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Sinema Showoff! Masala Mama Coming To Sinema This Deepavali5 min read

1 October 2010 4 min read

Sinema Showoff! Masala Mama Coming To Sinema This Deepavali5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Sinema Showoff! this month brings Michael Kam’s MASALA MAMA, a cinematic tribute to “˜Mama’ Shops which are slowly becoming an icon of the past.

Every Singaporean of any ethnicity will know “˜Mama’ means “˜Uncle’ in Tamil, thanks to the  numerous “˜mama’ shops which filled our residential heartlands before the emergence of “˜chain’ convenience stores.

The nine-minute film is about a comic-crazy Chinese boy (Vernon Ng) who strikes up a friendly bond with an effeminate and kind Indian convenience store owner (Mohan Vellayan).

The “˜Mama’ inspires the boy so much that he imagines the store owner as a super-hero character and starts drawing…..

In between, audiences will come across an “˜eye-candy’ policeman (Narainda Subramaniam) who serves as the love interest of the “˜mama’ and the villainous father (Eng Soon) of the boy.

The film beautifully weaves the subtle integration of our communities, the importance of understanding, forgiveness, helping others amidst obstacles and repaying kindness while still living with differences.

Highly acclaimed

It is thus, little wonder that MASALA MAMA, was selected to premiere at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival,Generation KPlus Programme (Children’s Film Section),  and won the Arte-Short Film Award along with 6,000 Euros (S$10,700) at the Hamburg International Short Film Festival.

MASALA MAMA will awe the audience

The heart-warming short film is simple, yet has its comic moments making it a mainstream entertainer.

The art direction is meticulous and perfect with the colourful contrast of characters, “˜mama’ shop set, backlane fights and superhero costumes.

Clever use of background sound sequences and a seasoned cast certainly helped. The chemistry between the “˜mama’ and the young boy is striking.

I’ve watched Mohan Vellayan a veteran actor on Mediacorp’s Vasantham Tamil dramas for years, but I would say MASALA MAMA certainly made me sit up and look at him again. Mohan clearly has given one of his best (if not the best) performance in this film. It is clear that Michael has brought out the best from the actor. Mohan has clearly reached a new depth and level with his acting in the film. I do hope to see Mohan continue to reach a varied audience with equally challenging roles.

My only qualm was that the film ended a little abruptly when I wanted more, but Michael pushed boundaries to deliver a quality product done at a cost of $14,000, quite a princely sum for a short local film.

MASALA MAMA is certainly the type of content that will make local mass audiences become interested in local independent films and give overseas audiences a true glimpse of the colourful sights and sounds of Singapore.

If you are still wondering what’s a “˜Mama’ shop…..

Every Singaporean of any ethnicity will know “˜Mama’ means “˜Uncle’ in Tamil. Thanks to the  numerous “˜mama’ shops which filled our residential heartlands before the emergence of “˜chain’ convenience stores. These fast disappearing hole-in-one outfits resemble a mini-version of Mustafa Centre and sell a bit of everything from an assortment of confectionery, drinks, toiletries, magazines, toys, etc. etc. They are usually run by an Indian man most affectionately called “˜mama’ by his customers.

MASALA MAMA screens at Sinema Showoff! Masala Mix 2, 26 October, 7.30pm. Admission is FREE. Masala Mix 2 is a selection of short local films which have an Indian twist one way or the other. The session is hosted by Sinema and curated by Singapore Polytechnic in celebration of the upcoming Deepavali festivities.


Michael Kam | Tamil, Hokkien & English  | 9 mins | PG

~~~ Synopsis ~~~

A Chinese boy steals a comic magazine from a “˜mama’ store (traditional convenience store run by an Indian uncle). Thegentle “˜mama’ confronts him, but finds out that he is the son of a poor a “˜garung kuni’ (rag & bone) man who loves to draw. Pitying him the effeminate “˜mama’ encourages the boy and gives him more magazines becoming a super-hero in the eyes of the boy.

~~~ Previous Screenings ~~~

Official Selection – Generation KPlus Programme (Children’s Film Section), Berlin Film Festival 2010

Arte-Short Film Award, Hamburg International Short Film Festival 2010

Official Selection, Cleveland International Film Festival 2010

Official Selection – Singapore Panorama Shorts, Singapore International Film Festival 2010

5th Lola Kenya Screen Golden Mboni Award Competition for the Best Children’s Film,  Lola Kenya Screen

~~~ Director’s Bio ~~~

Michael Kam holds a Bachelor in Engineering (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) from Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Upon graduation he took up a post-graduate diploma in Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film & Media Studies where he is currently a full-time lecturer. Prior to his academic appointment he was in marketing and promotions at Shaw Organisation.

Michael, 41 himself was a regular patron of a “˜mama’ shop in Oxley Road where he grew up as a child in the 1970s. The film was based largely on his own childhood experiences. MASALA MAMA is Michael’s fourth short film.

Michael is married with two children a boy and a girl aged seven and five.

Article contributed by Ramasamy Rajesree, just another regular Indian woman from Singapore who grew up watching three Tamil films a day with the family.  She earns a living as a lecturer with Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Architecture and the Built Environment. She is also the Guest Curator for Sinema Showoff! Season 2010 and works with an  ethnically diverse student team committed to bring Singapore Films to mainstream audiences here and film appreciative audiences overseas thro’ festivals and events.


(20 January 2010), “Mama goes Berlin“, The Straits Times Life!
(10 May 2010) Aaron Toh Ming, “Masala Mama comes home from Berlin“,

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