by Shikhar Gupta (15S06M)
It is not every day that one is selected as a finalist in a reality-TV show, nor is it every day that this very individual happens to be a Raffles Institution alumnus. An aspiring actor and full-time NSF, Shrey Bhargava, 19, is a finalist in ‘The 5 Search’, a local acting-hosting reality show that finds the next face of Channel 5 by putting contestants through various acting and hosting challenges with cameos by celebrity guests. With a 2-year contract from Mediacorp that could launch one’s acting career and $30,000 on offer, Shrey is doing all that he can to go out and achieve the top spot. Raffles Press takes a look into his life – how he has developed his skills up to this point and what he plans to do in the future.
Q: Tell us more about yourself – your hobbies, interests and what drives you.
A: “Acting, hosting, and anything performance related,” Shrey begins with a smile. But other than acting? “Sports,” he enthuses – mainly cricket and football. An avid supporter of Liverpool and follower of the ongoing Cricket World Cup, he recollects how the availability of cricket as a CCA shaped his decision to come to Raffles Institution.
As to what drives him, it is the act of entertaining people and the ability to do something unique. “Ever since I first did a show, it was always the fact that people appreciate what you do and enjoy their time in the theatre – that’s what I like to give to people,” he says, highlighting how he found joy in allowing people to get away from the stress of our school environment – even if for just a few hours.
Q: When and how did you discover your passion for acting and hosting?
A: “My mum was always pushing me into drama since I was 5,” he says, telling us about how he actually missed the auditions for Raffles Players in Year 1 but was eventually convinced by his mother to give it a shot. “I wanted to get into cricket, but I got into softball instead, and in the midst of the whole hoo-ha my mother asked me to try out for Players.”
Shrey did in fact get into cricket later, going on to become the vice-captain, while concurrently helming Players in Year 4. He only got serious about acting in Year 3, during which he took part in Players’ annual production. Following that, he hosted the Innovation Programme conference in Year 3, where he discovered his talent in public speaking. From then on, he strove to continuously improve himself through various opportunities, joining junior drama companies as well as taking part in Dramafest repeatedly.
Q: How did you develop your skills in this field? Is there any particular style you wish to cultivate and who are some of your key influences?
A: “On the job training,” he replies. “The more you do, the more you have a sense of what is going to work and what isn’t.” It is through the various Players productions and Dramafestes that Shrey got to learn the ropes of acting, directing, script writing, as well as everything that goes on behind-the-scenes in terms of lights-and-sounds as well as prop development.
Having a penchant for Bollywood films, he prefers films with a stand-out acting performance, noting how films like ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ (You Only Live Once) and last year’s ‘PK’ had strong leads in the form of Farhaan Akhtar and Aamir Khan respectively. He enjoys Hollywood films as well, with his recent watches being ‘Interstellar’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’ – films that also had compelling performances by their lead actors.
In terms of a definite acting style, Shrey aims for versatility rather than “type casting” himself into a single role – especially considering the stellar performances he has put in while portraying mentally-challenged individuals. His inspiration comes from all over – Johnny Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Tourist) and Aamir Khan (PK, 3 Idiots, Taare Zameen Par) are two of his main influences. He cites their ability to fit into any role, noting how both the actors can pull off comedy and serious roles with ease.
His portrayal of ‘Ronnie’ in Year 4 during Dramafest was inspired by Shah Rukh Khan’s acting in ‘My Name is Khan’ – the renowned Bollywood actor played the role of an autistic individual traveling across the U.S. to meet Obama. Shrey had pulled it off so well that the choice of ‘Best Actor’ was unanimously awarded to him.
Q: You are a Raffles Dramafest and Players stalwart, even having helmed the former. What are the most valuable lessons you’ve taken away from those experiences?
A: As Players’ chairman, Shrey played an instrumental role in introducing the theme of ‘5 plays, 1 production’ – something that has stuck till today. “Before that, Dramafest was always like a competition; everyone was against each other,” he says. “But we were all friends and we decided there’s no point to that. If you go beyond the competition and work together, then you will produce a good play.”
Q: You also auditioned for the theatre company ‘Couch Theatre’ and have acted as Michal in the company’s adaptation of ‘The Pillowman’. How would you describe such an experience?
A: “Before that I had only worked with youth programmes… ‘Couch Theatre’ was a first opportunity for me to do something with an independent theatre company, even though it was set up by my seniors.”
Shrey enjoyed the challenge associated with playing Michal. “It was the first time I was playing a character who is not just mentally challenged…he was traumatised when he was young. To play that you have to do so much research into child abuse.”
This dedication to his craft is what sets Shrey above many others in his field, and has helped him hugely in ‘The 5 Search’.
Q: Let’s bring ourselves to the present. How did ‘The 5 Search’ catch your eye?
A: Being part of Buds Youth Theatre from 2011 to 2012 had its perks for Shrey. “Over there, we had a drama mentor, Claire Devine – she runs (the company). She emailed me out of the blue,” he says, recounting how she thought he would be a good fit for ‘The 5 Search’, which was looking for its top 15 at the time.
Initially, Shrey had just wanted to test himself – the prize was not in his mind. When he got into the top 15, however, he got serious about going the distance. His efforts have been paying off, and his position as a top 5 finalist is no mean feat.
