racial and multilingual country.

The festival will wrap up with an anthology of shorts, 7 Letters, by seven independent directors about their love for Singapore, and what the country means to them. This film was made in 2015 to mark Singapore’s 50th anniversary.

“These films showed that Singapore has stories to tell which can resonate with Singaporean as well as international audiences. We hope that through music and these films we can bring our two cultures in Singapore and India closer and see that we really have more in common than not,” adds Tay.

The 4th Singapore Film Festival will be held on 1-3 September, at Siri Fort Auditorium. Seating is on first-come, first-served basis. Click here for details and the schedule.

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