Q: Is it difficult to juggle being a full-time NSF and shoots for the show? What is a typical week with shoots for you like?
A: “There is no typical week,” according to Shrey. Initial filming began in October, with shoots ramping up in January after the telecasts began. Mornings to evenings were spent in camp, and shoots were conducted after he booked out, lasting late into the night. It wasn’t easy keeping up for four days in a row, especially with camp the next morning.
Weekends and holidays had to be given up to film, as well as other side-activities like training his improvisational skills at the Improv Company on Saturdays. The SAF Music & Drama Company, which Shrey participates in, also has shows on the weekends, and leaves earned doing shows last year had to be taken this year. It is a gruelling schedule, but as they say – no pain, no gain.
Q: Now that you have had some experience doing both, which do you prefer – stage or screen acting? What differences are there in the ways you approach both types of acting?
A: “With stage and screen acting, the foundation is the same,” he says, even though both forms of acting have different elements. “When the director says action, you’ve got to be there at once, and when he says cut, it’s cut. Done. You are also not doing scenes in a chronological order, yet you must depict the journey of the character at each stage from start to finish,” he elaborates. “With TV, you’ve got to tone it down a lot – and unfortunately, I learnt that the hard way.” Shrey’s preference lies towards stage acting, as he has been participating in it since he was young. The lack of audience on-camera is an issue, he feels, as one is unable to feed off the audiences’ reactions and energy as happens during a stage performance.
Q: Osayang been Loving. Thanks to your brilliant performance, you have snagged an episode for yourself on ‘The Noose’. How did you prepare for the role?
A: “On TV, you can’t fake an ethnicity,” he points out. “The only believable character I could play was an Arab, or an Indian.”
“The idea was to make him a peace correspondent, when his name is a play on Osama bin Laden… It was ironic to make Osayang report on a violent act like riots in a peaceful way. At the time the Shisha ban had just kicked in, so I thought, ‘Why not combine the two?’”
The accent was a massive challenge on its own. Never having done an Arab accent before, Shrey had to nail it within two weeks. Busting out a book on accents, he utilised the included CD and practised repeatedly to get the accent on point. YouTube was another help, with Shrey watching Yasser Arafat’s (a former Palestinian diplomat) interviews to familiarise himself with the accent.
Q: In taking part in ‘The 5 Search’, what are some of the new skills you have learnt?
A: Not only has Shrey learnt new techniques on how to portray characters on-screen as compared to in live performances, he has also developed another skill he had not practiced much previously – hosting.
“I’ve only done hosting with MDC, and in MDC the hosting is live, on-stage. And that is super different from TV. Hosting on TV, you need to really tone down. You just need to be yourself and have a conversation – and I was struggling with that a lot.”
Shrey highlights that in theatre, when someone is performing, “you need to perform back” and throw back the same level of energy as one’s fellow actors. However, this backfired in the third episode where Shrey did terribly for his hosting segment.
“That’s where I learnt my biggest lesson – I need to always respond to it naturally… I had to learn to be humble, and I learnt that the hard way.”
Even so, Shrey is glad for that experience, hurtful as it might have been.
Q: What are your future plans, both immediate and long-term?
A: Shrey has big dreams. His school of choice is Juilliard School, New York, USA where he aims to study drama and obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). This road will not be easy, though, as the school only accepts 8 students a year.
However he emphasises that if a TV or movie contract comes his way, he will not mind taking it up and putting his studies on hold.
Long-term, he is aiming for a break into the Bollywood and Hollywood scene – something that will be bolstered if Shrey gets into Juilliard School. Its alumni have collectively won 47 Emmys and 24 Oscars, and include Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams.
Q: What advice would you give to Rafflesians wanting to pursue their dreams?
A: “If people tell you you are good, and if you think you are good, just keep reminding yourself you have a lot to learn… The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
We were certainly inspired by Shrey’s desire to better himself at every turn, and hope that you were too. If you feel he’s got the talent and deserves to win ‘The 5 Search’, do vote for him! You can do so by following the instructions below:
Vote for your winner via the Toggle Now App and via SMS to 1460 71199
SMS 1 for SHREY
SMS 2 for CARYN
SMS 3 for KAYLY
SMS 4 for MICHELLE
SMS 5 for AIKEN
Each SMS cost $0.86 (inclusive of GST). Participants under 18 years of age must seek parental consent. Voting period: 15 February, 10:30pm till 1 March, 9.35pm. This service is provided by MediaCorp Pte Ltd (6877 7132). Click here for terms and conditions.
The 5 Search Grand Finals “LIVE” on Channel 5
Sunday 1 March at MediaCorp TV Theatre
7:30pm (Performance) and 9:30pm (Results)
Guest judges: Eric Khoo and Georgina Chang
Guest performer: Secondhand Serenade
Guest cameo in drama challenge: Priscelia Chan
Guests in comedy challenge: Michelle Chong, Alaric Tay, Suhaimi Yusof, Chua En Lai and Judee Tan.
Guests in hosting challenge: Nat Ho, Jade Seah, Seraph Sun, Koh Chieng Mun and Kelly Latimer.